Childhood birthday parties, special school/nursery and other occasions seem to be far more common occurrences than when I was growing up. Trying to keep sugar and junk food to a minimum can sometimes feel like a never-ending war zone in amongst all these well-intended events where you never quite know what sort of food will be on offer. I’ve got 4 ideas to approach parties, and whilst these aren’t foolproof and may be dependent on your child’s ability to rationalise, I hope they can help you and your children have happier parties.
1. Get in touch with the mom (School etc)
If you have a serious food concern, allergy (celiac, peanut, egg, etc) or intolerance, the best thing is to phone the mom or organiser and explain the situation. They may respond positively and if they have decided on the menu be able to give you ideas as to what might be on offer on the day. But don’t expect them to provide a solution if they haven’t thought that far ahead - be proactive and ask them if you can bring a special party treat bag for your child for them to give out. There are a few things to consider to make this one work well:
- the party bag were possible should be given out by the birthday child’s mom or the host, so that it is not YOU that is giving the different food
- the party bag should have really yummy foods inside, so that your child feels that they are not missing out, even if they are the odd one out at the party (this may also mean giving a slightly bigger party bag so that your child can share his yummy snacks if he is that way inclined)
2. Action Plan: what is it?
Have you got a plan how to tackle the party or do you try and negotiate food choices when you there?
I watch how some people try and persuade their child to take some fruit or avoid the sweet when they are wildly excited at a party. Tears and tempers flow and frustration for both mum and child ensues. With a slightly older child from about 3yrs, they can rationalise the choices and decisions being made, so include them in the formulation of the plan. Ours is pretty standard as my son who has a gluten intolerance, knows too much gluten can make him feel ill and gives him eczema. His friend of the same age always asks if there is dairy in food at parties and he always asks his mum if he can have any food first. I often weave the food discussion into general party behaviour reminders, so that the eating part isn’t singled out. Our discussion and reminders go something like this:
Say Happy Birthday and give the present when you arrive; play with everyone nicely and be friendly to children you don’t know - ask their name and introduce yourself; eat some fruit and healthy food before you have some treats; ask mom if you don't know if it has wheat in it or if it is a treat or something healthy; sing nicely when is Happy Birthday time; DON’T BLOW OUT THE CANDLES IT’S NOT YOUR BIRTHDAY; wait patiently for a piece of cake (my concession to wheat as he can tolerate enough for a piece of cake on occasion without too much concern); say thank you for inviting me at the end of the party"
It’s certainly got easier each time we do it, and my son sticks to it pretty well. As we’ve spoken about it beforehand, it’s easy for me to remind him at the party without him getting upset and he quickly responds positively to my interception if things get out of hand at the sweet table. I’ve also started using the same phrasing and language with my younger toddler at parties “Eat something healthy before you get a sweet/chip” so we are consistent from a young age, even if it doesn’t always work out as I would like for now!
3. Feed ‘em up before you go!
The simplest one to do, is to give them a decent meal before you leave home. You can even do this in the car on the way to the party if time is short. By making sure your child arrives with a full tummy, they will hopefully not be too interested in food/treats and will want to go and play instead. Remember that high good fat food choices are the best foods to satiate appetites, so it is crucial to include some fatty foods as part of this meal or snack. This could be Baybel cheese rounds, a full fat greek or double cream yoghurt or full cream Laban drink, macadamia/almond nuts or apple slices spread with macadamia/almond nut butter, some dried wors / biltong / beef jerky or some chia and coconut energy balls.
4. Control the “Sugar Rush"
Another thing that may be worth considering, especially for little toddlers, is the first experience of sugar/cake/sweets. Most children are introduced to these sugar foods in a party environment. Excitement and noise levels are at an all time high, and the sugar rush can be imprinted with the adrenaline of the event leaving the children desiring more and more sugar to mimic that first experience. And since I had my birthday parties, the first birthday cake-smash seems to be latest craze which is treated with as much fanfare and professional photography shoots as a wedding cake-cutting scene! There are mums who exercise strict control of their children at home and school, which their children having no exposure to any form of processed or junk foods. Whilst this is absolutely fantastic to have such a clean diet, they are the moms who complain to me that their child gorges themselves to the point of being ill at parties and refuse to be moderated or restrained when party food is on offer. This isn’t balanced or good as if the child is always associating sugar treats with the excitement of a party. The first taste of sugar or cake should be at home, in an every day setting with no fuss or fanfare following a healthy snack or meal. A simple “here is something nice to eat because you have had all that delicious healthy food” also helps reinforce that the healthy food is the most important. And once they had had it, simply carry on the day as normal. It makes the sweet food a controlled, non-event and not a crazy, emotionally fuelled experience.
Enjoy the parties, hope these ideas help!