Has your little one been inundated with birthday party invitations lately?
Celebrations and parties are a special time for both a child and the family – a time to have fun, create fabulous memories and a sense of community.
But, I often get asked in my clinic and at my workshops how a family can keep their child’s sugar consumption, nutrition and food choices in balance when they’re constantly attending birthday parties – often weekly and sometimes even numerous parties on some weekends.
First things first, I believe there’s nothing wrong with a little sweetness in your child’s diet.
So, I’ve put together my top tips for both partygoers and party hosts. By embracing a few simple swaps, strategies and recipe ideas you can help boost the nutritional content of the delicious offerings at these events.
By making some small substitutions you can boost the nutritional profile of party food without altering the flavour.
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.
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.
Kids can also consume a lot of artificial food colouring at parties, so why not use natural colours from fruit and vegetables as a substitute? Check out the Natural Rainbow Cake recipe on page 281 of my book.
My book, “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook”, features numerous nutritious allergy-friendly celebration and party-appropriate recipes, weaving in these healthy substitution ideas. It also includes a Party Menu Planner with both sweet and savoury recipe options.
Four top tips for partygoers.
1. Make sure your child 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 be more inclined to eat, eat, eat.
2. Fill little tummies with protein-rich foods before the party too, so they don’t arrive hungry. Some nutritious options include Beef and Veggie Meatballs, Cauliflower, Chia and Cheese Falafels or even some Beetroot and Spinach Bliss Balls. This is especially important if your child experiences a sugar-high and then crashes after eating lots of sugar (we’ve all been there).
3. Discuss what your child thinks is an appropriate number of treats to indulge in. While they may not strictly stick to what you agree on, at least they’ll know they need to slow down.
4. 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.
As a parent, what can you do if your parents or in-laws refuse to stop feeding your kids unhealthy food? We speak to Butterfly Foundation Founder, Christine Morgan. Post continues after audio.
Ten top tips for party hosts.
1. To ensure your party is well-balanced, for every treat, provide a healthy alternative. These could include sushi, vegetable platters and dip, quiches, 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.
2. Serve a selection of treats, 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 Chocolate Ganache or Coconut Cream Frosting (see recipes on page 91 and 281), or better yet? My Natural Rainbow Cake recipe is made from all-natural food colouring (see page 281).
3. Don’t overload the sugar with birthday cake and offer ice-cream. Let your child choose between a baked cake or an ice-cream cake.
4. Younger children often only lick the frosting off cakes or cupcakes. By using cream cheese in the frosting, you’ll up the protein content and reduce the sugar to keep their little tums full. (See our recipe on page 92.)
5. Swap out those sugar-filled cupcakes with some nutrient-dense muffins, like my Chocolate Zucchini Muffins, and then top with a delicious frosting. The kids won’t even notice the difference. (See recipe on page 127.)
6. Provide mini-waters instead of individual cartons of juice for each child.
7. 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.
8. Opt for unprocessed sweeteners in baked goods and avoid sprinkles that contain artificial colours and preservatives.
9. Leave packaged sweets or candy out altogether and offer squares of good quality dark chocolate (start with 60% for little taste buds). You can even make your own healthy version of chocolate shapes with homemade chocolate and fun moulds – see our most popular recipe.
10. Swap cake pops for delicious Choc Chia Pops (recipe on page 89). They’re the perfect healthy party treat with antioxidant-rich chia seeds – kids (and adults) will love them.
Mandy Sacher is a paediatric nutritionist, mum and author of the Wholesome Child: Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook, which includes a host of nutritional information and guidance, along with over 140+ allergy-friendly recipes and a range of menu planners suitable for busy families. Available to purchase online or via iTunes. Connect with Mandy on Instagram and Facebook. For more information, contact Mandy Sacher.
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