It’s possible to plan a children’s birthday party without the massive amounts of food coloring, sugar and fat.I recently attended a children’s birthday party and found myself having as much fun as the kids. There was a balloon guy making animals, trains and princesses; there were streamers, fun music and tons of family and friends that I had not seen in a while. I’d like to say 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. Among the smiling children and the merry-go-round type music were bowls and bowls of chips, pretzels, coated chocolate candy pieces, gummy candies, pizza, ice cream and cake. I found myself engaging in conversation while I mindlessly allowed my hand to venture into way too many candy bowls, and that was even before the pizza and cake. I found myself, in fact, 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, and eating more grams of sugar in a 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 sugar-busting fun that comes with yearly birthday parties? Is there not a way to provide a birthday party for a child that still guarantees the happiness and normalcy their friends would experience, but without the massive amounts of food coloring, sugar and fat? Can you really have your cake – and eat it too? The answer is yes! You can provide a party is both fun and healthy.
Consider Cupcakes and “Real” Cakes
While I’d never suggest that cake should exit the 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 for your little one that is void of artificial colors and flavors and made with real ingredients. Even at the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, we have cake. We just get it from a local bakery that omits food coloring and trans fat and eat appropriately-sized portions. That leads me to my second suggestion: Consider cupcakes. Why, you might ask? Because there is a clear beginning and end to this sugary sweet experience. I watched massive pieces of cake being served to children yesterday that were so small, their feet could barely hit the ground on their 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. One study found that 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. Cupcakes take the guesswork out of portion control and make it easier for the server, as well as the parent who needs to eventually take her hyperactive child home after the party. Finally, moms that are willing and able to spend the time can consider making their own cake. You can control all the ingredients and make memories and traditions with your child that will last forever.
Rethink the Snacks and Dinner
While you may be tempted to throw the candy-coated pieces in the colorful bowl or the ranch dip with the potato chips, 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 a great option that are not only tasty, but also fun for kids. Consider a smoothie-making station where kids choose the healthy fruits and veggies to throw into the blender (you 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
2 cups whole-grain pretzel sticks
2 cups whole grain pita chips
1/2 pound dry roasted peanuts
Combine dry ingredients.
Then pour and mix:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoon season salt
Stir and cook on high in the microwave for 8 to 10 minutes, stopping to stir every 1.5 minutes so it doesn’t burn in the microwave.
1 cup servings – Calories: 170 / Carbohydrates: 13 grams / Fat: 12 grams / Sodium: 210 milligrams / Fiber: 2 grams / Protein: 4 grams / Sugars 1 gram
Dinner can be tasty and healthy, as well. Grill up some corn and turkey burgers, make macaroni and cheese with 100 percent whole-grain pasta or make your own pizzas with plenty of veggies, homemade tomato sauce and a whole-grain crust. Even a PB&J sandwich made with real bananas and 100 percent natural peanut butter can take on a new twist for children if they’re cut into animal shapes using cookie cutters.
Eat and Play Like a Child
I started this blog by sharing my experience at a recent birthday party – mainly that I ate too much and moved too little, which leads me to my last point, and that is to eat and play like a child. Children do something most of don’t do as we age – they stop eating when they’re no longer hungry, and they’ll most likely not eat if they’re not hungry. We adults eat until we’re 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, most kids I know would much rather hang out in the backyard, swinging baseball bats and climbing on rocks. Given the high amount of calories, fat and sugar that are usually prevalent at a birthday party, I would allow plenty of active fun that can burn off all that sugar. Play with the kids, as well. After all, you’re the best example to your child of what health and well-being 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 themselves. So yes, you can have your cake and eat it, too. Just play a little, make it fun and interactive, and consider eating cupcakes.