Have a Fun and Healthier Birthday Party

By Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD
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Kids' birthday parties often are synonymous with pizza, soft drinks, candy and of course cake. 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 also is healthful.

  1. Make it fun. Presentation is everything when serving nutritious party foods. It also is helpful to include a variety of colors, and make eating a hands-on experience. Try cutting finger foods such as mini sandwiches or melon into fun shapes using cookie cutters, serving kebabs and providing dips and other interactive foods to keep kids engaged.
  2. Choose nutritious time-saving foods. When it comes to quick-and-easy options, go for air-popped popcorn, whole-grain tortilla chips with salsa, bean dip or 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. If you are serving a meal at your child’s party, consider ordering from a local restaurant as many cater and can provide a balanced spread. Some ideas: tacos (ask for lean meats), sub-style or mini sandwiches (opt for lean meats and veggies) and baked chicken nuggets.
  3. Build a colorful fruit and vegetable tray. Aim for a variety of color and textures on fruit and vegetable trays. Try combining watermelon slices, tangerines, grape tomatoes, baby carrots, steamed and chilled green beans and cauliflower florets. Including a variety of colors ensures kids are getting a range of nutrients. Serve with a low-fat ranch or yogurt dip.
  4. Include a filling main event. For a protein-packed finger food, prepare mini meatballs with lean ground beef or turkey. Serve on toothpicks with a tomato-based sauce for dipping. Or have a homemade pizza party and turn the food prep into a party activity — kids like to eat what they create. Try do-it-yourself personal pizzas using whole-wheat English muffins or pita bread for crust. Provide lower-sodium marinara sauce, low-fat cheese, turkey pepperoni and plenty of fresh vegetables.
  5. Serve a hydrating 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, such as strawberries, oranges or lemons.
  6. Be smart with sweet treats. Provide smaller portions of desserts and treats such as mini-cupcakes instead of a large sheet cake, and serve each child individually, rather than leaving sweets out for the taking. Nutrient-dense options include fruit- or yogurt-based popsicles.
  7. After the party goodies. Take away goodie bags have become a staple at children's birthday parties. Try some of following items for fun goodie bags:
    • Fruit cups in their own juices or unsweetened applesauce.
    • Tangerines.
    • Single-serving boxes of lightly sweetened whole-grain cereal.
    • Snack size shelf stable fat-free pudding.
    • 100% fruit leathers.
    • Non-food items such as pencils, art supplies and outdoor games.

With these tips, you can make the next birthday party an opportunity to teach your child that eating healthfully can be fun — and delicious.

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