No one expects party food to be nutritious — and I’m not here to bash parties — but you’ve got to admit, the typical kids’ party really takes the cake (if you know what I mean).

It’s difficult to know the nutritional value of most party fare:

  • There isn’t one set menu — although kids’ parties where I live almost always serve pizza, juice and cupcakes.
  • The calorie content for seemingly identical items can vary quite a lot — the range for cupcakes can be more than 500 calories.

I’ll get to the nutrition of party food in a moment, but first, let’s think about habits.

If parties occurred infrequently — and if kids only ate pizza, juice and cupcakes when they attended parties — there would be no problem.

But kids seem to gobble up party food on a weekly, or sometimes even a semi-weekly, basis.  And while it may be true that most kids don’t hit the trifecta of pizza, juice and cupcakes too often, I think it’s safe to say that many kids have the opportunity to indulge in a duet of two (pizza and juice or cupcakes and juice) fairly frequently.

The Habits Perspective: Have your ever thought about what blurring the line between party food and regular food teaches your children about food and eating?

I’ve written about the impact of juice and pizza on kids’ eating habits.  Read Juice: Apple, Grape, Punch; Coke Beats JuicePizza and Peas: The Untold Story; The Snacking Minefield.

And I assume everyone knows what eating cupcakes on a regular (say weekly) basis would do to their kids’ eating habits.

Well, regularly eating party food messes with your kids’ habits too.  It teaches kids the wrong message about:

In addition, pizza, juice and cupcakes all shape your children’s taste buds to prefer high fat, sweet and/or salty foods.  These nutrients have been linked to overeating.  They also influence whether your kids will accept the finer foods you offer, foods like asparagus.

The Nutrition Perspective: To accommodate the range in calorie counts, let’s consider two different scenarios — one party hosted by Minimus Mom and another one hosted by Maximus Mom.

With Minimus Mom your child is likely to take in..

  • ½ slice of Pizza Hut thin crust cheese pizza from a regular pie = 95 calories
  • 1 small juice box = 60 calories
  • 1 small Hostess Cupcake type of cupcake = 200 calories

Total for the party = 355 calories.  That’s not bad, even if it is basically a third of a toddler’s daily intake.

With Maximus Mom your child is likely to take in…

  • 1 slice of Pizza Hut hand tossed crust cheese pizza from a regular pie = 220 calories
  • 1 large juice box = 100 calories
  • 1 cupcake from someplace such as Crumbs Bake Shop or one of the new cupcakes from Cinnabon = 500 or more calories.

Total for this party = 820 calories or around 80% of your toddler’s daily intake.

See USDA calorie intake recommendations.

Remember, though, that neither the count for Minimus Mom nor the count for Maximus Mom takes into consider all the extras.  If your child…

  • Drinks 2 juice boxes instead of 1, add 100 calories.
  • Snacks on 1 ounce of Goldfish Crackers, add 140 calories
  • Scores a scoop of ice cream, add 100-200 calories.

With these added delicacies your child could consume 600- 1000 calories at one event.  (And don’t forget the candy from the party favor bag that she’ll gobble down on the way home.)

The variation in calorie counts for pizza depends upon things you can see — the type of crust, type of topping and size of the pie (larger pies yield larger slices) — but that’s not true with cupcakes and the truth about what goes into these little treasures will really shock you.

An NPR story from a few years ago calculated that eating one of Crumbs Bake Shop’s creations is the equivalent of eating 3 slices of pizza. According to this report, at least one Crumb’s concoction contains over 700 calories — and 36 grams of fat.  (I can’t verify this because Crumbs doesn’t supply nutrition information for their cakes — and after seeing these numbers, I can understand why — but other internet sources concur.)

For some perspective: 1/2 cup of Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Caramel Fudge ice cream has only 270 calories and 14 grams of fat.

So what can you do to salvage parties?

1) Save party food for parties. Not only will this put pizza, juice and cupcakes into your children’s diets in the right proportion, it will teach your kids the right lessons about party food.

2) Start using parties to teach your kids some valuable lessons about eating right. For instance, it’s an ideal venue for teaching kids some ways to avoid overeating.  I’ll say more about this in my next post.

3) Then, let your kids party hardy!

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


Sources: – accessed 6/3/10 – accessed 6/3/10;

Center for Science in the Public Interest. 2010. “Sinnercake.” Nutrition Action Healthletter, June. p. 16.

Pesca, Mike, 2007. “Just How Fattening is that Cupcake?” National Public Radio. May 23. – accessed 6/3/10; – accessed 6/3/10;