I remember being around 9 or 10 years old and planning my little brother's 4th or 5th birthday party. I remember making a log cabin out of pretzel sticks and peanut butter, we most likely had chocolate crackles and honey joys (they had a different name, but I can't remember it), and most definitely candy -- lots and lots of it. I remember at that young age wondering what I was thinking when I bought all that candy...
A child only has one birthday per year, so why make an effort for it to be healthy? After all, it's a special occasion, and once in 365 days is hardly an indulgence. Well, I'm not here to say you can't have your cake and eat it too, but there are some reasons I can think of why you may want to think of healthful alternatives:
- Why not? If you already enjoy eating healthy foods, why not also eat them on a special day?
- This is not the only birthday or celebration your child or the rest of your family will participate in throughout the year, so those extra empty calories can really add up.
- Your child may have some bowel trouble after all that sugary stuff.
- You could quickly gain weight by eating the leftovers throughout the week.
- Some people criticize associating junk food with rewards or for "happy" times, reasoning that down the road, this can encourage people to make bad food choices when in need of a pick me up (I'll need to write a separate post on this).
So, here are some suggestions to put the nutrition into your birthday party:
Use a muffin or quick bread recipe, preferably one with whole grain. Fruit- or vegetable-based quickbreads (such as banana bread or carrot cake) is an easy way to incorporate nutrition and texture into your cake. These usually pair up well with some whole grain. I will update this post later with the comparison of muffin vs. cake mixes to see if there is much of a nutritional difference.[UPDATE: one muffin has more calories than one cupcake. I forgot to check sugar content. At least with homemade muffins you can add some more nutrients to it, such as vitamin A and fiber.]
Make cupcakes. Cupcakes have become a first birthday tradition in our family. They are much easier to decorate and the portions are perfectly sized for the birthday baby. If your recipe calls for more than what you'll need, you can always freeze the leftover (preferably unfrosted) cakes. And, if you use the muffin recipe, that's a quick breakfast or snack already prepared for a later time.
Incorporate fruit and vegetables. Use a fruit side, or a vegetable platter. Be creative. Once I saw in a magazine melon slices cut into flower shapes with a cookie cutter, then put on a lollipop dowel. Put them together and you have a fruit flower bouquet.
Make your own spritzer. An alternative to soft drink or sugary Kool-aid is a half-and-half mix of seltzer water (not to be confused with artificially sweetened carbonated water) and 100% fruit juice. This doesn't work very well with orange juice, but apple, grape, cranberry, and other mixes work well. Even if you go with the sugar-added drinks, such as fruit cocktails, you're cutting the sugar in half, so you're still better off than before.
Make realistic quantities. One year, I made these froggy mint oreo cookies (YUM!), but my kids didn't eat much of those, neither did my husband and brother. This left a lot of yummy cookies for me to eat and before I knew it, the button to my jeans rubbed up against my belly button so much that the skin got irritated. Lesson learned. Another year, we made too much cake. It was just us celebrating and there was a lot left over. My husband and I couldn't bring ourselves to eat it all. I think we ended up throwing half of it away (it was not a quickbread or muffin year, ha ha).
Stay tuned for cake (especially cupcake) decorating up next.