The calendar has turned another page, and now it's time to plan that next birthday party. You ask your kid what he wants to serve, and the response is: "chips, candy, cake." You close your eyes, rub your temples a little bit, and try to remind yourself that it's the nutrition you provide during the majority of the year that counts.
Image: Courtesy of Jolly Tomato
And then you start planning--balancing your desire to keep the party reasonably healthy with your promise not to be a total killjoy. So...what's on the menu? Our top five tips include:
1) Lots of crunch. Fresh fruits, veggies, popcorn, whole-grain crackers, favorite cereals, and even nuts (but only if there are no allergy issues at the party). Your food is going to be a lot more appealing to kids if it has that satisfying "snap, crunch" factor. (The green bell pepper palm tree here is inspired by "The Secret Life of Food," one of our favorite fun cookbooks. We stuck it in an "island" made of cream cheese.)
2) Mad color. Of course, you're going to have tons of crisp fruits and veggies. So play it up. Don't settle for prepackaged fruit and veggie trays if the produce looks sad, limp, or washed out. Does your kid like carrots? Make a fun tray of yellow, purple, and orange carrots. Is your kid clamoring for chips? Go a little radical with some sweet potato or other root chips. (His friends won't know they don't like them until they try them.)
3) Eye-catching displays. At most parties you might walk by a bowl of chips or party mix and either walk right by it or mindlessly grab some. Make your food visible and intentional. A veggie tower; a cornucopia spilling with fruit; a Death Star carved out of watermelon...you get the idea. Weave your theme into your display, and better yet - let your kid brainstorm on the best way to display it. (This beautiful flower-and-herb lemonade is from a display we saw at the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit.)
4) Make your own. Not you--them. We're talking make-your-own pizzas, taco bars, baked potato bars, and so on. You offer plenty of toppings that include green onions, chopped bell peppers, avocado slices, etc. If the kids pass them up, fine. But why not give them the opportunity to add a little color to their creations?
5) Break the mold. Yeah, yeah, chips and candy. This time, let your child choose one special food that he likes that's a little bit "off the grid." Does he have a weakness for wontons? A hankering for hummus? A temptation for taquitos? A sensation for samosas? OK, we're going a little overboard here, but you get the idea. Let your child's individuality shine through by offering at least one special food that he loves. Example: At our last party, we offered up a giant bowl of black kalamata olives--our kiddo's favorite. Who knows? Maybe his best buddies like them now too.
Now...let them eat cake!
More from parenting