The weekend before last was the best weather I could have asked for in February. It started off a little misty but then by 10am it was glorious sunshine which continued through out the day. The perfect weather for a party! Oh wait, no we’re in lockdown #3.
That didn’t stop my daughter having a great day celebrating her 3rd birthday with a whole day of excitement. Determined to make it as fun as the birthday party she couldn’t have we arranged doorstep visits for people to deliver cards and presents, we put some fresh sand in her sandpit, put up a child size gazebo for her picnic lunch and my partner put up her new swing set.
I’d stayed up the night before endlessly baking two Troll themed chocolate cakes and 12 cupcakes and decorating the downstairs with borrowed balloons and bunting from Hunter Gatherings so when my little one came down in the morning there would be her favourite Troll characters on helium balloons, a stream of pink balloons and not one but two chocolate Troll cakes with cupcakes!
Being a nutritional therapist who specialises in child nutrition, I am always conscious about what my daughter eats and how the food will affect her mood and energy levels through out the day so it was important to me to give her a nutritious lunch but one that still appealed to a 3 year old on her birthday!
I thought I would share how different foods affect our children and my tips on how to make healthy birthday party food for a child. It doesn't have to be complicated. Children tend to like plain simple foods and eat small portions. There is always a tendency to over cater for children's parties but they only really sit still for 20 minutes to eat so small finger foods that are colourful and attractive are all you really need.
The foods I tend to avoid are foods high in sugar, ultra processed, unhealthy fats, that contain additives and salt.
Foods I try to include are vegetables, fruit, protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, fibre.
The Sugar Thing
Sugar is the main thing I aim to avoid because they get their sugar fix with dessert at the end and so don't really need it with the main party food too. A recent 2018 survey conducted by Public Health England found that children are consuming double the amount of recommended sugar per day.
Recommendation is for a 4-6 year old to consume a maximum of 5 cubes or 19g, 7-10 year olds 6 cubes or 24g and 11+ year olds 7 cubes or 30g.
A mini cupcake with icing can contain approx 10g of sugar, an carton of apple juice for kids can add up to 13g of sugar and with those two items you've already exceeded your sugar count for the day before you've even got to the slice of cake or jelly.
The health risks of excess sugar span from the more widely known increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes to the lesser known health issues where it effects our children's ability to regulate their mood and therefore increases the risk of anger, frustration, hyperactivity and sleep problems.
The problem isn't just sugar alone though, it's what you eat with it that counts. If your child is just consuming simple carbohydrates and pure sugar this will provide a fast and constant supply of glucose into their bloodstream and their pancreas will have to work harder to release insulin to take all the glucose out of the blood and into cells of the body. Every time this happens blood glucose levels stay high then they drop then high again just like a rollercoaster going up and down all day long. This is what contributes to your child's mood as well as their concentration and focus. Have you ever noticed your child's mood change after consuming simple carbohydrates or sugar? Even a box of juice can tip them over the edge.
However if sugar is eaten with fibre or protein this slows down the release of sugar into their bloodstream and stops the peaks and troughs to some degree. So if you want to prevent hyperactivity and mood swings with your little ones make sure their sweet treat is consumed with something like oatcakes and butter, wholemeal bread sandwich, green veg, root vegetables and hummus dip, boiled egg, nuts and seeds, cheese etc.
Foods for the brain
Our brains are made from at least 60% fat and every cell in our body is held together by a membrane made from essential fats. Healthy fats are crucial to help with your child's risk of allergies, immunity and mental health whether that be fatigue, memory, IQ, or ADHD and autism. In the past fats have been given a bad name but there are 3 types of fat and the fats that are bad for you are trans fats found in processed and fried food. The good guys polyunsaturated fats from seeds, nuts and oily fish help your child's brain develop and grow correctly.
Obviously it's a party so you don't have to go OTT on all things healthy if your child really doesn't like something but for instance I know my daughter loves salmon, so I did salmon and boiled eggs. She also loves little seeds and nuts to pick at so I put a bowl of mixed seeds out. I also put out some avocado wedges and some olive oil for bread dipping (all healthy fats).
My Top Tips
To avoid the party becoming a sugar fest I keep the party food savoury and the cake for dessert. The main thing to focus on is making the savoury food as interesting as possible to capture the children’s attention.
Here are some healthy ideas:
· Avocado wedges,
· Orange wedges or small tangerine segments,
· Kale crisps (washed kale pieces baked in the oven with olive oil and a small pinch of salt)
· Shaped sandwiches – you can buy shaped sandwich cutters or simply cut into mini squares or triangles
· Mini pizzas on crumpets or ciabatta
· Mixed toasted seeds
· Grilled salmon or chicken cut up into small bite-sized pieces
· Cheese and pineapple on sticks
· Crudities – celery, cucumber, pepper and carrot sticks
· Boiled eggs sliced into quarters. If you are feeling creative you can always leave these to sit in some beetroot juice and soak up the colour so they turn pink, before slicing
Keep things colourful
There’s nothing like seeing 3 different colours of carrots rather than same old orange ones! Choose different varieties and colours of fruit and vegetables to create a colourful spread. Here are some ideas:
· purple and yellow cauliflowers chopped up raw into tiny pieces,
· green, orange and white fusilli pasta spirals
· rainbow carrots – purple, white, yellow and orange
· A trio of dips – red pepper and feta, green pesto, hummus, beetroot hummus, red lentil
· A platter of mixed berries – blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries
Sugar Free Drinks
Avoid using squash for drinks as this contains high amounts of sugar or sweeteners such as aspartame which can have a similar effect as sugar on mood.
· Flavour a big jug of water with herbs from the garden or wedges of lemon and lime
· Freshly squeezed carrot, orange and ginger juice (watered down for younger children)
· Berry smoothie – raspberry and strawberries with coconut yogurt, chia seeds and oat milk blend together and serve with curly straws or colourful paper straws.
The Sweet Stuff
For the dessert I just had the birthday cake and nothing else but you could offer options like:
Strawberries and cream,
Homemade ice lollies
Lemon and poppy seed muffins,
Ginger bread men
I tend to half the sugar of any cake recipe and because my daughters used to it as long as it’s chocolate flavoured she doesn’t care!
I hope you found these ideas useful. For more ideas and news from me you can follow me on Instagram @seednutritionaltherapy or if you have a FUSSY EATER you can sign up for my new 26 page Fussy Eater Guide here