A pizza crust, a cupcake with the frosting licked off, and a crumpled candy bar—if you’re not a parent, you would call these things “garbage.” But if you are a parent, especially and a mom, this sad lineup may be known to you as your lunch.
Let’s face it, for most parents, the main challenge to maintaining a healthy diet isn’t crème brûlée or sausage tortellini in Gorgonzola cream sauce—it’s a sandwich baggy full of goldfish crackers. It’s not that we crave, or even particularly enjoy, our kids’ leftovers. It’s that putting food, any kind of food, in the hands of a stressed, overtired parent is like handing an axe to a lumbering psychopath in a hockey mask—NOT a good idea.
And it’s the festive occasions that are the real killers—birthday parties, post-soccer pizza, or, heaven help us, a trip to a certain restaurant presided over by a fun-loving rodent or a grinning, redheaded clown. Now, I’m not going to wade into the raging debate on kids’ nutrition. I’ve seen calm, levelheaded parents come to blows over whether or not refined sugar is the devil’s dandruff. But, here are a few tips to guide you, the parent, through the valley of the shadow of saturated fats and high fructose corn syrup.
- The pen is mightier than the sorbet. Put a magic marker in your pocket, not in your purse—you may not have it when you really need it. Stay armed and ready at all times. Then, as soon as your child gets a plate of pizza, cake, or mac and cheese, write his or her name on it (99 percent of kid party food is served on disposable plates). Inevitably, your precious darling will stop mid-meal to run off and look at a bug or a Barbie . . . And your darling will ask you to “watch” his or her food. If the plate has an ID tag, then you can keep track of it without actually holding onto it.The same also goes for drinks. Remember that your average apple juice box, that ubiquitous kid beverage of choice, contains the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar. So mark it, put it down, and point that tiny sipping straw away from you.
- Talk trash. Before the food is served, ask your charming host or hostess where the garbage goes. That trash can is your new best friend. The second your thoughtful spawn hands you a plate of half-eaten cake and kindly offers to let you finish it, thank him or her—and make a beeline to the trash can.If you’re the host, put out recycling and garbage bags where everyone can see them. They’re not the most elegant party decorations, but you’re not serving cocktails to a royal family.
- most least. If you are the lucky host, you have more control over the healthy-to-junk ratio. But this is after all a party for kids. If you fill a piñata with carrot and celery sticks, you might not be very popular.But you can reduce portion sizes without being a party pooper. Smaller servings are better for everyone—kids, parents, and even the planet. Cut pizza slices in half, dish out smaller servings of ice cream, and push those carrot sticks with the persistence of a used car salesman! Even the cake size can be reduced. Just bake it in a cookie sheet. That way, you have a thinner cake. You’ll also need less frosting. The host with the
- Fill ‘er up. Do not attend (or even host) any gathering of tiny people on an empty stomach. The kid party witching hours are usually from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM. So before you strap the kids in the car seats, make sure that you have had at least a filling snack from the top tiers of Michi’s Ladder. A serving of nonfat yogurt with fresh blueberries stirred in is a delicious alternative to congealed cheese pizza.And while you’re at the party, ask for a big glass of water. It’ll help fill you up, and at the very least, you’ll have one less free hand for snack holding, or unconscious eating.
- Crappy meal alert. So the soccer coach is taking the kids out for fast food to celebrate their first goal (all right, so they scored it for the opponents by kicking it into the opposing team’s net, but a goal’s a goal). If you’ve been drafted as a chaperone/enforcer, remember that the best offense is a good defense. The nutritional information for most chain restaurant menus is available online. So do a little research beforehand, and remember to pay extra attention to add-ons like dipping sauces and salad dressings—some of them contain more fat and calories than an entrée.
- Oh goodie, it’s over. Not so fast. You made it through the party without falling off the food wagon, but it’s not over yet. Your child is probably clutching something in his or her grubby little hand . . . the dreaded goodie bag. It’s either full of cheap plastic toys that will inevitably stab your bare toe in the middle of the night or it’s full of candy. Do not devour your kid’s spoils later that night, on the pretense that you’re saving them by throwing yourself on an empty-calorie grenade. Instead, throw the spoils away.
- Dress for success. We all want to put our best feet forward at any parental gathering. Instead of putting on adorable strappy sandals or some other dressy shoes, choose comfortable old sneakers. If you’re dressed casually, it’s far more likely you’ll get up off the couch or the folding chair and go play. A rousing game of Pirate Chase (basically tag, with a few “arrrgghs” thrown in) is good exercise, and it might help remind you why you got on the kid merry-go-round in the first place. They’re lots of fun.