I love having birthday parties for my kids. We are blessed with lots of great family and close friends and undoubtably end up holding big parties when birthdays roll around. I think it is fantastic to celebrate and have some treats at a party, but I definitely think it is good to steer away from too much ‘party’ food. You cannot fill children (and adults) with ridiculous amounts of artificial colours, flavours and preservatives, huge amounts of sugary food and drink, and fatty, processed snacks and expect them all to feel good and have a great time. The kids are going to go crazy, the adults are going to get grumpy and later in the day they’ll all be feeling pretty average.
With regards to birthday cakes, I am a huge fan of homemade birthday cakes ala Women’s Weekly birthday cake cookbooks, but I especially try to avoid using artificial food colouring, packet cake mixes and processed foods. I’ve had great success with Natural Food Colouring and it is easier than you’d think. Click on the link to read more. All of the cakes pictured above were homemade – yes, those are M&M’s on the ball and yes, those are store bought chocolate finger biscuits, but other than that it’s all good stuff. The echidna was made of homemade strawberry ice cream (divine!) and the colourings on the rabbit are all natural. The turtle shell was white chocolate mixed with raspberries and the dinosaur was piped white chocolate mixed with spirulina powder.
As a general rule at parties, my kids have to ask before they eat things and listen if I tell them they are only allowed a certain amount of particular foods. Also when they get party bags they have to show me the contents first and I tell them what or how much they are allowed to have. We have always done this with our kids so they are used to it and don’t think twice about it. Certainly it is hard to change habits but it’s worth persevering with this one. It will save you a lot of hyperactivity, tummy cramps, diahorrhea or constipation, and general poor behaviour from the kids later. I know some people will argue that it’s just a party so why worry, but at the end of the day kids go to a fair number of parties, especially once they start school and enlarge their circle of friends.
Here are some ideas for how to cater a healthier (but still very fun!) party:
- Try to make as much of the food from scratch as you can – do this yourself or ask friends and family to help out
- Write a list of all the food you’ll be providing and try to get a balance between savoury and sweet foods
- Remember that you will have birthday cake too so don’t go overboard with other treats
- Try to keep artificial colours, flavourings and preservatives to a minimum
- Make party bags with only a few lollies or treats in them and add some healthy treats or fun stuff like party blowers, bubbles, stickers, notepads, coloured pens or pencils etc
At one of my daughters birthday parties last year we served homemade chicken nuggets and chips to the kids. I totally underestimated how many chips we could cook in the oven at once and only had about 6 chips per child! My mum quickly began buttering slices of bread and I cut cheese sticks from a block of cheddar. 15 minutes later the food was eaten and the kids were asking for more cheese sticks! Sometimes we forget that the simplest things are fun just because it’s a party.
Drinks at parties don’t need to be a big deal either. You can certainly make your own drinks if you have time. Something like homemade lemonade (the EDC recipe is great if you have a TMX) is fabulous and always goes down well, but often kids (especially young kids) are just as happy with water. If that is all you provide then they usually won’t question it. Water from some type of dispenser or cask that they can operate themselves and cups with a permanent marker for them to write their name on offer more entertainment than you might think.
Savoury suggestions for your party menu:
- Plain popcorn (definitely not the coloured stuff)
- Homemade sausage rolls
- Homemade pizza scrolls
- Spinach and sun-dried tomato frittatas
- Zucchini quiches
- Fruit Platter (my friend W included fancy toothpicks in a platter she made for one of our party’s recently and they were a hit)
- Sandwich Platter
- Homemade Pizza
- Homemade hot chips – simply cut or mandoline potatoes into chips, season with pink salt & black pepper, toss in rice bran oil, spread on a lined tray and bake at 200C for 20-30 min (keep an eye on them as cooking time will depend on how thick you cut them)
Sweet suggestions for your party menu:
- Magic bean chocolate cake (this makes a great birthday cake)
- Choc coconut fudge
- Homemade icy poles using fruit juice (mix equal parts 100% apple and orange juice to make a ‘frosty fruit’)
- Chocolate crackles (I make mine with just melted chocolate mixed with Rice Bubbles)
- I haven’t tried these yet but will report back when I do – Really Healthy Chocolate Crackles
- Honey Joys – TMX recipe & stovetop recipe
- The Natural Confectionary Company Lollies are a good, easily accesible alternative to other brands which contain a lot of artificial colours and flavours
- Fairy Bread – choose a healthier white bread option like Baker’s Delight Hi-Fibre Lo-GI bread and sprinkles with natural colours (these are available at the big supermarkets)
This information is by no means comprehensive, in fact I plan to continue to add to my list of food suggestions for kid’s parties on the Little People page of this blog over time. And my suggestions are designed to make party food healthier while still being fun, tasty and relatively easily accessible. Of course you could be a lot stricter if you wanted to.
A couple of good resources which I haven’t tried yet but which look good are:
- Hopper Foods: this Victorian business sells a great range of natural food colourings and naturally coloured sprinkles
- Arch & Jax: this Perth-based business sells organic and additive free children’s party food and eco friendly party supplies