Me, circa 1980, about to have my first taste of glorious, cakey goodness.

Oliver’s first birthday is in less than a month, and we have a dilemma:

Birthday cake isn’t Paleo.

So how, then, will Oliver experience that ubiquitous rite of passage involving two fists and a face full of confectionary goodness? What sort of first birthday photos will he have to look back on when he’s older? Will he grow up with “issues” because instead of cake, we served him a juicy ribeye or some scrambled eggs with a single candle in the middle?

Joking aside, I recently brought this quandary to J’s attention. He looked at me skeptically, and then exclaimed, “Are you serious? Of course we’re not going to give him cake!”

“But the pictures…” I began to protest, before realizing that if I were to be completely honest with myself, this whole cake dilemma was not about Oliver; it was about me.

wanted Oliver to have a birthday cake. wanted to see his eyes light up when he experienced his first taste of soft, moist cake and sweet, sticky frosting. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t even know what he’s missing.

wanted cute pictures of Oliver shoving fistfuls of cake in his mouth, icing covering his face, so I could post them on Facebook and immortalize them in his baby album. He will probably find them humiliating when he’s older.

On the other hand, do I really want to ruin our little tabula rasa — whose tastebuds have yet to be tainted by the evils of sugar and processed foods — at such a young age? There will be many, many years of opportunities to indulge in junk food.

We have invested so much effort and thought into helping our son develop the best dietary habits we know of. We have rejected so much of the conventional wisdom on child nutrition (and many other aspects of child-rearing). Why, then, should I find myself so compelled by a silly little tradition?

The rational side of me says we should just skip the cake altogether. Oliver won’t miss it, and we won’t run the risk of starting to let his diet slide off the rails (you know how “just this once” turns into “once in a while,” and then it’s all downhill from there?). But the emotional side of me thinks that I’ll somehow regret not having that precious memory of the first birthday cake.

So here’s what I’m going to do: I am going to bake a Paleo birthday cake! It’s a win-win solution, as far as I can tell. Oliver gets his birthday cake, I get my memories and photos, and when all is said and done, we don’t commit any serious dietary transgressions.

In principle, I am against the idea of “Paleo-ifying” junk food, but I’m willing to relax my stance for this very special milestone in Oliver’s life.

I’m going to use this great banana bread recipe I improvised back in my pregnancy days, topped with this coconut cream frosting from Elena’s Pantry (I’ll be using honey instead of agave, though).

I just might have to do a test-run before the big day, to — you know — make sure it all works ;).

Have you ever found yourself in conflict between your nutritional beliefs and a tradition? What did you do?


  1. We’ve been discussing the same thing. We were thinking just gluten free, but that seems hard to get in my husband’s home town without spending $80 for a custom cake (we’re having an afternoon BBQ with my husband’s large family so it needs to feed about 30 people). So we were just going to bite the bullet and go for the norm. I think if we were at home with just us, we could make something similar to what you suggest. But since we’ll be traveling and have so many people to feed, it’s just not practical to make something for everyone once we’re there. Who knows, maybe I’ll be inspired and splurge on the gluten free cake! At least he won’t have that tearing his stomach apart.

    • Maybe you could buy a conventional cake for all the guests, and make this little microwave chocolate cake for your son?

      1 egg
      1 tbsp honey
      2 tbsp almond butter
      2 tbsp cocoa
      1 tbsp coconut oil
      1/4 tsp baking powder

      Mix thoroughly and microwave in a greased ramekin, mug or small bowl for about 1:30 (depends on the microwave). Carefully remove cake and serve upside-down. Top with a bit of coconut milk… or just some conventional icing 🙂

  2. Baking it yourself is a great idea! My son has allergies so I was able to find a bakery to make a small smash cake thats gluten, dairy, soy, egg free 🙂 and then we can just order a sheet cake for all of our guests to enjoy.

    • I think it’s going to be a relatively small party (haven’t actually gotten around to figuring that part out yet!), so one small cake should do the trick. If we were going to do a larger affair, I think buying a regular cake and then making a separate cake for Oliver would be the way to go.

  3. There is no rule that I know of that states one must have cake on their first birthday. If we had been paleo back in 1980, you would not have had a birthday cake either! Oliver shoving a piece of paleo banana bread into his mouth on his first birthday will be equally as fun to watch as any other child. The pictures will make the same precious memories as yours have done. BTW……I don’t believe you are “paleo-ifying” junk food at all. In addition, your guests will indulge in whatever you serve just as they do when they come to your place for a meal. NO NEED FOR CAKE!

