Today, it seems that birthday parties are frequent events, and it is for this reason that dietitian, Kate Bullen, believes it is important to set a good example by offering healthy food, without eliminating ‘party’ food.
Children’s birthdays should be fun and provide happy memories forever. My son has just turned four and he has been excited for months about his party. When I told him it was only two sleeps to go he could hardly contain himself! It was while planning his party that it occurred to me that children’s parties are quite a big business these days. I may be showing my age by saying this, but back in my day children’s parties were all about running around, pass-the-parcel and an ice cream cake. As a child, I have very fond memories of the ice cream cake that Mum would buy each year for our birthday dessert – in fact I can almost taste it! And I think this is an important point – children remember these special occasions for a long time. And I am all for associating happy birthdays with healthy food!
Children will eat the food that is available. So if the party table is laden with lollies, Twisties, crisps and a fruit platter, then I can probably guess what the children (including my children) will eat a lot of. So when people say to me ‘it is just party food’ I agree – to a point. Children’s parties are now so frequent, that it isn’t just sometimes. It is often.
Remember: children eat with their eyes first, so aim to make the food bright and attractive. My philosophy for food at children’s parties is what I use every day. I aim to extend their palate rather than limit it.
I think children’s parties, healthy food and ‘party’ food can go hand in hand. I really don’t think restricting ‘party’ food is a sustainable idea, and as my children grow older I am aware of peer pressure. When my children are at friend’s parties they will often ask me if they can have crisps/lollies/biscuits/cakes. My response is to ask them if they feel like eating the food. I will often ask ‘is your tummy hungry for that food?’ and then let them decide, which is much more sustainable than not allowing them to eat certain foods.
Moderation is my approach at my children’s parties. We still give out party bags and there is still a birthday cake, but the majority of food offered is healthy and attractive to encourage the children to eat if they are hungry. Remember: children eat with their eyes first, so aim to make the food bright and attractive. This approach fits with the 90/10 rule of thumb. 90 per cent of the time we should aim for healthy food and 10 per cent of the time is for ‘sometimes’ or party food.
My philosophy for food at children’s parties is what I use every day. I aim to extend their palate rather than limit it.
Here are my top five tips to make a party that bit healthier, with food that will appeal to children and adults:
Chocolate Weetbix Slice
- 10 Weetbix
- ¼ cup oats
- 3 tablespoons ground flaxseed
- 150g butter, melted
- 30g cocoa
- 100g brown sugar
- 40g coconut
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
Mix 1 cup icing sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa & enough boiling water to make an icing consistency.
- Preheat oven to 180C. Line square slice tray.
- Crush Weetbix & oats in food processor. Add flaxseed & mix together. Set aside in a bowl.
- Add melted butter and all other ingredients to Weetbix mix. Mix well.
- Press into lined tin. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until firm.
- Allow to cool and ice with chocolate icing and sprinkles.
1. Keep it simple.
I usually have food out from the beginning of the party and I make sure there are many healthy choices. So there will always be a big plate of fruit, some popcorn, sushi, cheese & crackers, vegetable sticks and dip and maybe some meatballs or mini pizzas or toasted sandwiches. Plenty of choice and nothing too high in sugar or salt.
2. Be inventive.
Make a jenga castle out of carrots or celery. Make fruit kebabs with marshmallows on the end. Serve yoghurt in small cups with chopped fruit on top. Quarter oranges and freeze them, add a toothpick flag – voila you have a boat! Use shaped cutters to cut bread shapes or cheese shapes.
3. Keep the cake serve sizes small.
Children have small tummies and we don’t want them filling up on cake.
4. Have plenty of activity at the party.
Egg and spoon races, three-legged races, musical chairs, bouncy castles all get the children active.
I offer plenty of water and sometimes will make a smoothie as another option. Avoid soft drinks, juice or cordial. It doesn’t offer anything useful except excess sugar that can easily cause upset tummies.
Party food ideas that children love:
Sweet Party Food
- Fruit platter or fruit kebabs
- Fruit smoothie
- Fairy bread on wholegrain bread
- Muesli bars
- Weetbix slice
- Dried fruit
- Chocolate Weetbix Slice
Savoury Party Food
- Mini pizzas (grated carrot & zucchini work brilliantly)
- Finger sandwiches on wholegrain bread. Cheese & vegemite, peanut butter & grated carrot, and cucumber & cream cheese are some filling options.
- Cheese & crackers
- Vegetable sticks & dip
- Mini quiches
- Sweet potato & potato wedges
Kate Bullen is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Mum to a seven year old, four year old and 18 month old. For more advice from Kate visit www.dietitianonline.com.au.