Have a Fun and Healthier Birthday Party

By Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD
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Kid's birthday parties are often synonymous with pizza, soft drinks, candy and of course cake. While these foods can fit into a healthful diet as occasional treats, you can provide more nutritious options for your child's next party without losing the fun factor. "Children go to many more parties and activities than we used to, and treats have become a big part of their life," says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson, Vandana Sheth, RD, CDE.

Academy Spokesperson Heather Mangieri, RDN contends it's not as simple as serving them healthful food, "If we want them to eat healthy we should aim to make food not only taste good, but entertaining."

What's a health conscious parent to do?

Here are some tips for a healthful and fun party, whether you enjoy preparing the treats yourself, prefer to order in or like getting the kids involved.

Homemade, Healthful and Yummy

Sheth recommends making a variety sandwich platter. Think turkey, nut butters, even veggie and avocado sandwiches. For added fun Sheth suggests "cookie cutters to create shapes, or cut up a wrap sandwich to make pinwheels."

When it comes to side dishes try:

  • Baked sweet potato strips (try this recipe)
  • Fruit smoothies in small cups
  • Peel-and-eat edamame
  • Whole-wheat pita triangles with hummus
  • Baked tortilla chips with bean dip and salsa
  • Watermelon slices
  • Tangerines
  • Baby carrots and low-fat ranch dip

Delivery or Pick-Up

No time to shop and prepare the party food? Mangieri recommends ordering from a local restaurant as "many cater and can provide healthy foods or have something delivered." Some ideas: tacos (ask for lean meats), sub-style or mini sandwiches (opt for lean meats and veggies) and baked chicken nuggets. If you have time to pick something up, she says, "grocery stores often have sandwich, vegetable and fruit trays ready to eat."

Engaging Kids

Sheth and Mangieri agree turning the food prep into a party activity is not only fun, but kids also like to eat what they create, such as:

  • Do-it-yourself personal pizzas using whole-wheat English muffins or pita bread for crust. Top with low-sodium tomato sauce and fresh veggies.
  • Make-your-own fruit kabobs with chocolate "fondue" for dipping. Sheth makes fondue easy by simply melting dark chocolate chips.
  • Swapping the candy for whole-grain popcorn with a "flavor station." Mangieri says garlic seasoning, hot sauce and even peanut butter are big hits on air-popped popcorn!

To Eat or Not to Eat Cake

Sheth says there’s no need to lose the cake. Instead she suggests mini-cupcakes with light frosting to trim down portion size. You can also try kids-do-it-yourself layered yogurt parfaits with berries, nuts and whole-grain cereal.

After the Party Goodies

Take away goodie bags have become a staple at children's parties. Try some of following items for healthier and fun goodie bags:

  • 94% fat-free microwave popcorn bags
  • Single serving bags of corn nuts
  • Sugar-free gum
  • Fruit cups in their own juice or unsweetened applesauce
  • Tangerines
  • Single serving boxes of lightly sweetened whole-grain cereal
  • Snack size shelf stable fat-free pudding
  • 100 calorie snack pack cookies or crackers
  • 100% fruit leathers

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