Everyone wants birthday parties to be fun! But what to you do when your child is on a restricted diet? Or when you simply want to avoid junk food as much as possible? Do birthday parties really have to be a free-for-all of chips, soda, cake and ice cream?
With the obesity epidemic on the rise, many parents are looking for ways to reduce junk food in their children’s diets, even if it means trimming back the junk at parties. That way, not only are you doing your child a favor, your birthday snack choices can benefit every guest. The coolest part is, more often than not, it can be done it without sacrificing the taste!
Parents know it’s more important than ever to teach their children healthy lifestyle habits at a young age. As of 2010, nearly one-third of all Oklahomans could be classified as obese, having a Body Mass Index of 30 or higher. Another third are considered overweight, having a BMI greater than 25. With the rate of overweight and obese children rising sharply, instilling healthy eating habits from the beginning can save them a lifetime of health issues associated with obesity, but many parents don’t know where to begin. And while birthday parties are meant to be a fun and relaxing departure, what do you do when they reach that point where they eat their meals at parties, sleepovers, lock-ins, or dances almost as often as they eat at home?
One solution? Set an example. More and more parents are choosing to forgo slumber party staples such as potato chips and soda in favor of more nutritious—but equally delicious—fare. Kristin Ford and Angel Peck own a party and event-planning company called Fancy Like That! (FLT!) They have a combined ten years of experience in planning events, and special dietary needs or requests are par for the course. “We’ve done several events that were 100% gluten-free, and no one else even knew. The same rule applies to food allergies and diabetes. No one wants to make someone with dietary restrictions feel different or left out,” says Ford.
Since FLT! organizes events for both children and adults, they have plenty of experience with clients looking for a healthy party menu. “One thing we’ve found that works well for all ages is pizza. Everyone loves a pizza, and you can increase the healthy factor by going with homemade pizzas served on flatbread or sliced baguettes, giving you the option of going whole grain,” says Ford. “They can be prepared ahead with a pesto base with a touch of mozzarella and spinach, and with kids, you can even give them the option of building their own.” Indeed, according to nutritional experts, getting kids involved in meal planning and preparation is a great way to teach them healthy eating habits for life. By giving them “handson” experience, they may be less likely to choose processed foods or go to the drivethrough lane when they’re older.
“Another thing we like for kids’ parties is hummus. Kids love it, and it can be served with carrots, celery or whole grain crackers instead of chips.” While store-bought hummus can be pricey, it’s actually fairly easy and inexpensive to make, and is a great choice to keep on hand for after-school snacks. “Fresh fruits are always a healthy and popular choice, and can be served with homemade dips or spreads,” notes Ford.
When it comes to cake, “we advise skipping the store-bought cake loaded with fats. Individual cupcakes—we at FLT! call them Bitzies—are a nice choice, and take the guesswork out of portion control. We can even do carrot or zucchini cake with cream cheese icing. Kids don’t even know we’re sneaking them vegetables!” Ford maintains that “it’s not about changing everything to fruits and veggies and taking the fun and taste out of a party. That would disappoint guests. Instead, we try to slide them in by preparing a menu that’s so yummy that guests don’t even notice the potato chips are missing!”
If you are trying to trim the menu for an upcoming event, consider some of these tasty tips. Many party and event planners will work with you to create a healthy party menu, and chances are, you’ll get some great ideas you can use at home, too. I ought to know… I now prepare a two-pound batch of homemade hummus every week!
Healthy Party Snacks: Hummus
This easy recipe for hummus can be easily modified to fit your family’s preferences. Hummus is a healthy alternative to dips and tastes wonderful with pita bread, vegetables and even chips.
- 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon Tahini (sesame paste); optional
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Sea salt to taste
Process all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. For a creamier consistency, add more olive oil or sour cream, one tablespoon at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. Add garlic, olives or roasted peppers during processing for variation
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer from Edmond and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions.