Making great birthday party food on a budget is not hard. Read here for ideas and advice for preparing party food on a limited birthday budget.

Choose your party time carefully : Individual party plate : Bring a plate : Theme the food : Cost saving party snacks

When organising food for your child’s birthday party, remember that the party table is just one aspect of the day. Nobody expects you to prepare a feast, and if you do, half of it will go uneaten anyway – trust me! There are plenty of ways to keep your food costs low, without looking like you are scrimping on the celebrations. Here are some great ideas to get you started.

Choose your Party Time Carefully

Nobody said you have to offer an entire meal at your party, so choose a time of day when you can simply offer morning or afternoon tea. Parties between 2pm – 4pm work a treat, as there is no way anyone can assume that lunch or dinner will be served. For younger children who may still need an afternoon sleep, choose a morning party starting at 10am. An hour and a half is plenty long enough for a toddler party, so the celebrations will be over before lunchtime begins.

Individual Party Plate

Nobody wants their party table to look half empty, but you don’t want to over cater either. The easiest way to prepare just enough food without looking like a miser, is to make each child an individual party plate.

Suddenly you don’t need 1kg of cherrios because 3 on each plate is sufficient, and with a handful for each guest, one packet of potato chips will be more than enough. Any extra food can be safely kept in the fridge or pantry, just in case anyone is still starving for more. In the meantime extra snacks are safe from kids taking one bite, and then putting it aside to try something else. It also stops children form gorging themselves silly, just because they can!

Two or three savoury items, a couple of sweet items, and some potato chips on a plate, is plenty for an afternoon tea party. For ideas on what these items could be, check out our Birthday Food section, or see our list of cost saving snacks below.

If you are having your party at a park or any other venue away from the house, you could pack each guest an individual party box (instead of a plate). Wrap the contents of each box individually, or put them into seal-easi bags so that the food still looks nice and inviting when the box is opened up.

Bring a Plate

The idea of bringing a plate to a party is widely accepted in New Zealand, but it hasn’t quite trickled down to children’s birthday celebrations. You can introduce this idea without sounding cheap, by attaching the ‘bring a plate’ concept to a specific theme.

For example, if your child is having a pizza party, you could ask each guest to bring along their favourite pizza topping. For a pirate party, you could ask everyone to bring the one food they would take to a deserted island, and for a Teddy Bears Picnic they could bring their favourite picnic food. The bonus is, you know everyone will like what’s on offer, because they brought it themselves!

If you are worried about ending up with 8 lots of cheese for your pizza, or 8 bags of chips on your deserted island, you could make the request slightly different for each guest. For one you could ask for their favourite meat topping, one their favourite cheese, and one their favourite pizza sauce. With a little bit of imagination, you could create a spectacular spread.

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Theme the Food

Choosing a theme for your party, and more specifically your party food, can drastically cut down your costs. If you are having a pizza party, all you have to prepare is pizza, an ice-cream party only needs ingredients for ice cream sundaes, and a movie party only needs movie type snacks. Pick a theme where you can limit the food to one or two items, and no-one will think twice about your limited menu.

Cost Saving Party Snacks

If you are planning on doing a whole party spread, then there are plenty of snacks you can prepare on a budget. Here are some of my favourite low cost snacks.


Instead of potato chips, by a packet of unpopped popcorn and pop it on the stove in the old fashioned way. You can buy a bag of popping corn for about $1.20 and it makes bowls and bowls full of corn.

Cheese on Toast

A cheap savoury treat is cheese and marmite on toast. You can make the snacks look interesting by cutting the toast into cool shapes using cookie cutters.

Fairy Bread

Fairy bread is simply white bread, buttered with hundreds and thousands. You can simply cut the bread into triangles, or cut it out using cookie cutters.

Chocolate Spread Club Sandwiches

You can make cool black and white striped sandwiches, by spreading chocolate spread onto white bread, and then putting another layer of bread and spread on top, and so on. Make the sandwiches as tall as you like (provided they can still fit in little mouths of course).


Pizzas don’t have to be covered in expensive toppings to be tasty and fill up little tummies. Make a low-cost pizza by covering your pizza base with spaghetti, cheese, luncheon and pineapple. You can also make mini pizzas on bread of muffin splits.

Fruit and Marshmallow Kebabs

When fruit is in season you can get it relatively cheaply, and it’s always nice to have some healthy choices on the table. Instead of putting out whole pieces of fruit which can be half eaten and wasted, cut the fruit into chunks and thread them on to skewers with a few marshmallows.

Cake Cones

Fill a plain ice cream cone (flat bottomed type) with pieces of plain chocolate or vanilla cake. Cover in yummy frosting. Place bowls of age appropriate lollies (M&Ms, Reeces pieces, baby marshmellows are the best) on the table and let the children decorate their own cake cones. Best for 3, 4 and 5 year olds.


Jelly has to be the cheapest dessert ever, and you can jazz it up by making individual portions in plastic cups. If you like add a few bits of fruit or a handful of lollies to jelly before it sets.

Remember, food is just one part of your birthday party – so relax and keep it simple. After all, most parents will appreciate their children coming home a little less sugar-hyped than usual. Maybe you’ll start a party food trend!

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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