Avoid the weekly dose of artificial colours, flavourings, salt, refined starch, refined sugar and unhealthy processed fats at parties.
My youngest son turned six the other day. We celebrated the occasion with 20 kids in the park for a mini Olympics party on the weekend. It got me thinking about kids parties and how we cater for them. I always struggle with the expectations of both kids and parents that there will be lolly bags, fairy bread and a table full of other such dreadful food and drink – simply because that's what we do at kids parties.
I’ve polled other parents on what they think about parties and what they would like to see. Almost everyone has a nightmare story. Parties at fast food chains where they normally wouldn’t take their kids. Parties where the table has been laden with cheap commercial trans fat-laden party pies and sausage rolls, highly processed and flavoured salty snacks, soft drinks and lollies. I’ve been at those parties myself where girlfriends have literally told me not to look at what the kids are being served, lest I have a coronary at what my kids are eating. Is this really such a treat for kids or is just that these are easy, cheap (although I actually doubt that) foods and drinks to put out? Or are we just caught in the trap of what has become habit i.e. this is just what you serve at kids parties?
The trouble is it’s not just one party every now and again.
If you’re reading this and thinking I’m just a killjoy then I’ll apologise in advance. You are in the camp of those who think party food is party food and so let them have it. I understand that point of view, but I definitely don’t share it. The trouble is it’s not just one party every now and again. I don’t know about you, but my kids seem to be at a party every weekend, especially at this time of year. It’s not just occasional food - it's a part of their regular diet. It’s a weekly dose of artificial colours, flavourings, salt, refined starch, refined sugar and unhealthy processed fats. Surely they don't need all that just to have a fun party?
Dr Joanna McMillan
I have over the years tried different things. I once made a Thomas the Tank engine cake entirely with natural food colouring. There was nothing bright about my train I have to confess, the colours were very natural indeed! But did the kids notice? Not a single comment - they thought it was wonderful and happily ate their piece. I’ve served my homemade coconut fish fingers, only to have most of them eaten by the parents. I’ve felt like the horrid nutritionist baddie Mum when kids have asked me where the fairy bread is. But overall the outstanding memory of responses from all of my kids parties have been from parents who have expressed relief to me that there is some balance on the foods provided.
I do give the kids a lolly bag to take home, but there are only a few small lollies or chocolate in there. This year they also got a Dr Joanna pedometer and tape measure. These went down a treat and I was delighted to see them all running round the park to see how many steps they could clock up! I also made a birthday cake and yes I did use butter, flour and sugar. But it was not laden with artificial colours and they had a slice after they ate some savoury food and had exercised for an hour and half. The food table during the party was not laden with sugary snacks. They had wholegrain sandwiches and roll ups with ham and cheese, plain popcorn, vegie chips, carrot sticks and hummus.
It doesn’t need to be that hard and kids don’t need a smorgasbord of junk food to enjoy a party. If we all break the pattern and unite in providing a more balanced array of foods, this will become the norm.
Dr Joanna’s Coconut Fish Fingers
500g flathead fillets
2 eggs, beat with fork in a bowl
4 slices of wholegrain low GI bread, blitzed into fine breadcrumbs in the food processor
1 cup dessicated/flaked coconut
olive oil spray
1.Mix the breadcrumbs and coconut together and season.
2. Cut the fish into fingers and dip in the egg, followed by the breadcrumb coconut mix.
3. At this stage you can refrigerate for a day, or pop in the freezer for a later stage.
4. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees C) for 20 minutes. Turn halfway through cooking to brown on both sides.
(Alternatively they can fried in a non-stick pan with a little extra virgin olive oil.)