I’m all about balance and moderation. That said, I also believe healthy food can be good, fun, and even festive. My son turned one a couple months ago and since his taste buds are still developing and he couldn’t make any birthday requests this year, my husband and I got the honor of choosing the menu for his party. While I’m sure one day we will be having a party with his special requested food (mine as a kid was usually pizza) this year we chose to keep it healthy since it’s his first birthday and we wanted him to enjoy the same food as his guests.
Choosing a Healthy Party Menu
The food is obviously the main factor that comes into play with planning a healthy party. Decide whether you will serve finger foods, a full meal, or dessert only (such as a birthday party). Either way you go, adding a healthy twist is certainly doable.
Healthy Build Your Own Dinner Bars That Your Guests Will Love
Build your own style generally works well and is simple to plan for a larger group. This allows guests to pick and choose foods and also works great if you are trying to accommodate a variety of food preferences or allergies.
Taco or Burrito Bar
- Choose 1-2 types of meat such as ground beef, ground turkey, or shredded chicken seasoned with taco seasoning
- Flour/corn tortillas and/or crunchy shells, Tortilla Chips, Rice
- Toppings: Beans, Cheese, Lettuce/Spinach, Tomatoes, Green Onions, Avocado/Guacamole, Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt, Salsa
- Greens such as Romaine, Spinach, Green Leaf Lettuce, Spring Mix (Buy precut/washed to save time or buy lettuce by the head and prep yourself to save money)
- Toppings – Aim to choose a variety of toppings and allow guests to build their own combinations.
- Veggies: Broccoli, Carrot, Cauliflower, Purple Cabbage, Tomatoes, Onions
- Fruits: Diced apples, Sliced grapes, Mandarin Oranges, Sliced Strawberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, and even dried fruit such as Cranberries
- Nuts/Seeds: Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Walnuts, Pecans, Sliced Almonds
- Other Toppings: Beans (chickpeas, black beans), Cheese (shredded or feta), Cottage Cheese
- Dressings: Include a variety of different dressings that will appeal to your guests. You can buy dressing (I love the brand Tessemae which has a variety of different flavors with short, simple ingredient lists) or make your own.
Baked Potato Bar
- Baked Potatoes (Can be kept warm in a crockpot or even cooked in a crockpot)
- Protein: Chili, Pulled Pork, Black Beans, or Chicken
- Veggies: Blanched Broccoli, Avocado, Onions
- Shredded Cheese such as cheddar; Crumbled feta; or Parmesan
- Salt, Pepper, Butter, Sour Cream, Chives
- Anything to make Tex-Mex style potatoes: peppers, beans, salsa, etc.
- Choose a couple different soup options warmed in crock pots
- Mini sandwiches on whole grain bread
- Veggie tray
Build Your Own Pizza
This would probably work best for a smaller sized party, but it’s something my family (of 12) did at Christmas and enjoyed. You can create a bar with the toppings and each guest can build their own pizza and then bake them in rounds.
- Crust: For personal pizzas, Naan bread works really well (buy in bulk somewhere such as Sam’s Club)
- Cheese: Fresh Mozzarella is delicious, but shredded mozzarella will work as well. Other cheese to add variety as desired such as feta or ricotta.
- Veggies/Fruit: Onions, Diced bell peppers, Green Onions, Tomatoes, Spinach, Very small pieces of broccoli, Jalapeno peppers, Diced pineapple, Thinly sliced apples
- Proteins: Diced/Shredded Chicken, Ground Beef, Pepperoni, Nitrate-Free Sausage
If using Naan bread brush a little olive oil on the bottom and bake at 400-425°F for about 14 minutes or until crispy.
Healthy Finger Foods
If you don’t want to serve a full dinner you could also do a variety of healthy finger foods. Keep portions small and remember presentation goes a long way.
- Veggies and Dip (Hummus, tzatziki, or greek yogurt based dip)
- Fruit Trays
- Meatballs (like these delicious spicy turkey meatballs)
- Black Bean Lime Fiesta Salsa and Tortilla Chips
- Mini Smoothies (Cherry Lime Smoothie or even this Apple Cider Green Smoothie are a hit with kids and adults alike)
Choose a Healthier Dessert
In general, I prefer to look for dessert recipes that are void of white flour and refined sugars. I usually use maple syrup or honey in my dessert recipes if I’m looking for something more decadent and sweet. If it’s for young kids or a more health-conscious crowd I may even opt for a dessert sweetened with dates, applesauce, bananas, or just fruit (like my son’s 1st birthday cake). However, I usually feel a bit more comfortable serving something that at least has honey or maple syrup as many guests may be accustomed to more sugary treats.
Here are a few healthier dessert ideas for your next party:
- Chocolate Chickpea Cupcakes – A dessert that my husband actually claims to prefer to traditional desserts…trust me, now that is something.
- Healthy First Birthday Smash Cake – If you are trying to keep it completely free of added sweeteners (even honey and maple syrup) this is the recipe I used for my son’s first birthday cake and it’s sweetened completely with fruit! Personally, I would probably prefer to make something a bit more decadent for my other guests, but if you are looking for a healthy first birthday cake recipe I definitely recommend this one!
- Healthier Fruit Pizza – Kids and adults would love it and I love that it includes something as nutrient-rich as fruit.
- Whole Grain Shortcake or Muffin served with Fruit such as sliced strawberries.
Other Tips to Planning a Healthy Party
Obviously, the party can mostly have a healthy vibe from the food that is served. However, here are a few other tips and ideas you may want to incorporate into your healthy party plans.
1. Choose “active” activities.
Encourage physical activity for kids. Outdoor parties are great in the summer, but even including games like limbo, beanbag toss, or dance parties indoors when possible will give your kids a chance to channel their extra energy in a fun and appropriate way!
2. Place the food table in a separate place from where your guests will be socializing.
I talked about using this strategy as a guest keeping it healthy at a gathering, but if you are planning the party and have the ability, you can make sure the food table is separate from where your guests are hanging out. It will help your guests employ moderation and avoid unintentional grazing!
3. Practice Safe Food Handling
Wait until right before your party to get any food out of the fridge or freezer. Also, be sure to put any food that isn’t shelf stable in the fridge as soon as possible or within a couple of hours.
4. Don’t stress!
Party planning can be stressful which is also not healthy! Sometimes it can feel like a lot to meet a variety of expectations (both healthy and not.) Whether you are planning your baby’s first birthday party or a healthy dinner party for your friends, remember the role that food plays in bringing us together. There is power in breaking bread together, so try to focus on the joys of eating together instead of the tiny details of party planning. No one will notice if everything isn’t perfect.
Choosing to Plan a Healthy Party
Perhaps a healthy party seems like an oxymoron to you. I’m certainly not suggesting every party should be completely and perfectly healthy. While personally, as a guest or host, I like to at least have healthy options (even a simple veggie tray) available at parties, I don’t believe every party needs to be healthy. However, just like we may use a traditional party full of pizza, cake, and ice cream to teach our moderation; we can also teach them that parties can involve healthful food.
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