Does your preschooler get invited to birthday parties? Celebrate special holidays at school? If so, then you’re familiar with the dietary risks at almost every special event and how they can throw off your toddler’s carefully planned healthy eating.

The party scene—and all its festive treats—starts at a young age. Just when you’re making headway with introducing new foods and healthy eating at home, a party springs up, sabotaging your efforts to keep your child healthy and eating well.

How do you regulate your child’s eating at parties? Do you ignore your child when he or she is pigging out? Do you distract the child? Or do you try to control their eating, even if other children at the party have unlimited access to sweets and snacks? Knowing how to handle your preschooler’s social eating can help keep you calm and carrying on with the job of good nutrition and feeding.

Your best defense against the party bonanza is regulating how and what you are feeding your child in your own home. If you can keep food mostly healthy and nutritious, while serving treats occasionally, you’ll be able to relax a bit during parties. If you know you’ll be at a party, or if there’s a party at school, skip the sweets that day and let the party treats take the sugar spotlight.

Most preschoolers (not children under 2 years) can handle one or two small treats daily, as long as they are active, which equates to about 10 percent of their daily calorie intake. Treats include sugary foods like desserts or candy; fried, high-fat foods such as chips or French fries; or sugary beverages like soda. This generally translates to about 75-150 calories from treats for the average 4-year-old.

Some parents will try to control their child’s eating at a social event, but this approach never seems to go well. It’s common to see temper tantrums, parental embarrassment, and apologies all around when kids and parents get embroiled in a fight for control over party treats. Instead of fighting at a party, place your focus on getting back to a normal healthy eating routine the next day.

Here are some more tips for handling party food and eating:

  • Take the opportunity to make sure your child knows that eating at parties is special and different than your everyday eating.
  • While attending parties, try to find the healthier fare, like fruit or veggies and dip, and encourage your child to include those alongside a reasonable treat.

Parties are the exception to the eating rule, but remember, what is served at home and school make up the majority of your child’s eating experiences. If you can keep it mostly healthy in these locations, then a party and party food will remain just a small sliver of the whole nutrition pie.

Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, September 2020


  • Eating at parties often showcases more treats than parents are comfortable having their child eat.
  • Let your child enjoy party food, and avoid controlling or overtly restricting your child’s eating.
  • Find ways to include both healthy and treat foods at parties, and maintain healthy food and eating at home.


  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Added sugar in kids’ diets: How much is too much?
  2. Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
  3. Castle JL and Jacobsen MT. Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School. Jossey-Bass/Wiley. 2013.


  1. I agree that moderation is key, and letting them eat these “sometimes foods” without making them seem forbidden is a great way to stress they are OK to eat occasionally. Otherwise they become obsessed! I find when these “unhealthy” events are coming up, I focus on getting even more healthy options on the table in the days before and after to balance it out. Also I am quite happy that parents seem to be having healthy options at most parties we’ve experienced recently, which helps show that fruit can be a party food, too!

  2. This article couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I feel like my 4 year old has a birthday party almost every weekend and the dessert tables are always over the top. She has a major sweet tooth and last weekend, while at a party, I saw her go to that table at least 4-5 times. She was definitely over doing it and I did say something to her. Next time, I think I will take a different approach. Thanks for the advice!


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