When you’re a parent and a nutritionist, the world expects a bit more when it comes to occasions with food. Junk food at birthday parties? Surely not! Read on as nutritionist Karen Kingham shares her experiences at birthday parties, and dispenses tips for treading the fine line between indulgence and excess.
When warnings shout at us from newspapers and magazines about the weighty issues of Aussie children, it can be difficult to put treats and celebrations involving less-than-healthy food into context. But banning party-style foods in the diets of our children doesn’t remove their desire for them, and for some can result in uncontrollable binging when the opportunity to eat them does arise (we’ve all seen the child who is glued to the crisp or sweetie bowl).
Teaching our children the difference between “everyday foods” and “sometimes foods” helps them understand that less-than-nutritious foods, such as sweets, crisps, party pies and nuggets, may be part of our menu, just not the “all the time” part. Plus, treat foods don’t always need to be unhealthy. Mangoes, strawberries and blueberries are popular treat foods in our house, and often compete well with many less-healthy treat foods.
Tried and tested
So, with 10 years of parties now under my belt I’ve managed to finesse the party experience such that it can walk the line between indulgence and good for you. On the whole, party participants seem pretty satisfied, as do their parents and even the food police!
- Use the KISSS principle (Keep It Simple Simple Simple). Save time and energy with portion packs of crisps, crackers or biscuits. This also has the advantage of slowing down the feeding frenzy!
- Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it from scratch. Use a packet butter cake and a tub of icing if you need or grab a few boxes of sausage rolls from the freezer cabinet.
- Stick with familiar foods for the under-fours. Fruit (fresh and dried in bite-size pieces), small sandwiches, cheese and vegie sticks, cherry tomatoes and chipolata sausages that can simply be picked up and dipped into sauce – cutlery options are wasted on this age group.
- Avoid over-catering. Three or so different foods are more than enough together with drinks and birthday cake.
- Save the sweeties. Bowls of these can turn sweet young things into a desperate mob. Put sweets into party bags and parents can censor them as they feel fit.
- Value fruit. Kids love fruit. Bite-size berries, mango, melon, banana, apples and kiwi fruit all make a fruit platter hard to resist.
- Don’t forget the drinks. Water and fruit juice should satisfy most children. One thing I have never been able to compromise on is soft drink. It’s not a great drink for kids at any age. If you do want to serve it however, I’d recommend you stick with lemonade.