Have Your Birthday Cake and Eat It Too

There are ways to enjoy a birthday bash without the calorie chaos.

By Wendy C. Fries
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Maxing out on munchies is the traditional way to celebrate a birthday, and for many of us, the revelry is worth one day of calorie chaos.

Still, it's nice to have a few healthy options for those times when we might want a less caloric celebration.

With that in mind, WebMD polled experts and birthday celebrants for ideas on how to enjoy a happy -- but healthier -- birthday. For some, that meant whipping up a few light recipes; for others, finding entirely new ways to celebrate.

Get the Party Started - With Produce

Those with summer birthdays have a great advantage when throwing a party: the bounty of fresh produce bursting from market bins.

"Take advantage of the season," says Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic's "Recipe Doctor" and author of Comfort Food Makeovers.

Whether you're celebrating surfside or on the back deck, Magee says a key to any good-for-you party is offering a big, beautiful platter of fresh fruit, and another of veggies.

Buy produce that doesn't need to be cut -- like strawberries, grapes, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and sugar snap peas -- and it's even easier.

"I've never had a lot left over after a party," Magee says. Add a light dip to each platter, and partygoers may clamor for seconds.

Offer whole-grain crackers, sliced baguettes, and a few light cheeses with the produce, and you've rounded out your appetizers -- and kept things diet-friendly, too.

Should You Build a Better Birthday Cake?

What would a birthday be without cake? Most of us connect growing up -- and growing older -- with frosted cakes freighted with flickering candles. But surely this time-tested birthday icon can't be part of a healthy party?

Yes, it can.

"If you're having people over to celebrate a birthday, let them eat cake!," enthuses Magee, who is a big believer in enjoying the things you enjoy. Instead of worrying about fat grams and carbs, she says it's fine to simply "let the dessert be whatever it's going to be." After all, it's just one day.

But there are ways to indulge more healthfully, if you choose.

"The experts say that when it comes to desserts, the first few bites are the best," says Magee, who recommends trying a sampler plate of goodies at your party instead of full servings of each dessert.

And put your fork down between each bite, adds David W. Grotto, RD, LD, a nutrition advisor and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Relax and enjoy, he says, and before you know it, you've savored everything without overindulging in anything.

Lightening Your Birthday Bash

There are other ways to have a great party, great food, and fewer calories too. Magee helped us gather a host of tips for keeping it light:

  • If sundaes are part of your party, try one of the many light ice creams out there. Pair your favorite with fresh blueberries, bananas, and a handful of nuts. You'll be getting protein, calcium, and vitamins along with your birthday treat.
  • Cut the fat and calories in a cake recipe or mix by substituting lighter ingredients for the oil called for, recommends Magee: "Try buttermilk, fat-free sour cream, applesauce, fruit juice, or yogurt. If it's a carrot cake, add pineapple." And here's a frosting trick Magee recommends: Frost only the middle and top of your cake, for all the richness but far fewer calories.
  • Have no- and lower-calorie drinks, like diet soda, wine spritzers made with club soda, and herbal iced tea.
  • Using small plates at a party is a great strategy, adds Magee. When you fill up a petite plate it gives a feeling of abundance. And be in a mood to sample. "It's fun!" she says.
  • Kebobs have it all for party fun. They're super-customizable finger foods; can be made from a wide range of fresh, healthy ingredients; pop easily onto the grill; and nibbling on the bite-size skewered goodies makes the meal last.
  • While the grill's still hot from the kebobs, go for a sizzle of birthday sophistication by popping a few peaches or nectarines over the coals for a few minutes, then drizzling them with light whipped cream, light ice cream, or a bit of bleu cheese.

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