Children and Party Food

Lolly cake, fairy bread, chips, fizzy drink… Children’s birthday parties often come with lots of sweet treats and unhealthy food and drink as we all celebrate the yearly milestone. We can lose control with what and how much our children consume, especially if we aren’t present. The result: a hyped up child, sometimes with the bonus of a sore tummy.

There are four parenting styles, which I think also apply to nutrition.

  1. Permissive parents give their children a lot of freedom, with unenforced and inconsistent rules.
  2. Authoritarian is the opposite with rigid rules, ignoring a child’s input.
  3. Authoritative parents sit in between, firmly reinforcing relevant rules but also considering the child’s input.
  4. And then there’s neglectful.

In today’s judgmental world some parents feel compelled to not even allow lollies and biscuits in their home and only offer low sugar, healthy meals and snacks. This ‘desire’ can even be extended to when they host celebratory birthday parties for their children. Other parents (and more often grandparents) are happy to go along with what is convenient, guided by their children’s likes and requests.

What might come as a surprise is that studies show that when parents attempt to control and restrict certain foods, it can actually increase the desirability of these foods! I’m sure you’ve seen the child who consumes more than their fair share of the bowl of lollies at a party or other function – I can put my hand up and say that was my boy!! (In fact in all honesty it is something we are still working on).

It may actually be far better to allow children to sample ‘party’ foods in the calm environment of their own home to reduce the association of these foods to parties – potentially reducing the appeal to them. ‘Occasional’ foods – not every day sampling – I should clarify. This also allows children to develop a more relaxed attitude towards such foods and potentially reduces gluttony at parties!

One idea is every other Friday giving children some coins to go buy something at the corner dairy and not say no if they choose lollies. We sometimes choose a packet of Natural Confectionery Co lollies to split between us – that way we are only getting sugar and not artificial colouring; my kids are happy with that remaining nonnegotiable when we can avoid it.

When hosting birthday parties, one clever thing parents can do is serve healthy options first – as nibbles as children arrive; ideally the kids will fill up on these which then reduces the quantity of party food they eat later on when it comes out.

Keep in mind that our role as parents is only to OFFER healthy choices. We need to let our children do the CHOOSING. That’s how they learn to self-regulate their eating; which is so beneficial for them in the long term. Don’t be upset if your healthy treats aren’t eaten (although serving them first often helps with this). I often provide something healthy for bring-a-plate functions for my two… and often it returns home whilst other plates of ‘party’ food all get eaten. I did my part.

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