My parents, in their cool 1970s way, were in a gourmet group. They were one of six couples, all of whom had at least one person who worked in the same school district. The men were mostly principals and administrators; the women were teachers or administrators when they weren't home with their kids. They planned elaborate menus, went through the requisite cuisine of all nations in a monthly potluck (I remember my mother fretting over looking for an authentic Romanian hors d'oeuvres before the age of the internet, and the night the Chinese Scorpion Bowls led to a sleepover for some and a very angry mother-in-law driving kids in PJs to pick up the less-blitzed parents and drop them off at their homes...good times.) But I digress.
Eventually, this group grew old, as we lucky ones do. Charlie developed diabetes. Joe had a gastric bypass. Herb had heart trouble. And one by one, ingredients started dropping out. My father was allergic to swimming fish. Four of the twelve were on low- or no-salt diets. One became lactose intolerant. And I remember one of the other wives, commiserating with my mother over the double-cooking required to have something tasty for most and an alternative for those off salt, or on a low-carb regimen, or the no-sugar folks, "It's like hosting a famine, isn't it?"
How very '80s that is, I know. As Gwyneth Paltrow would say, it's a very first world problem. But it was really a passage for them as a group, to have to give up their freewheeling, experimental cuisines for broiled chicken breasts and butter-your-own-broccoli.
Anymore, though, that's what it's like trying to feed groups of small children. My kids have yet to attend a school, class, camp, or program where peanuts are allowed. Their cousins consume no artificial colors at all. Other friends have other food limitations. I remember asking the mom of one of my son's friends, hoping I wasn't too rude, exactly what they served for dinner, since her child was allergic to milk, eggs, wheat, and tomatoes. She laughed and answered, "Poached air." I can't even imagine.
But she was very thoughtful and would send special treats to the classroom for her child to have when the other kids sent in birthday cupcakes or other "event" food. It made sense to me; having lived with my father and his life-threatening allergy, I prayed my sons would not have any, because I knew, no matter how careful other parents tried to be, I would never feel comfortable without vetting all foods myself. My father ended up hospitalized multiple times because of ill-informed or dishonest waiters or cooks, so I know it can happen in the blink of an eye. So I try to be empathetic.
All this to say, my son is very cranky because he is bringing Rice Krispie treats for his birthday and not cupcakes. In his current class, there are allergies to eggs, milk (severe--can't be at a table where milk might have been spilled, even), nuts, peanuts, shellfish ("so much for the shrimp cocktail," the teacher said), and--the wild cards--bananas, coconut, and cinnamon. Some of the parents have not sent in any extra treats for their kids, so we've been advised that if we want to send in birthday treats, to either be cautious about ingredients, or understand that some kids just won't be able to have the treat.
Apparently most parents of September and early October birthday kids have thrown up their hands and sent cupcakes anyway. But I would be frantic if one of those allergic kids were mine, so I tried to figure out things I could do that all the kids could enjoy. The three ideas: fruit plate (met with deep resistance by the birthday boy); soft pretzels (miraculously, no wheat allergies!); or Rice Krispy treats. The Rice Krispy treats were the favorite of the options, so here we are.
And then I realized: Rice Krispy treats call for butter. BUT--as ever--The Best Babysitter Ever to the rescue! When she was helping me prepare food for a vegan friend, she introduced me to Earth Balance spread, and miracle of miracles, not only did I still have some in the fridge, it was not expired, and it's the only non-butter spread I could find that had no dairy ingredients whatsoever. And despite Kellogg's testy little "tub margarine is not recommended" it worked out fine. They are maybe just a little stickier than usual, but they still taste great. And the six year old and I can both feel good about that. Original recipe is here, if you need it; I have the feeling I'm the last grownup around who hadn't made these. But yes, if you are googling "rice krispie treats no butter," Earth Balance spread works just fine. Just be sure to use plenty of Pam and waxed paper.