Healthy Birthday Parties for Kids
Photo courtesy of Finished Vision Photography
A child’s birthday party is a day when healthy eating is often put aside for treats of sugary cake, candy, and pizza.
Amanda Viau, Executive Chef for Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center, said parents increasingly are opting to incorporate healthier options during special events such as birthday parties.
“It’s becoming a trend,” she said. “People are thinking more about health than they have in the past. We want to teach our kids how to eat healthy now because they will someday be making those decisions on their own.”
At a party of any kind, it’s hard to please everybody. But kids also follow each other. If one child is opting for the fruit, the others are more likely to try it, too, Amanda said.
Parents who want to keep party foods healthful should look to fresh, whole foods. “Anything that is overly-processed is usually not so good for you,” Amanda said.
That can be tricky with children, who often are picky eaters. The key is to choose fun items kids can easily grab and to keep in mind a child’s palette isn’t as sophisticated as that of an adult. That means children tend to like sweeter foods such as fruit and certain vegetables. Kids also are drawn to foods by look. If it looks unappealing, they probably won’t want to eat it.
“Things that are bright in color appeal to kids,” Amanda said. “Fresh fruit is always a hit.”
One way to appeal visually to a child’s palette is to have fun with design, taking advantage of the bright colors of fruits and vegetables. One example of this is plating the food to look like Sesame Street characters — use strawberries for Elmo, broccoli for Oscar the Grouch, or blueberries for Grover. Small containers of yogurt dip can be the eyes, while black olives or blackberries can form the mouth.
“Fruit and veggie kabobs are always really popular,” Amanda said. “You can do them ahead and they’re cold.” The kabobs can be paired with a yogurt dip.
Amanda also recommends fresh fruit salsa paired with apple or pear chips. Other healthier options include whole wheat pretzels or Goldfish.
“Macaroni and cheese bars are popular right now. You can make your own mac and cheese, and it doesn’t have to be completely bad for you,” Amanda said. Using whole-wheat pasta and skim cheese cuts down on calories and fat, and adding items like diced chicken, spinach, carrots or tomatoes adds nutrition.
The same can be done for another popular option: pizza stations. By using whole-wheat crust and offering healthy topping choices, parents can make it a healthier choice. Using hummus instead of pizza sauce is another option that Amanda said kids love.
For a sweet and salty option, use a waffle cone and fill it with lightly salted popcorn instead of ice cream.
On the treat side, Amanda is seeing increased requests for fresh fruit cakes, using watermelon as the base and other fresh fruits as the “frosting.” Ice cream sundaes can be replaced by frozen yogurt with fresh fruit.
“Instead of having those candies you’re really just incorporating more fresh fruit,” Amanda said.
Using whole, unprocessed foods also cuts down on allergy risks, though some children are allergic to fruits and vegetables.
“In fresh food, you’ll find fewer allergies than most processed foods. So you’re actually safer,” Amanda said. “If you’re serving things like frozen yogurt and fresh fruits there’s just fewer allergies involved in that.”
When it comes to planning any party, don’t forget to leave time to enjoy it. Do as much prep work ahead of time as possible, Amanda said. For macaroni and cheese, toppings can be prepared ahead of time so that the day of the party all that remains is making the noodles and cheese sauce.
“Keep it simple because you are going to be busy and you don’t want to be so overwhelmed that it’s not fun,” Amanda said.