Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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« Using Parties Right! | Main | Mac & Cheese Scores Again! »

Party Hardy!

No one expects party food to be nutritious -- and I'm not here to bash parties -- but you've got to admit, the typical kids’ party really takes the cake (if you know what I mean).

It’s difficult to know the nutritional value of most party fare:

  • There isn’t one set menu -- although kids' parties where I live almost always serve pizza, juice and cupcakes.
  • The calorie content for seemingly identical items can vary quite a lot -- the range for cupcakes can be more than 500 calories.

I'll get to the nutrition of party food in a moment, but first, let's think about habits.

If parties occurred infrequently -- and if kids only ate pizza, juice and cupcakes when they attended parties -- there would be no problem.

But kids seem to gobble up party food on a weekly, or sometimes even a semi-weekly, basis.  And while it may be true that most kids don't hit the trifecta of pizza, juice and cupcakes too often, I think it's safe to say that many kids have the opportunity to indulge in a duet of two (pizza and juice or cupcakes and juice) fairly frequently.

The Habits Perspective: Have your ever thought about what blurring the line between party food and regular food teaches your children about food and eating?

I've written about the impact of juice and pizza on kids' eating habits.  Read Juice: Apple, Grape, Punch; Coke Beats JuicePizza and Peas: The Untold Story; The Snacking Minefield.

And I assume everyone knows what eating cupcakes on a regular (say weekly) basis would do to their kids' eating habits.

Well, regularly eating party food messes with your kids' habits too.  It teaches kids the wrong message about:

In addition, pizza, juice and cupcakes all shape your children's taste buds to prefer high fat, sweet and/or salty foods.  These nutrients have been linked to overeating.  They also influence whether your kids will accept the finer foods you offer, foods like asparagus.

The Nutrition Perspective: To accommodate the range in calorie counts, let’s consider two different scenarios -- one party hosted by Minimus Mom and another one hosted by Maximus Mom.

With Minimus Mom your child is likely to take in..

  • ½ slice of Pizza Hut thin crust cheese pizza from a regular pie = 95 calories
  • 1 small juice box = 60 calories
  • 1 small Hostess Cupcake type of cupcake = 200 calories

Total for the party = 355 calories.  That’s not bad, even if it is basically a third of a toddler’s daily intake.

With Maximus Mom your child is likely to take in…

  • 1 slice of Pizza Hut hand tossed crust cheese pizza from a regular pie = 220 calories
  • 1 large juice box = 100 calories
  • 1 cupcake from someplace such as Crumbs Bake Shop or one of the new cupcakes from Cinnabon = 500 or more calories.

Total for this party = 820 calories or around 80% of your toddler’s daily intake.

See USDA calorie intake recommendations.

Remember, though, that neither the count for Minimus Mom nor the count for Maximus Mom takes into consider all the extras.  If your child...

  • Drinks 2 juice boxes instead of 1, add 100 calories.
  • Snacks on 1 ounce of Goldfish Crackers, add 140 calories 
  • Scores a scoop of ice cream, add 100-200 calories

With these added delicacies your child could consume 600- 1000 calories at one event.  (And don't forget the candy from the party favor bag that she'll gobble down on the way home.)

The variation in calorie counts for pizza depends upon things you can see -- the type of crust, type of topping and size of the pie (larger pies yield larger slices) -- but that's not true with cupcakes and the truth about what goes into these little treasures will really shock you.

An NPR story from a few years ago calculated that eating one of Crumbs Bake Shop's creations is the equivalent of eating 3 slices of pizza. According to this report, at least one Crumb's concoction contains over 700 calories -- and 36 grams of fat.  (I can't verify this because Crumbs doesn't supply nutrition information for their cakes -- and after seeing these numbers, I can understand why -- but other internet sources concur.)

For some perspective: 1/2 cup of Ben & Jerry's Vanilla Caramel Fudge ice cream has only 270 calories and 14 grams of fat.

So what can you do to salvage parties?

1) Save party food for parties. Not only will this put pizza, juice and cupcakes into your children's diets in the right proportion, it will teach your kids the right lessons about party food.

2) Start using parties to teach your kids some valuable lessons about eating right. For instance, it's an ideal venue for teaching kids some ways to avoid overeating.  I'll say more about this in my next post.

3) Then, let your kids party hardy!

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


Sources: - accessed 6/3/10 - accessed 6/3/10;

Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2010. "Sinnercake." Nutrition Action Healthletter, June. p. 16.

Pesca, Mike, 2007. "Just How Fattening is that Cupcake?" National Public Radio. May 23. - accessed 6/3/10; - accessed 6/3/10; 

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Reader Comments (5)

Maybe considering the other junk he'll consume at a party, making our preschooler go for bottled water or even milk seems nit-picky, but it's a part of our universal anti-juicebox stance. I wouldn't mind them quite as much if they weren't loaded with unnecessary additional sweeteners, but I'm also kinda opposed to most of the "100% juice" juiceboxes because they're almost always just nutritionally-void apple juice.

When our son has juice at home, it's in limited quantity and is a no-sugar-added grape, cranberry, or orange juice variety. I know those are loaded with natural sugars too, but at least they offer some antioxidants & vitamins. And once he finishes the provided juice, his glass is refilled with cold water, so that has helped him learn to savor the drink rather than chug it - usually.

June 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob O.

We are not the norm when it comes to hosting parties. I normally try to plan our parties in the "in between" times between lunch and dinner so that pizza is not expected. This year my 6-year old had a Star Wars themed party. For snacks, we had fruit, veggie and cheese trays/kabobs and labeled them with fun names like Vader Veggies or "The Force" Fruit, Chewbacca Cheese. Sometimes it's all in the presentation! For drinks we normally offer organic juice bags (much lower in sugar) and bottled waters. We did have cake and ice cream though! I've done most alll of our parties at home and the kids that come rarely complain or won't eat what we have. My 9 year old hosted a cooking party for her birthday this year and the girls had a terrific time making all their own food from scratch. Our theme was cooking around the world and we made California rolls, chicken and cheese quesadillas and fruit fondue (that one had chocolate!)

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeal Plan Mom (Brenda)

Thanks Rob and Brenda for sharing your party stories. It's good to know there are exceptions to the pizza/cupcakes/juice "rule." Brenda: I'm especially glad to hear about the strategy of planning the party for between meals. And as your comment points out, kids will generally eat what's available. They don't "need" the cr*p.


June 20, 2010 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

A few years ago we had a Curious George themed party. We served dried fruits, pretzels, nuts, bananas. A grandparent brought chips and candy. We set those bowls on the back of the table and the healthier bowls in front. The kids went for the easiest to reach bowls. We also made the cake recipe using half of the sugar. The kids were so busy running around, playing games, and having fun that they didn't even realize that they didn't get served the usual party junk food. Even the adults couldn't taste a difference in the cake.

Kids really don't care what's on their plate when they're only sitting there long enough for the pinata to get set up.

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMegan


I like how you party!!! And what you're teaching the kids about having a good time, without so much of the junk.

Congratulations for being creative.


February 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

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