Let them eat cake

Cake and kids' birthday parties go together


Eating to Celebrate: Let Them Eat Cake


By Lara Bonsett-Veal

The sun was shining and children were laughing, running about while balloons tied to tables danced in the wind.  My father came out of the house and all eyes focused on the cake he held in his hands.  The flickering of candles only made the scene unfolding more magical.  I could not blow the candles out fast enough as we cut into my cake covered in bright sugary frosting.  It was the highlight of the party for my guests and the accompanying scoop of ice cream and soda to wash it all down made my birthday a success.  It also made my party an explosion of sugar.


I love a great birthday party.  The lights, the music, combined with games and prizes.  It all works as long as the dessert is on point.  As a child I craved sugar, the more frosting the better and if a la mode was included, well, perfection was attained.  It can be overwhelming to try to make a child’s birthday a success with less sugar and more panache.  But do you need to cave into pressure to have a healthier birthday celebration?


In an after school program I worked with children for several years and found that their parents were never happy when sugar was part of an afternoon snack.  Treats for birthdays were strictly regulated by all instructors per request of parents.  Recently, school districts in Wisconsin have been required to adopt wellness policies to address the rising obesity in children and nutritional standards.  This is very different from my elementary school years where glitter crowns and cupcakes were the norm.


Childhood obesity is an issue that some parents are trying to address with better meals and fresher foods.  To combat obesity and encourage better health, many parents have turned to providing whole grains, decreasing sugar and fat intake and purchasing more organic foods.   These parents may become frustrated trying to make their child eat foods they find are healthy.  Parents cannot be everywhere; trading of food between children happens, it is difficult to fight the battle when media is filled with commercials encouraging consumption of unhealthy foods, and some children crave sweets and junk food.


The government also supports the “stop childhood obesity” initiative and promotes good nutrition.  Television shows like Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution blame parents for supporting their children’s poor eating habits.  When the show visited the city of Huntington, West Virginia, the community felt the effect of Oliver’s presence when he started his work with the school lunch program there.  This set off a chain reaction of parents feeling as though they needed to change the way they fed their children to avoid negative public scrutiny.  While the show demonstrated how demanding children can be at school when not given traditional lunch food choices, it failed to give parents suggestions on how they could address the demanding nature of their children at mealtime when trying to incorporate healthy food at home.


So how does all of this affect the birthday party of today?   Children like what tastes good to them.  They also care about what their friends think.  Therefore it is more important for them to have a birthday cake with the red race cars or the pink roses than be concerned about the excessive amounts of sugar the cake contains.  Parents want to make their children happy but they also want to avoid having their friends see them as a person who serves unhealthy food.


While I agree as a nation we need to be concerned about the obesity crisis and the nutrition of our children, I also believe that one does not need to make sacrifices in the realm of desserts served at a birthday party.  Birthday cake is a favorite standard and I believe that it does not hurt a child to indulge in this treat once a year. 


As a compromise I would support having alternatives for those who want a healthier option.  Serving fruit is another way to bring sweetness to the table in a more nutritious manner.  To combat obesity, one can encourage activity by planning party games that will promote exercise.  This will also burn calories gained from eating the celebratory cake which makes a birthday special, just as much as the party hats and streamers.


Remember your child’s birthday can be their day to shine and feel special.  If serving a special cake and ice cream makes them happy then do it.  It is not wrong to want your child to be happy and if cake and ice cream makes them happy, do it.  Children celebrate their birthday but once a year.  An occasion such as this can stand a little unhealthiness.

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