Children’s birthday parties are a great excuse for children to have access (albeit limited!) to a variety of special treats that may not normally figure in their day-to-day lives. Birthday parties are all about fun and games and spending time with their friends and, of course, opening presents. Apart from the deserved focus on the actual birthday cake, the party food is simply part of the event and shouldn’t require you to spend hours in the kitchen or huge amounts of money at the supermarket.
If you and your child have decided upon a theme, this may influence some of the items you choose to have (i.e. fairy cakes if you’re having a fairy party), otherwise it’s best to make things as simple as you can. You want to be with your child and their friends, or even better, enjoying a coffee or wine with your friends while you watch your children having fun – rather than stuck in the kitchen for most of the party.
Once the children have eaten their fill, they’ll be rushing off for more playing or games – chances are they’d pretty much eat just about anything placed in front of them if hungry enough, so there’s no sense knocking yourself out to create a gourmet spread that goes unappreciated.
This decision comes down to time and money. Have you got the time to make party food or can you buy some or most of it?
Using some snack foods is convenient for you and they can double as a special birthday party treat (for example, mini chocolate bars, such as Crunchy or Picnic Bars). It’s an easy option to buy a bulk packet and ensure each child has one. Don’t forget traditional kiwi items such as cheerio sausages that are very easy to boil and serve, with lashings of tomato sauce.
And what about party food you can make quickly yourself? Like fairy bread (100’s and 1,000’s scattered on white buttered bread and cut into shapes) or rice bubble crunchies. Time to get out the Edmond’s Recipe book!
It can be a good idea to have a mix of both – food you can open from a packet and put straight into a bowl, onto a plate or into an oven and food that you can prepare the night before or pull together on the morning of the party without too much fuss.
As long as it’s not too fancy and tastes good, the children won’t really care what there is to eat – the food is only a small part of their party experience.
Unless you’re serving a hot meal for older children (and even then, pizzas and sausages in bread are always a good stand-by), the easiest way for guests to feed themselves is by using their hands. Finger food is excellent, especially for younger children, and bite-sized food is always popular.
Some party food ideas:
|Savoury Party Food||Sweet Party Food||Healthy Party Food|
Providing a choice of healthy and ‘naughty’ foods means children are in charge of their own appetites and you’ll be surprised how the fruit actually does get eaten. Like anything, having a balance between the two is the best way to go. Likewise, with hot and cold snacks; you can get away with one or two hot items – you don’t need a gourmet smorgasbord as the food is only a small part of the party. Also, you’re not supposed to be slaving over a hot oven – this is meant to be fun for you as well.
You might like to find some ideas in one of the many cook books dedicated to children’s birthday cakes and party food; including themed party food (the Australian Women’s Weekly books are particularly good at this).
As long as you provide a reasonable selection of sweet and savoury items and a good mix of healthy food and special treats, then the fussy eater will have ample choice. If they get hungry enough, they’ll find something they can handle and no-one ever starved from not eating for up to three hours!
Depending upon their age, children with allergies should either be supervised by their parents or be old enough to know what they can and can’t have. Hopefully you know the guests well enough that you’re aware of any allergies before the party. If not, as a precaution, you can ask the “allergy question” on the invitations.
Children with allergies can also bring their own food, to be eaten at the same time as everyone else. It is vital they are comfortable about this and not be teased or made to feel awkward. If the child with allergies is the birthday boy or girl or is a close friend of the birthday child, it can be a nice idea to make something special that they can eat and share with their friends; such as a dairy-free chocolate cake, for example.
Children who are anaphylactic will have their medical kits with them at all times, but if you’re not sure about something or can’t find the ingredients list to see if it’s okay for them to eat, then check with the parents or ask the child to choose something else instead. This is definitely one of those times when it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Whether you’re serving fizzy drinks or juice, milk or water, you need to take the age of your guests into account. Younger children are best with easy-to-hold plastic cups, whilst straws can be a better idea for children a little older (as it’s fun and there’s less spillage). There’s a huge variety of colourful plastic cups, glasses and mugs available that can make the drinking experience even more special. Disposable cups can be a worthwhile idea – just make sure they’re relatively strong and won’t crumple under the pressure of tightly gripping, damp little hands. Older children can usually be entrusted with glass and china.
Decide if you’re going to bring the food out halfway through the party, towards the end, or have it available the entire time. You can opt for a specially pre-prepared and decorated table or you can lay everything out on the bench, buffet-style. Another option is to prepare each plate yourself, and ensure every child has the same thing – whatever makes your life easier! Unless it’s the middle of summer and you’re planning on eating outside, it pays to have a back-up eating plan in case it rains or turns cold. [A word of warning – if it’s summer, watch out for chocolate biscuits and chocolate cake melting in the sun!]
Given the amount of work that can go into preparing a party, there would be few adults who would expect the hosting parents to provide a full scale morning or afternoon tea especially for them. Adults attending children’s parties can share some of the food and are most welcome to a slice of the birthday cake, along with a nice cup of coffee, but to cater separately for them, while a commendable idea, can be fraught with extra pressure you don’t need. However, you may wish to include coffee, wine or beer to help keep your adult guests happy as well!
Whether your party has been a morning, lunch or afternoon affair, then chances are both you and your child, not to mention the rest of your family, will be a little tired. This is one of those days when a quick, easy meal is called for, so make it leftovers, takeaways or a frozen meal, kick back and relax – it’s all over till next year!