Planning children's parties can end up being so overwhelming that many parents resort to boring, but kid-friendly, party staples such as chicken nuggets and potato chips. It can also be difficult to determine how much is enough, and when to serve kids a full meal versus a snack. By paying careful attention to the age of the kids involved, the time of day and the type of party, you can pull together a party menu filled with creative, kid-friendly foods that your guests might actually eat.
Age and Time Matters
Teens and older children can eat almost anything, from pizza to nachos to foot-long subs. If you invite toddlers, or preschoolers, do not serve foods that pose a choking hazard, such as whole grapes, carrots, and popcorn. Cut foods into small sizes for toddlers, and stick to finger foods when possible. Messy, sit-down meals, such as spaghetti, don't work well with this age group. Check with your guests' parents before the party about food allergies so you can avoid serving those foods. The time of day can also play an important role in determining your menu. You can usually get by serving snacks and cake only at parties held at off-peak times, such as 9:30 to 11 in the morning or 2 to 4 in the afternoon. If you hold the party during traditional mealtimes, plan to offer children a more substantial meal.
The theme of your party can provide you with a good starting point for the menu. You can easily adapt many favorite foods to conform to your theme by changing the name and a few details. For a pirate party, you might serve "sword" kebabs made by stringing favorite fruits, vegetables, cheese, or meats onto a straw, fish sticks or "salty dogs", aka grilled hot dogs. For a princess or fairy party, serve tiny sandwiches and cakes accompanied by a sparkling fairy punch made of sherbet, fruit juice, and lemon-lime soda. Use cookie-cutters to turn ordinary sandwiches or cheese slices into foods that match your theme. Enlist your children's help to come up with clever names for the foods. They can also make signs identifying the foods on the party table.
A taco, baked potato, nacho, salad, or pizza bar serves as both a meal and entertainment for older children and teens. Set out a variety of toppings, including plenty of pre-chopped vegetables, meats, cheeses, dressings and sauces, and let guests create their own meals. For a morning party, set up a pancake bar where guests can top their creations with whipped cream, fruit, syrup, or candy pieces.
Let Them Eat Cake...or Not
Although birthday cake seems to go hand-in-hand with kid's parties, other desserts can work even better. Cupcakes and cut-out sugar cookies make portable dessert options if you do not have seating for all of the guests. You can also customize their size according to the age of your guests to cater to toddlers' and preschooler's smaller appetites. Set up a topping table where children can add frosting, sprinkles, and other edible embellishments to their cupcakes or cookies. Older kids might enjoy a chocolate fondue dessert bar where they can dip fruits, marshmallows, cake morsels, and cookies into melted chocolate.
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