I attended a children’s birthday party recently and found myself having as much fun as the kids. There was a balloon guy making animals, trains and princesses; there were streamers and fun music and tons of family and friends that I had not seen in a while. I’d like to say that those were the moments that stick out most in my mind, but the truth is, I think I was just on a massive sugar high.
Bowls and bowls of chips, pretzels, candy-coated chocolate, gummy candies, pizza, ice cream and cake were everywhere. I found myself engaging in conversation while I mindlessly allowed my hand to venture into way too many candy bowls before the pizza and cake came out. I found myself reverting back to my little fat-girl days when candy and cookies were all that mattered. Here I was, an adult, a dietitian, a successful weight-loser, pigging out on more grams of sugar in any one-hour period than I could remember.
It was scary how easy it was to forget all that I know about nutrition. On the way home, as I crashed, I wondered, is there any other way? Aren’t kids deserving of the sugary fun that comes with yearly birthday parties? How could I provide a birthday party for my child that still guaranteed the happiness and normalcy that her friends would enjoy, but without the massive amounts of food coloring, sugar and fat? Would my kid still love me? Can you really have your cake and eat it too? The answer is you can and should provide a party that is both fun and healthy.
Reconsider Your Cake
While I’d never suggest cutting the cake out of your birthday party scene, I do think there are a few things you can do to make it healthier. First, focus on quality. Many bakers, as well as healthy chain grocery stores, will make a cake that is void of artificial colors and flavors and made with real ingredients. Bake your own or consider cupcakes. Why – because there is a clear beginning and end to this sugary sweet experience. I watched massive pieces of cake being served to children that were so small, their feet barely hit the ground while seated at a little play table.
It wasn’t really the server’s fault. Studies show that we have all become accustomed to eyeing larger portions, even for our kids. A 1992 study found that the portion size of popular foods items has risen substantially since 1970. Further, a 2007 study found that children preferred larger portions of french fries, meat and potato chips than vegetables. Big portions are now a way of life and, unfortunately, we’re all in on the scam.
Rethink What You Serve
While you may be tempted to put out candy or chips and dip, there are other snacks that are just as yummy and just as kid friendly. Fruit kabobs with yogurt dip, apple slices with peanut butter, and fruit and vegetable smoothies are always great options. Consider a smoothie-making station where kids choose the healthy fruits and veggies to throw into the blender (adults control the blender, of course), or try this great snack recipe at your next birthday party. The kids will go crazy for it!
Carly’s Birthday Mix
2 cups bran cereal squares
2 cups corn cereal squares
1 cup generic O’s cereal
2 cups whole grain pretzel sticks
2 cups whole grain pita chips
1/2 lb dry roasted peanuts
Combine dry ingredients.
1/2 cup Extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp season salt
Combine dry ingredients. Mix together the seasoning and pour over dry ingredients. Stir and cook on high in the microwave for 8-10 minutes, stopping to stir every 1.5 minutes so it doesn't burn.
Nutrition information for a 1 cup serving: Calories: 170 / Carbohydrates: 13g / Fat: 12g / Sodium: 210 mg / Fiber: 2g / Protein: 4g / Sugars 1g
Dinner can be tasty and healthy as well! Grill up some corn and turkey burgers, make macaroni and cheese with 100% whole grain pasta, or make your own pizzas with plenty of veggies, homemade tomato sauce and a whole grain crust! Even PB&J made with real jelly and 100% natural peanut butter can take on a new twist for a child if they’re cut into animal shapes using cookie cutters.
Eat and Play Like a Child
Children do something that most of don’t do as we age – they stop eating when they are no longer hungry and they will most likely not eat if they are not hungry. We adults eat until we are full – and sometimes we go well beyond that. Children also play a lot and enjoy running around. While watching a movie now and then can be great, my three nephews would much rather we hang out in the backyard, swinging bats and climbing on rocks. Given the high amount of calories, fat and sugar that are usually prevalent at a typical birthday party, I would allow plenty of active fun that can burn off all that sugar. Play with them as well. After all, you are the best example to your child of what health and wellness looks like. A 2012 study in the journal Obesity found that a parent’s weight change (and the habits that go along with it) significantly improved a child’s chance of eating healthy and losing weight.
Make your next birthday celebration fun and interactive, and you'll enjoy a win-win for all!