A while back, I read a great romance novel. (I know, it’s embarrassing to admit, I read romance novels—lots of them! They are my one vice and I love them.) It was a story about a mother of 5 girls. The mother was remarkably controlling—everything had to be perfect, homemade, organic and healthy, sugar-free, along with other rules as well. No television, except for PBS on an irregular basis, and so on. Honestly, I saw myself in this character. Except it was like observing myself through a window.
I love my children. They are incredible and sweet and young. As young as they are, they only recently began to hold semi-strong opinions about what they eat and how they live. They are perfectly happy with the natural, organic, sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, GMO-free concoctions that I make. Some would say that I am ‘over-the-top’. Certainly, my husband would agree to this statement. But I love it. I love being natural. I love having a natural home. I love raising my family, with the support of my wonderful husband, in a natural, organic, and healthy way. It fuels me, as I’m sure it does for many of you. It is a way of life.
So, as I read this novel, and got a good look at myself, albeit not quite as scary, it occurred to me: How can I maintain a fun atmosphere while still integrating these healthy natural principles into our lifestyle? In today’s era, being natural is an up and coming trend. Everywhere we look, we find references to gluten-free living, as well as other natural strategies for healthy living. Incorporating healthy and natural strategies into daily living can be easy with regular planning. With special events like children’s birthday parties, it can take a little more effort to be creative. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Let’s start with the birthday cake. Sticking to gluten-free is relatively easy today—there are a variety of gluten-free cake mixes available. But why is gluten-free a good idea? Gluten is considered inflammatory, which means that when we eat it, the food can contribute to more inflammation in our body. By avoiding gluten in our food, we are able to improve our health.
- Many of these mixes require that you add in the sweetener. To make a healthier cake, you can substitute the regular sugar in the recipe with coconut sugar (lower glycemic) or maple sugar (high in minerals), which are healthier sweeteners. If you use a liquid sweetener like maple syrup, be sure to reduce other liquid ingredients in the recipe such as the milk substitute.
- As for frosting, there are some fun recipes that you can find online that combine cocoa powder, butter substitute such as earth balance, palm oil shortening, and natural sweetener such as honey or coconut sugar. You can find my delicious chocolate frosting recipe on my blog.
- Party Favors—Avoid Candy! Even without sweets, young ones treasure party favors. Consider offering children’s books as favors, or maybe some stickers and colored pencils. Some other ideas include creating your own party favors such as homemade chocolate lollipops that are naturally sweetened and dairy-free. There are a million different homemade options you can find on www.pinterest.com.
- Feeding Your Guests: Birthday parties often fall during mealtime where serving food is an essential requirement. Pizza is the most common food to serve at children’s parties and can easily be made gluten-free and Paleo-friendly. You can check out my blog for a delicious pizza crust that fits the bill! In addition, more and more pizza restaurants are offering gluten-free pizzas and often, they will deliver. In addition to pizza, you can offer a fruit salad or fruit ‘kebobs’. Some other ideas found on www.eatright.org include baked sweet potato strips, fruit smoothies in small cups, and peel-and-eat edamame.
- Party drinks: The standard drink at a young child’s birthday party is the juice box. There are many juice companies that offer juice boxes with water as the first ingredient. This allows us to still provide the kids with a fun and easy vehicle for drinking but with less sugar. Additional ideas for party drinks would include homemade smoothies, or creating juice spritzers by adding sparkling mineral water and fun colored juices.
- There are lots of natural and fun environmentally friendly ways of decorating for parties. Some creative ideas recommended on www.attachedtoparenting.com include hanging a clothesline and wooden clothespins and attaching paintings or drawings by the birthday child. In addition to artwork. You could also hang photos of the birthday child from various years of the child’s life. Of course balloons are always a welcome addition to any party. Another great place to find ideas for natural homemade birthday party decorating is on www.pinterest.com.
The common denominator between most of the birthday parties that we have experienced, including those that I was invited to as a child, is mayhem. Generally, they would start off great and then as more and more sugar was consumed, the children would transform into little monsters (albeit, cute monsters) that didn’t resemble our lovely children at all. There is something to be said for the well-known phrase, “everything in moderation”, so yes, having a little sugar is not the end of the world. But when refined sugar is consumed on a regular basis, it can contribute to significant illness. There is an obvious rise in obesity in this country and the incidence of diabetes in children and adults is depressing. The easiest way to avoid these types of long term debilitating issues is to avoid refined sugars and artificial sweeteners.
On a day-to-day basis it may seem exhausting to have to read every label and watch your child’s face as you say no to the candy, but in the long run, every parent knows it is worth it in spades. Though a birthday party is an ‘every-once-in-a-while’ special event, showing our kids that we can make the event fun and exciting while simultaneously achieving the ‘healthy’ stamp is a definite accomplishment. And can you imagine a party where your children are not completely spent afterwards?!
The key to offering a healthy natural environment for your child’s birthday party is planning time, and even more importantly, a little quiet time for brainstorming. There is a wealth of creative ideas out there, many of which can be accessed through simple Internet searches on sites such as www.marthastewart.com. In addition to the healthy criteria, being able to offer a party that is eco-friendly is a great idea. For some sustainable options for party supplies, you can visit www.sustyparty.com.
As a parent, particularly one that is committed to raising a child naturally, it is important to loosen the reigns at times. As my husband often says, if only to reduce future rebellion. But equally important to consider is where the reigns need to be loosened. The first step is not assuming that the childhood we experienced many years ago is the standard for today. Just because we may think that our child would be devastated if we don’t offer sugary lollipops as a party favor, doesn’t mean that they actually will. Try offering fun healthy suggestions first and take it from there!