Allison left the party with a pit in her stomach. Her somewhat impulsive 7 year-old managed to scarf down 8 Oreos and 3 popsicles on the way out the door, while she was engaged in conversation with another mom. Frustrated with the fact that these items were placed at the exit for all to have– even the little ones– she asked me, “How do I manage my child’s eating in this situation?”
Just when you think you can make it out of the party with a decent eating record—someone or something sabotages your every effort to keep your child healthy and balanced with eating. How do you handle kids’ eating at parties, churches, and the classroom? Sometimes all that unhealthy food is enough to ruin the festivities.
Like Allison, many parents aren’t quite sure how to manage their child’s social eating. Should you ignore your child when he’s pigging out? Or should you distract him? Or reprimand or control him somehow? Knowing how to handle social eating can help parents keep calm and carry on with the job of good nutrition and feeding.
Here’s how you can handle kids’ eating at parties:
First, your best defense against the party palooza is your own home. Keep the food in your home mostly healthy, nutritious and serve treats occasionally. If you know you’ll be at a party, or there’s one at school or church, nix the sweets that day. Read about managing your child’s sweet consumption here. This way you can relax about what your child eats at the party, and get back to the usual food routine the next day.
Second, I don’t recommend controlling your child’s eating at a party. In my experience as a mom and dietitian, it almost never goes well for the parent or child. I’ve seen tantrums, parental embarrassment, and apologies all around when kids and parents get embroiled in a fight for control over party food. You can certainly use positive encouragement, directing your child to notice all offerings available, but he will likely choose the party food (and hopefully some of the good stuff too). If he chooses a lot of party food, don’t sweat it. Of course, if you’ve got a very social child on your hands, you may need to teach him or her how to navigate the food party scene.
Believe me, I too, have had the experience of watching my kids drink soda, have several desserts and load up on chips and dips at parties. I remind myself that it is, in fact, a party. I am usually eating and drinking outside of my norm, too. I recover. I get back to normal, usually the next day. And I make a point to get my kids back on track—this goes for vacation eating too.
It’s okay to ask your child before the party to make smart and mostly healthy choices. It’s okay to prepare her or him for the types of food that are likely to be served. And, it’s okay to set limits if you feel you need to. After all, you are the parent, and the only one who will set these for your child.
After the party, talk about the celebration in general. Reinforce those messages of nutritious food balanced with a little bit of Fun Food for health and enjoyment. Outline what a healthy balance can look like, even with sweets woven in. And, make sure your child knows that eating at parties is different than everyday eating.
Parties are the exception to the eating rule. Remember, what is served at home and how your child is eating at school makes up the majority of his eating experiences. I view parties as little blips on the screen: a time for enjoyment, but also an opportunity to openly discuss how to manage party food, how parties fit into the overall scheme of the week’s eating, and how to keep food and eating in balance for those healthy, growing bodies.
Tell me, how do you manage those tricky social situations and your child’s eating?
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: March 10, 2015
Updated on: February 13, 2016