Your kids’ birthday is approaching. You’ve chosen a theme, booked an entertainer and sent out the invitations… but, just when you thought you were done, you realize… you still need to plan the food!
Cooking for a pack of hungry (hopefully not “hangry” ) children is very different from cooking a family meal. To make your life easy, we’ve listed what we think makes great party food for kids.
Before choosing the menu…
Before you rush out and buy one of every item in the supermarket, take the time to understand how the meal will fit in with the rest of the party.
Are you planning on having the meal before or after the activities? At what time (give or take) will the meal be? These factors will influence how hungry your young ones will be.
How long do you think the meal will last? Generally, we feel that 30 minutes is enough time. Especially, if you’re doing the presents afterwards!
Keep in mind that after lunch kids will have a boost of energy before crashing with exhaustion. This usually signals the end of the party or the end of energetic activities.
A few party meal tips
1. Serve food that the kids are familiar with. Keep it simple and recognizable! As we all know, kids can be very hesitant to try new dishes and parties aren’t the ideal setting for culinary ‘experiments’.
2. Use “shatterproof” table dinnerware (cardboard counts) and a disposable tablecloth. The other benefit of using disposable dinnerware is you can buy a set that matches the party theme.
3. Cut the food into small slices and make it as finger-friendly as possible. This is especially important if your young guests are only just starting to familiarize themselves with silverware.
4. Keep the food and drinks accessible. As adults, we often overlook how far children need to reach to grab things. Even the centre of the table can be a stretch. Make it easy for them to help themselves.
5. Prepare the correct quantity of food. This can be tricky. The easiest rule of thumb is to multiply what your kids eat by the number of guests attending. Add a few more snacks on top of that if you think the parents will eat something when they pick up their kids.
6. Be prepared. Hungry kids are impatient and busy parents stressed… As no one wants a conflict, make sure everything is planned ahead of time.
7. Don’t go overboard with snacks. The little one might not be hungry for the actual meal.
8. Don’t underestimate the importance of the dessert. It doesn’t need to be over the top but it should feel special.
9. To avoid waste, don’t put all the drinks on the table. Instead, bring refills as the party goes. This will reduce the number of bottles that get opened but not finished.
10. If you’ve overestimated the appetites of the young ones, give the parents some of the leftovers. This will prevent the food from going stale.
Easy, classic kids party foods
This is generally a success with kids. Ordering them is an option but it can be expensive. Instead, if you have an oven at home, simply buy ready-made pizzas in the supermarket.
If possible, look for fresh pizzas and not frozen ones! These cook faster. If you need to cook the pizzas in 2 or 3 goes it will reduce the waiting time.
Alternatively, you can make homemade pizzas. One of the hidden benefits is that the pizza can be extended to fill the whole baking tray if you need it too. A perfect compromise may be to buy ready-made bases and prepare the toppings yourself. Older kids love helping to top pizzas with their choice of ingredients so this can be an interesting party activity too! (See DIY party food below)
Pigs in a blanket
These are really easy to make. Just buy some puff pastry, roll around the sausages and put them in the oven.
If you want to make your life even easier, don’t by small sausages. Instead, buy regular sausages, roll them in pastry, and cut them into pieces before putting them in the oven.
If you don’t have the time to make these, you can opt for store-bought sausage rolls or even just cocktail sausages.
Just be careful with toothpicks if you have very young kids.
Another easy win for parties. You can get chicken nuggets or chicken strips in just about any supermarket. Perfect to go with some pommes dauphine.
As Jerry Seinfeld said; kids might be surprised that we eat anything else but this!
Wrap an orange in some aluminium foil and then toothpick cherry tomatoes or anything, sweet or savoury, that you want (Note: making the hedgehog’s face is optional but fun).
Again, be careful with the sticks if you have younger kids. Sword fighting with toothpicks might have tearful outcomes…
If you choose to go down this route, make sure your butter is soft. Otherwise, it can be time-consuming.
The benefit of this option is that it allows you to easily prepare different options: vegetarian, vegan etc.
Healthy party foods
If there is one day a year when eating unhealthy food is tolerated, it’s on your birthday. However, including a few healthy options is a nice touch.
Veggie Sticks and Dips
Kids love testing all the different combinations of veggies and dips. Prepare a few bowls with carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes and cauliflower bits.
Slicing vegetable takes a good amount of time. Plan ahead; don’t try and do this 10minutes before the meal
For the dips, keep it to “soft” tastes. Kids generally appreciate these more. A few popular choices are: hummus, ranch, Tzatziki (if the garlic isn’t too strong).
If you’re adding a bowl of guacamole, add a bowl of tortilla chips which are always a success with kids.
Salad on a stick
Cherry tomatoes, cucumber, sweet peppers… any vegetable that can hold on a stick will do. It’s an easy way to make salad fun to eat. You can also combine this idea with the previously mentioned “Party Hedgehog”.
If you want to cut down on the amount of sugar the kids will be drinking, serving fruit juice is a good option. These can either replace sodas entirely or just some of them. If the season if right, you can easily make your own at home!
To end the meal, a fruit salad is the perfect side dish for the traditional birthday cake. It will help all the youngsters reach their recommended 5 a day.
Themed party food
Going the extra mile and matching the food to the party theme is real magic for kids.
We generally advise parents to keep the “traditional” structure of a meal and then give it a twist to match the birthday theme. It’s easier and it reduced the chances of it going un-eaten.
When it comes to decoration, you can, of course, go all out, but here are three easy options to get you started:
Give the dishes a different and more “exotic” name to match the theme. For example, instead of a pizza it can be a fire truck wheel.
Change the shape of your dish to make it match the theme. For example, you can make a boat shape cake to please your young pirate crew.
Lastly, play with the colours and layouts. For example, you can make rainbow patterns with your vegetable’s sticks.
DIY party food
Get your guests to get their hands dirty (literally and figuratively) by getting them to make their own meal.
This is great fun for kids but it requires careful planning.
Our advice is to keep it simple, especially if you have younger kids. Plan it as a “choose your own toppings” rather than an actual meal making activity.
Slice all the ingredients and lay them out on the table. The young ones can then decide what they want to add to their party tacos. Parental supervision advised if you wish to avoid a tidal wave mess.
These can be as fancy or as simple as you want. Just make sure you have the oven capacity to make this activity work.
Beforehand, prepare the dough and lay out the ingredients so that the kids only have to add on their toppings.
If possible, find another cooking activities to keep the kids busy while the pizzas are cooking. Something as simple as preparing a fancy soft drink cocktail for themselves.
When it comes to allergies, you can’t plan for everything. However, you can make your parties safer by staying away from the most common allergens such as nuts and fish.
If you aren’t going to be supervising the meal, keep the “ambiguous” dishes clearly labelled. This technique is good for kids and parents alike.
After a certain age, kids know what they can and can’t eat. It’s nice to know this beforehand to plan a substitute.
If you have a small group, simply contact the other parents before the party. Then, modify the menu accordingly.
For example, an easy alternative to a chocolate cake is a crumble. You can still have the candles and kids will devour it.
Unfortunately, this type of planning isn’t always possible. Do what you can and don’t stress about it.
That’s a wrap…
There is definitely a food pun to be made with the title of this section but I can’t seem to find it…
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