Growing up in the 80’s, parties typically involved red frankfurters with tomato sauce, sugary fizzy cool drinks such as Coke, Cream Soda, Fanta as well as multi-coloured jelly and chips loaded with colourings, preservatives, bad fats and sugar. Parents didn’t seem to be nearly as conscious of party food as they are now. We all love the memory of those retro party treats but it is a cause of concern that our children are being filled with such nutrient-poor foods – particularly when a birthday party seems to be a weekly event for many children.
Children parties however, is an occasion to celebrate and to have fun. Parties unfortunately very often involve excessive amounts of sweets, treats, snacks and drinks that contain too much sugar and poor quality fats. If children have more than one party over one weekend, this is more than likely what they’ll be filling up on. We all know too well what the consequences are… uncontrolled blood sugar levels with adverse effects and healthy, nourishing food are replaced by those foods with very little nutritional benefit. So how can parents ensure that kids enjoy parties but do not overload on second-rate food? Read on for some handy tips.
The offenders at Kids Parties
Many of the snacks found at kids parties are high in salt. A high salt diet during childhood could increase the risk of other conditions later in life. Like anything there is place for a small amount of salt in a child’s diet. If your child is healthy and have a healthy weight, or on cheat days. What’s more, in small amounts, salt can even encourage nutritious eating. Some kids might love homemade popcorn if it had a little salt on it – which is a much healthier snack than commercially produced crisps or savoury biscuits which is loaded with salt and hydrogenated fats. Always remember, moderation is key!
The daily recommended maximum amount of salt children should eat depends on age:
•1 to 3 years – 2g salt a day (0.8g sodium)
•4 to 6 years – 3g salt a day (1.2g sodium)
•7 to 10 years – 5g salt a day (2g sodium)
•11 years and over – 6g salt a day (2.4g sodium)
Sugar intake escalates very quickly if a child eats or drinks lots of processed foods or beverages – foods usually found at kid’s parties. The problem with sugar is that it provides empty calories (energy of no nutritional value) that rob the body of nutrition to strengthen the immune system. Too much sugar also causes cold-like symptoms e.g. runny noses, excessive mucus, cough and symptoms of sinus infections. It contributes to tooth decay and behavioural problems. The sudden glucose spike & subsequent glucose drop below normal blood glucose levels contribute to an increased adrenaline production and this causes hyperactivity in children. Excess sugar may lead to stomach ache in children and subsequently they will eat poorly when healthy nutritious food is offered. Large amounts of sugar put children at risk of health problems that can show up as early as adolescence e.g. overweight, obesity, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
The average primary school child should not consume more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day. The American Heart Association recommends limiting children’s sugar intake to 3-4 teaspoons per day. Added sugar includes sugar that you add to tea, cereal and other food, but also the sugar added to refined or processed food.
Sugar content of some processed food:
|Product||Equivalent amount of sugar|
|Fizzy cool drink (Coke, Fanta etc.) – 340ml can||10 teaspoons|
|Oros – 300ml||6 teaspoons|
|Ice tea – 340ml||6 teaspoons|
|Flavoured water – 500ml||5 teaspoons|
|Jelly sweets – 75g (small packet)||14 teaspoons|
|Bite-size chocolate bar||2 teaspoons|
|Plain chocolate – 4 squares||3 teaspoons|
|Tomato sauce – 2 tablespoons||5 teaspoons|
From this table you can clearly see that consuming party foods with hidden sugar, a child can very easily exceed their daily recommendation for the next few days just by going to one party in a week.
Fat comes in different forms and has different qualities, thus are some better than others. Although it is recommended that fat should be limited in the daily diet – children are still growing and developing and need a certain amount of fat, especially the beneficial ones. The problem with children’s parties is that most of the typical party foods are very high in Trans-fats or Hydrogenated fats.
Trans-Fats or Hydrogenated (man-made) fat are the worst fats and are found typically in processed foods such as hard brick margarine, biscuits, chips, crackers, cakes, commercially baked goods e.g. pastries, doughnuts. It is usually listed as “partially hydrogenated” or “vegetable oil shortening” in the ingredients list. These fats increase the risk of disease (e.g. cancer, heart disease). In large amounts trans-fatty acids can also affect brain function as it interferes with the role of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain.
Another problem with the fatty party foods such as boerewors, ‘slap chips’, chips and melted cheese is that it contributes to constipation. The type of fat present in these foods slows down the movement of food through the digestive track increasing the risk of constipation, especially if your child is prone to constipation.
Top Tips For Kids Parties
Before the party
Make sure your child has eaten a healthy well-balanced meal or snack before the party starts. Children’s eating behaviour is usually driven by hunger. A hungry child will spend most of the party time around the sweets table eating whatever is available but generally children prefer to spend their party time playing if they’re not hungry.
At the party
Children will eat what is served at the party. If healthier food is offered at the party – that’s what they will eat. If healthy foods are served together with unhealthy options, chances are that the children will choose the unhealthier options. Therefore it is better to serve only healthier foods, snacks and drinks.
Party food suggestions:
- Drinks: Diluted fruit juice, homemade ice tea (rooibos tea mixed with 100% pure fruit juice), water (still or sparkling)
- Sweet snacks: Dried fruit pieces, fruit skewers, fruit slices, chocolate dipped strawberries, homemade custard, frozen yoghurt lollies (blend fruit and yoghurt and freeze in ice-lolly moulds), crumpets (plaatkoekies), pancakes
- Savoury snacks: Mini sandwiches, mini-frikadelle, mini-quiches, biltong strips, cheese wedges, chicken strips, chicken skewers, chicken drumstick, mini hamburgers, mini pizza, homemade popcorn, small packets of crisps, baked potato wedges.
- Cake: Sustained energy for kids cookbook (Gabi Steenkamp, Tanzia Merlin, Jeske Wellmann) and Snacks and Treats for Sustained Energy cookbook (Gabi Steenkamp , Jeske Wellmann) includes great party recipes that is low in Glycemic Index such as chocolate cake and cupcakes, brownies, carrot cake, banana bread, only to name a few.
There is also a new company, Myum that makes healthy children meals and snacks on order, have a look at their website for some great nutritious party foods: www.myum.co.za
These are usually filled with numerous amounts of high sugar and high fat goodies that provides children with empty calories. To make things worse ….. The party packs follows your child back home. If it is your child’s party you can reduce the empty calorie content by including nutritious items in the party pack or even add a toy.
Alternatively, let your child donate the party pack that they come home with, to less fortunate children or keep the party pack and you as parent can distribute the content at your discretion.
After party damage control
Focus on giving your child a nutritious snack or meal after the party that contains protein and soluble fibre to help with blood glucose control and prevent dramatic glucose spikes and drops. Soluble fibre is found in oats, oat-bran, apples, bananas, oranges, carrots, peas, beans and sweet potatoes. It forms a gel and slows down the release of glucose from food into the bloodstream. This helps with better blood glucose control.
A healthy kid’s party doesn’t mean handing out carrot and celery sticks … One just need to tone it down a bit with the unhealthy foods. When it comes to food at birthday parties, it’s my experience that children are very happy with whatever is served and usually eats it all, starting with the fruit skewers!