    • This from a mother whose idea of a treat was a handful of raisins. It’s a good thing you didn’t know about Paleo back in the 80’s, or I’d have been completely deprived of junk food instead of only partially deprived. 😉

  4. My nephew threw up his first birthday cake all over our back patio. Of course, we have pictures to show the cake-fest-mess, but he doesn’t remember the cake or the subsequent barf. We didn’t do cake for D’s first birthday, but we have lovely party pictures and she obviously has no recollection of not having cake! At nearly 5, my daughter is just starting to have notions of her own about special birthday treats. I always make a big dinner for our family and her favourite “sweet treat” of the time. I think for her first birthday I made cherry-apple pudding with kudzu root to thicken it. Really, as long as it’s special to you and your family, that’s all that matters! If eggs and nuts are fine, there is no shortage of good cake desserts that are mostly paleo.

    Wow! One whole year! Congratulations mama! 🙂

    • Poor nephew! Was he reacting to something in the cake, or just sick?

      It’ll be nice when Oliver is old enough to decide what he would like for his birthday treat. But you’re right – as long as it’s special to us, that’s all that matters. 🙂

  5. Check out: http://milkforthemorningcake.blogspot.co.uk/

    (If you haven’t already!) She offers divine inspiration for gluten free food. You might even be interested in participating in her “Go Ahead Honey Its Gluten Free” since now it’s going primal :-). Her sweet treats for the adults are divine (in case the birthday menu isn’t complete…)

    • I had the same dilemma. I ended up using a recipe from Elana’s Pantry but instead of making it a cake, I made mini cupcakes. I figured that way, my daughter could have just one small cupcake instead of a honking huge piece of cake. I topped each cupcake with a strawberry and put strawberries all over the serving platter. Since it was the first time she was eating strawberries, that’s all she was interested in. She ate loads of strawberries and didn’t touch the cupcakes. In a way, I was kind of relieved!

      • Haha, go figure. The thought had definitely occurred to me that after all this worrying, Oliver mightn’t even like the cake anyway, which would make this whole issue a moot point.

  6. We were staying at MILs for Easter this year. She bought loads of candy and hid it for my son to hunt for. I let him fill the basket and then I… took all the candy away.
    We aren’t Paleo and feel I am fairly mainstream on a lot of food things but candy at this age, 2.5, is not appropriate.
    He had a lot of fun just hunting for things and putting them in the basket and we all had fun encouraging him. He didn’t seem to notice when I move the basket out of view. And, confession, he didn’t see me have a few pieces of his chocolate loot after he went to bed.
    For Henry’s last birthday we were on no wheat no dairy and I made a really nice pumpkin cake from Health-Bent.com. It was eggs, almond butter and pumpkin. Really tasty.
    PS. Really enjoying all these food posts. And Oliver is such a smiley happy boy!

    • That was a really diplomatic (and fun!) way to handle the Easter candy dilemma. I’m sure your MIL loved watching Henry hunt for all the candy, and Henry, not really knowing what candy is, probably enjoyed finding all the colourful pieces even more than he’d have enjoyed eating them.

      Do you have the recipe for the pumpkin cake? I love pumpkin! It might be a good alternative to the banana bread.

      Glad you are enjoying the food posts. I was just remarking to J last night that I’ve been writing an awful lot about food and not so much about fitness, so it’s good to know the posts are being appreciated. Nonetheless, I definitely need to find some inspiring fitness topics to blog about. Guess I’m just a lot more food motivated these days. 🙂

  7. My little boy Kes has his first birthday this Sunday, and instead of bday cake, I am making him a bowl of banana pudding: egg yolks, coconut milk, vanilla and a bit of gelatin. Just line the bowl with banana slices and layer on top as well, nice and messy! And plenty sweet with the ripe banana.
    Also enjoying the food posts…

  8. Check out Organic Lives. They make lots of yummy raw desserts and may have something that would fit the bill. I am not familiar with the fine points of paleo, but it would be all natural and sugar, additive free, as well as very healthy. Thanks for bringing Olliver to visit our farm. It was fun showing him all the critters. :>)

  9. My husband and I did “birthday fruit” for a while when we were being very strict about sugar intake. I didn’t usually have much fruit, so picking out a special fruit and then sticking candles in it was fun! We did pineapple, watermelon (with both of those, just slice off the top, then stick candles in), and strawberries (berries were piled around a large pillar candle). But it is sentimental for us grown-ups to have a cake, and that’s where making a ‘healthier’ cake or other favorite sweet treat can fill a gap.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s