Healthy Birthday to You!
Paring down portion sizes, limiting treats, increasing party activities
Birthdays are certainly a wonderful cause for celebration, but for many parents the birthday parties their kids attend are cause for concern. One parent we spoke with recently summarized her dilemma: “My son is attending a birthday party almost every week, and it’s always the same situation. Tons of food to eat the whole time—cookies, chips, candy. The main meal is usually pizza, and then there’s cake for dessert, and it’s all washed down with soda or punch. I want my son to enjoy this time with his friends, but I’m really concerned it’s causing him to gain weight. And I don’t know how to control it!”
Particularly for the serial birthday party attendees, this can be a real problem. It is easy for a child to eat the equivalent of his or her entire daily required calories during a couple of hours at a birthday party—and get few of the nutrients needed for healthy development. For example, here is a conservative estimate of a typical birthday menu for one child:
- 2 cups of soda or juice–300 calories
- 2 small slices cheese pizza–300 calories
- 1 small slice chocolate cake–200 calories
- 1 scoop ice cream–390 calories
- 5 bite size candies or one small chocolate chip cookie–250 calories
Total: a whopping 1440 calories
Since a typical child needs less than 2000 calories per day, you can see how quickly this results in overeating. And children can easily eat more than this at a party. If repeated too often, such high-sugar and high-calorie eating habits will not only cause your children to gain weight, but will leave them feeling bloated, sick, hyperactive, then fatigued, crashing from sugar highs, and over time increase their risk of getting diabetes. Not the best way to celebrate the miracle of a child’s birth.
Another frequent problem with birthday parties is their focus on sedentary activities. Opening presents does not burn many calories, and at some parties the main forms of entertainment are video games, magic shows, clowns, etc. Birthdays often take place at restaurants or amusement centers where the possibilities for physical activity are limited. This is understandable since pulling off a birthday party is a major project management challenge, especially for busy parents.
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