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 have yet to hold 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, including 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 was reading this novel, and getting 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:
1) 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 a pro-inflammatory grain, which means that when we eat gluten, it contributes to further inflammation in the body. Inflammation is an underlying factor in most pain and illness. By avoiding gluten in our diet, we are able to reduce body inflammation and thereby, reduce pain and illness. With many of these mixes, they require that you add in the sweetener. To make a healthier cake, you can substitute the regular sugar in the recipe with palm sugar or coconut sugar, which are lower glycemic, or maple sugar, which is rich in minerals. As for frosting, there are some fun recipes that combine cocoa powder, butter substitute such as earth balance, palm oil shortening, and natural sweetener such as honey or coconut sugar. Another great frosting recipe combines maple cream, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, a small amount of milk substitute such as rice milk, with a dash of sea salt. This recipe can be found on the blog: naturallivingfamily.com.
2) 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. A great chocolate recipe can be found on the blog: naturallivingfamily.com. It combines cocoa butter, cocoa powder, honey, vanilla extract and sea salt. Once the mixture is poured into candy molds with lollipops sticks and hardens, you can then remove the chocolate lollipop from the mold and wrap it in a fun way.
3) 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. There are many different ready made gluten free pizza shells that can be purchased or your can make your own. 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.
4) 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.
5) 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 an accomplishment, and hopefully one that other parents will role model after. 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 so committed to raising a healthy natural child, 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. Giving refined sugar to our children at a birthday part is easily avoided while still maintaining a super fun atmosphere. 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!
Ayelet Connell-Giammatteo, PhD, PT, IMT,C
Author Bio: Ayelet Connell-Giammatteo, PhD, PT, IMT,C is the President and Owner of Integrative Wellness and Physical Therapy in Bloomfield, CT, a wellness center specializing in holistic Physical Therapy, Integrative Manual Therapy (IMT), and nutritional wellness. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is a Physical Therapist and Certified Integrative Manual Therapist. She has been practicing in the field of IMT for over 15 years. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo received her Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Therapy from The University of Hartford in Connecticut. She received her Doctoral Degree from Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, Ohio, focusing in neuropediatrics, with a concentration in autism. Some of Dr. Connell-Giammatteo’s Doctoral research involved a unique charter elementary school, Soaring Heights, in inner city Jersey City, New Jersey. During this research, she investigated the efficacy of Integrative Manual Therapy on young children that presented with challenges in learning, socialization, and behavior. In addition to her IMT expertise, Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is a graduate of the Institute of Functional Medicine’s program “Applying Functional Medicine into Clinical Practice” focusing on nutritional wellness. She has written many articles on the subjects of IMT, healthy living, natural parenting, and nutritional wellness. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo was Dean of the Connecticut School of Integrative Manual Therapy (CSIMT) for multiple years. She has taught courses in Integrative Manual Therapy nationally and internationally for over 15 years. Dr. Connell-Giammatteo is also a local of this community and has been living in the Greater Hartford area for many years, where she integrates a healthy lifestyle at home with her wonderful family.