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Easy food swaps to host a healthy kids' party, according to a nutritionist.

While most parents ordinarily try to encourage healthy eating habits in their families, when it comes to children’s parties it can be all-too-easy to give up in the face of what seems to be an inevitable explosion of fairy bread and blue food colouring.

However, with a few simple swaps, strategies and creative recipe ideas, kids’ party season doesn’t have to a nutritional write-off and can be healthy instead. 

I’m often asked at my workshops how families can keep their child’s sugar consumption, nutrition and food choices in balance when they’re constantly swamped with party invitations. So, to help you survive your child’s next celebration, I’ve put together some simple healthy swaps and top tips for both partygoers and party hosts around food. 

Have a plan of action.

Before the party, discuss what your child thinks is an appropriate number of treats to indulge while they are there. While they may not strictly stick to what you agree on, at least they’ll know they need to slow down. Plus, by coming to an agreement together, it is much easier to set boundaries than if you simply lay down the rules on your own.

Make sure your little one is hydrated before they get to the party. A thirsty child is going to be tempted by sugary cordials and fruit juice, and because thirst mimics hunger, a thirsty child will also be more inclined to eat, eat, eat.

Image: Supplied.

Fill little tummies with protein-rich foods before the party too so they don’t arrive hungry. Some nutritious options include Broccoli Tots,  Beef and Veggie MeatballsVeggie Quinoa Bites or even some Beetroot and Spinach Bliss Balls.

When they get to the party, encourage your child to fill only one plate of food and even hold the plate for them if necessary. It’s better that they keep coming back to their plate for food than straight back to the indulgent party table.

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12 healthy party food swaps.

By making some small substitutions, you can boost the nutritional profile of party food without altering the flavour. Try these simple tricks next time you’re hosting a children’s party:

  1. Offer real food alternatives to lollies, such as peanut butter sandwiches, Sweet Potato Wedges, homemade scrolls, mini pizzas or cut-up fresh fruit and veggie sticks. Sometimes just presenting food in a fun way can make all the difference.
    Image: Supplied.
  2. Serve a selection of party favourites, but don’t go overboard with the sugar and food colouring. If you’re going to have a bright red Elmo cake, a blue Frozen cake or maybe a Ninja Turtle in green, it’s best to avoid offering cupcakes with coloured icing and fairy bread along with it. Instead, try my Coconut Cream or Choc Date Frosting, or better yet – the Natural Rainbow Cake recipe is made from all-natural food colouring.
  3. Don’t overload the kids with sugar by offering birthday cake and ice-cream. Let your child choose between a baked cake or an ice-cream cake.
  4. By switching regular frosting for cream cheese frosting, you’ll up the protein content and reduce the sugar to keep little tums full.
  5. Swap out those sugar-filled cupcakes with some nutrient-dense muffins, like my Cauliflower Vanilla Muffins, and then top with a delicious frosting. The kids won’t even notice the difference.
    Image: Supplied.
  6. Consider providing mini-waters instead of individual cartons of juice for each child. However, if you want to offer juice, offer pure fruit juice with no added sugar or preservatives in a large jug, as well as jugs of water. This way, parents can control how much they want to give their child – the ideal balance would be 75% water and 25% fruit juice.
  7. Opt for unprocessed sweeteners in baked goods and avoid sprinkles that contain artificial colours and preservatives.
  8. For every treat, try to provide a healthy alternative. These could include sushi, vegetable platters and dip, quiches, Veggie Quinoa Bites, savoury muffins, fruit skewers, unsweetened popcorn, crackers and cheese or even wholegrain sandwiches. Spend as much time making these healthy options look attractive as you do on the sweet treats.
    Image: Supplied.
  9. Instead of refined flours, you could try wholemeal spelt or buckwheat, or even opt for flours like almond meal, coconut flour, pumpkin seed meal, arrowroot flour or teff to increase the nutrition in every mouthful.
  10. By using a high-quality oil like coconut oil instead of refined vegetable oil, adding vegetables to cupcakes and muffins and even using a healthier icing that uses unprocessed sweeteners like maple syrup or raw honey (for children over one year), you’ll be well on your way to offering balanced party food.
  11. Replace store-bought treats with easy-to-prepare homemade goodies such as delicious Gingerbread MenChewy Maple Syrup BiscuitsChocolate Quinoa Crackles, or Spelt Pumpkin Biscuits.
  12. Swap cake pops for delicious Choc Chia Pops (see the recipe in my book). They’re the perfect healthy party treat with antioxidant-rich chia seeds – kids (and adults) will love them.
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Image: Supplied

Of course parties are a time to celebrate and enjoy delicious food, but it’s important to appreciate that it’s really hard for a three, four or five-year-old to moderate themselves in the face of enticing sugar-filled treats. Most children are happy with cake and one or two other sweet treats at parties but when there are two parties at the weekend or even more than one in a day, it’s easy to start pushing the sugar boundaries.

Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of party hosts and party venues to be mindful that they do not need to go overboard. I love the fact that entertainment centre Sky Zone is now offering a sugar-free party menu and would encourage all of us to do the same. Hopefully these tips prove that it is possible to host a healthy party with happy kids – and with less effort than you might think!

To learn more about Mandy Sacher please visit the Wholesome Child website. Her book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” is available to purchase online and through iTunes, and you can connect with Mandy on Instagram and Facebook.

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