Tuesday, September 28, 2010

expert advice: recipe for a healthy birthday party, from registered dietitian Robyn Flipse

I am a mom of two (Harrison, age 4, and Ava, almost 3). We started a healthy eating plan this September and I am determined to stick with it. Every day we write down how many fruits, veggies, proteins, etc., they eat so we can see if we've had a healthy day. I am not neurotic about it but am just trying to get them thinking in a healthy way. And they are into it, so why not?

What throws us off is the birthday parties. Most moms say: "It's one day, big deal! Let them enjoy!" But sometimes, between the two kids, we go to three birthday parties each Sunday and they end up eating sweets and pizza all day long!!

So I wondered, "How can I make the birthday party experience more healthy without ruining all their fun?" I asked New Jersey-based registered dietitian Robyn Flipse for her advice. Here, she shares some excellent healthy eating tips...

"Birthday parties offer young children a chance to be the star in their own show and share a few fun-filled hours with playmates. I can't think of anything that they look forward to more! While the socialization is invaluable, the menu may not always be, so the real question is, which is more important?

My first suggestion is to look at all of the birthday parties and other special occasions your child may attend in the context of the entire year. If they average one or two a month, there is really nothing to worry about. Let them enjoy the foods and drinks being served and offer them their usual meals and snacks for the rest of the day. If your child receives more than one invitation in a single day, it is best to select just one party to attend rather than trying to go to them all, just as you would have to decide for yourself if you were invited to three events in one evening. And what toddler is going to have the stamina for three birthday parties in a single afternoon?

This leads to another important point: We need to teach our children about moderation in the same way we teach them good manners and their ABCs, by example and plenty of practice! I have always counseled the parents in my practice that taking all of the tempting choices off the table does not teach a child how to select a well balanced diet. So just as children must learn they cannot fill up on spaghetti and Italian bread and skip the salad and meatballs, they also need to learn they can have a sweet drink with their pizza then a fruit cup instead of cookies for a snack later that day. Parents provide the choice and guide the decision."

KidandCaboodle: What's the best way to survive a kid's bday party as far as eating healthy is concerned?

Robyn Flipse: "Don't think of it as a challenge to your child's nutritional survival, but rather, as a good time, just like when you go out for dinner and split a bottle of wine, order an expensive entree and indulge in a decadent dessert you don't normally have at home. There are 365 days in the year and three meals a day, so you have 1095 chances to feed your children what you want, the occasional party fare can't undermine that."

K&C: Should you eat a meal beforehand so it's easier to forego the pizza? Is there a healthier alternative to serve?

RF: "Feed your child the meals and snacks that he/she would normally eat before and after the party since the excitement of a party usually blocks their appetite, and much of that pizza and cupcake go uneaten. The party food should be at the discretion of the host and those attending should only make special requests or bring their own food if they have special dietary needs, such a gluten free."

K&C: Is there a healthy kind of cake to buy if you're the one giving the party? Is there an alternative to cake that you can bring for your kids to eat if you are a guest?

RF: "The cake and candles are a big part of the celebration and for most toddlers, the decorations on the cake are more important than how it tastes, so stick with the party theme when selecting the cake and make the servings small. Half the battle to achieving a healthy diet for your children is helping them choose the right portions to feel satisfied, not stuffed, after eating."

K&C: What's a healthy alternative to chips? Soda? Other junk food that might be served?

RF: "Stick with age-appropriate foods the children are familiar with and can be easily served and eaten unassisted, meaning without utensils. There are plenty of whole grain and lower fat and sodium chips on the market to choose from, in addition to pretzels and popcorn for munching, and endless beverage choices ranging from 100% fruit juices to lemonade and assorted fun-colored and flavored punches. Occasional sweets and treats are fine as long as parents are aware of how often they serve these items and ensure that the rest of their child's diet is balanced."

K&C: Do you have any suggestions about dealing with the goody bag? What can the host put in to make it healthy and what can parents do to keep their kids from getting sugared out?

RF: "Why not fill those goodie bags with dollar store trinkets like stickers, fun bands and washable tattoos? My sons loved those when they were little and they provided some entertainment for the rest of the day."

K&C: What about the candy-filled pinata? They have them at a lot of these parties and I insist that my kids collect as much as they can then we bring the candy home and they get to eat one at a time and they collect the others. They take pride in showing friends their collections. Any other ideas?

RF: "Your strategy is an excellent one! Let the children use their scavenger skills to gather the scattered candy then take it home to count it, group it, trade it and otherwise learn from the experience. Doling it out over time is another good lesson in moderation, just as is needed with their Halloween candy."

K&C: Any general healthy eating tips for kids?

RF: 1. First and foremost, allow your children to develop a positive feeling about eating and experiencing new foods by avoiding too many taboos and rules (unless for religious or health reasons). Research shows that children whose diets are the most restricted have the greatest food issues and eating disorders later in life.

2. Serve as an example of how to enjoy all foods in moderation so that nothing is viewed as more important than anything else, and therefore less likely to be coveted or abused when available. Imagine your child saying no thank you to the ice cream at a party because he knows he can have some later at home.

3. Include children in as much of the feeding process as possible, from planning meals to shopping for and preparing food to cleaning up. These are lifelong skill everyone needs to master.

4. Don't call any otherwise edible food or drink by scary and inappropriate names that can confuse your child, such as "junk food," "garbage," "crap" and "bad for you." The amounts and combinations we eat, or don't eat, are the problem, not the individual foods.

5. When planning your child's next birthday party, ask her what foods she would like to serve, you may be surprised by the answer!

For more info on Robyn Flipse and lots of healthy eating tips, go to www.RobynFlipse.com.