March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
From sweet cakes and candies to salty snacks, many common party treats can be anything but nutritious. But hosting or attending a kids party doesn't have to derail your child's nutrition. Follow these tips to provide a fun and delicious party spread that's also healthy.
1. Make it Fun
Presentation is everything when serving nutritious party foods. It's also helpful to include a variety of colors, and make eating a hands-on experience, shares Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Marina Chaparro, MPH, RDN. She suggests cutting foods into fun shapes using cookie cutters, serving kabobs and providing dips and other interactive foods to keep kids engaged.
2. Choose a Better Store-Bought Snack
When it comes to quick-and-easy options, go for air-popped popcorn, whole-grain tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole or whole-wheat pita bread with hummus. Toss together a simple trail mix made with whole-grain cereal, nuts and dried fruit for an energizing mix of complex carbohydrates and protein.
3. Lighten Up Your Dip
Sara Haas RDN, LDN, Academy spokesperson, recommends this fresh, healthy spin on spinach and artichoke dip. Saute fresh spinach and artichokes together with a little garlic, and stir in low-fat plain Greek yogurt, shredded Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Serve the dip with fresh vegetables and toasted whole-wheat baguette slices.
4. Build a Colorful Vegetable Tray
Aim for color contrasts and a variety of textures on fruit and vegetable trays, suggests Sarah Krieger, MPH, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Try combining grape tomatoes, baby carrots, steamed and chilled green beans and cauliflower florets. Including a variety of colors ensures that the kids are getting a range of nutrients.
5. Include a Filling Main Event
Mini meatball dippers: For a protein-packed finger food, prepare mini meatballs with lean ground beef or turkey. Serve on skewers with a tomato-based sauce for dipping. Or have a homemade pizza party. Start with fresh pizza dough from the grocery store bakery, or use pita bread or tortillas for a simple crust. Provide lower-sodium marinara sauce, low-fat cheese, turkey pepperoni and plenty of fresh vegetables, and allow the kids to add their own toppings.
6. Serve a Better Drink
Instead of soda or other sweetened beverages, serve fruit juice mixed with sparkling water for a bubbly drink with less sugar, or try infusing water with fresh fruit, like strawberries, oranges or lemons. Chaparro recommends making fruit ice cubes by placing sliced fruit in ice cube trays, add water to cover and freezing.
7. Be Smart with Sweet Treats
Serve more nutritious foods first, and bring out the sweets later when the kids have already filled up on healthier fare. Provide smaller portions of desserts and treats, and serve each child individually, rather than leaving sweets out for the taking. Smarter options include fruit- or yogurt-based popsicles.
8. Get the Kids Cooking
Involve older children by organizing a cooking competition, recommend Weiss. Divide the kids into groups and give each group a mystery basket with several ingredients, such as canned beans, tortillas, low-fat shredded cheese and something unusual like popcorn. Charge each group with creating their own recipe from the ingredients provided.
With these tips, you can make the next kids party an opportunity to teach your child that eating healthfully can be fun — and delicious.