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.
  • Have guests dip strawberries into melted dark chocolate for a delicious indulgence that's heart-healthy to boot. A serving has fewer calories than you think -- under 200 for four dipped berries.

Zero-Calorie Fun

If turning a year older gives you -- or the one you love -- the blues, why not try something new? Here are a few fun (and calorie-free) ideas for great things to do and cool gifts to give:

  • Take flight. "[Go for] a ride in a hot air balloon," recommends Susan Schultz, a bakery manager in Fayetteville, Texas, who enjoys finding new ways to celebrate her birthday. "It's very quiet when the propane is off and you're just floating along!" Many small airports offer gift certificates for this serene experience, as well as for trips in a glider or ultra-light airplane, or even skydiving lessons.
  • Give back. Celebrate your birthday by doing something good for someone else. Donate blood; pick up trash at the park; visit a nursing home; or take a donation to a soup kitchen or the Humane Society.
  • Take a lesson. Ever wanted to go rock climbing or learn to play golf? A birthday celebration is the perfect time to start, says Ginger Stinnett LaRose, a party planner in Atlanta. Get the festivities started by hiring an instructor to give a group lesson, says LaRose. "That way you get to try a new activity with the support of your friends," she says. And who knows -- maybe some of your buddies will take an interest, and you'll adopt a new activity to enjoy together.
  • Stock up. Does your father-in-law love Starbucks? Is your niece devoted to her Apple computer? Buy a loved one a stock certificate from a favorite company, frame it, and give as a gift. It might even inspire some serious investing.
  • Go for a ride. Schultz loved the camel ride she took through a national park. You might get excited exploring a canyon on horseback. Or try getting 15-20 of your nearest and dearest together for a leisurely hay ride through town. Pack picnics, enjoy the scenery, and relish the best part -- no post-party cleanup.
  • Attend a fair. Summer's a great time for local fairs, from agricultural expositions to medieval festivals. Contact your area chamber of commerce to find out what's happening near you.
  • Host a themed party. Pick a favorite healthy goodie -- mangos? green tea? red wine? -- and ask friends to bring a dish or gift that fits the theme. You might get homemade mango sorbet, a book on Japanese tea ceremonies, or a pair of pretty wine glasses.

And if your birthday leaves something behind - it won't be a few pounds.

Published July 14, 2006.

SOURCES: Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, WebMD nutrition expert, author of Comfort Food Makeovers. David W. Grotto, RD, LD, nutrition advisor; spokesperson, American Dietetic Association. Susan Schultz, bakery manager, Fayetteville, Texas. Ginger Stinnett LaRose, party planner, Atlanta. WebMD Weight Loss Clinic Expert Column, 10 Healthy Holiday Party Tips by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, published Dec. 5, 2005. WebMD Weight Loss Expert Column 10 Summer Favorites Made Lighter by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, published July 16, 2005.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

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