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How To Help Your Child Navigate the Party Food Scene

Jill Castle

Health, Wellness, & Safety

Parties and celebrations have food as a central focus. School parties, birthday parties, end-of year celebrations, holiday festivities and sporting event gatherings are just a few of the regular party events that children face.  Many parents are frustrated with the number of food-focused events their children have to tackle, especially if healthy eating is a priority, or weight is an issue.

“I can’t decide what to eat…I want it all!” 

“There are so many desserts and they all look good…” 

“All my favorite foods seem to be at parties.”  

These are real sentiments from real children.

True, it seems that parties and celebrations are loaded with temptations and often offer all the “fun” foods that may be regulated or infrequently found at home. While you or your child may feel that attending a party is a lost cause, there are some strategies that can be useful at the party scene.

Here are some approaches to think about before you get on the party eating circuit:

Survey the foodscape.  Check it all out (the food that is) without eating anything.  Look at all of it, make mental notes of what you’d like to eat, what looks interesting, and what is an absolute no-go.

Select the most important and special dessert (or junk food item) –the one you cannot leave without eating!  Being good or selecting the “healthier option” may leave you feeling deprived and unsatisfied.

First Course: Fruits and Veggies.  Fill your plate with fruits and veggies first (and eat them).  You will have started to quell the hunger pains, and contributed to the overall health of your day.

Don’t be a cow! Cow’s are notorious for grazing, eating all day long.  Individuals tend to lose track of how much they have eaten when they graze, and the same goes for drinking calorie-rich beverages.  Rather, be a dog: make your plate (or bowl!), eat it, and move on!

Limit your sodas.  The calorie and sugar content of sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages are significant and can add up, especially when children are having a good time (and not paying attention to how much they are drinking).  Remember, all sweets are treats and count as “fun foods,” even the ones you drink.

Eat like a Spaniard on a little plate, with a little portion.  Savor the flavor of little bites of different foods, rather than a large portion of one food.

These strategies may help your child be more thoughtful in their food choices, and make good decisions at parties. It also gives them strategies to use when faced with tough decisions, like which “fun foods” and how much?

You wouldn’t give your child an unlimited budget for a shopping spree!  Take the same approach with party food. Teach your child how to manage “fun foods,” especially at parties, for a lifetime of smart eating.

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Jill Castle

Jill Castle is a registered dietitian/nutritionist with expertise in pediatric nutrition. She is the co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School, and creator of Just the Right Byte, a childhood nutrition blog. Follow Jill on Twitter @pediRD and Facebook.