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Beyond the Cake: Serving Food at a Kid’s Birthday Party

What to consider when planning the snacks or meals for a child's party

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birthday, parties, food, menus, kids, children, kid-friendly, animals, shapes, sandwiches, fun, bana

Even ordinary food like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a banana, some raisins and carrot slices can be fun to serve at a birthday party if you use your imagination.

Megan Cooley

When families start planning a child’s birthday party, settling on a cake design is often one of the first decisions made.

Don’t forget about the other party food, though. Little bellies need more than just sugar. Whether you’re going to serve a full meal or just small bites, it’s important to plan a balanced menu.

Timing is Everything

Start the party at a time that matches your menu. Don’t, for instance, expect guests to arrive at 5 p.m. and eat only peanuts and cake. A dessert-and-snacks party is perfectly acceptable, but hold it at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. instead--not at a time when attendees should expect a full meal.

Consider the Age Group

Older kids can eat just about anything--big slices of pizza, raw vegetables, super-sized sub sandwiches, whatever.

Serving those foods to toddlers doesn’t work, though. You’ll need to cut pizza--or anything you plan to offer--into small pieces. And be careful about feeding them anything too hard or crunchy, like carrots, or other foods that can cause choking in young children.

Serve Kid-Friendly Food

“Kid friendly” doesn’t mean you have to microwave corndogs and mix up bowls of Mac & Cheese. Put out foods that are easy to eat and have broad appeal.

Need some ideas?

  • Buy the hard, thin breadsticks that come in a box in your grocery store’s bread aisle. Slather one end with cream cheese, then wrap a thin slice of turkey, ham or other deli meat around it.
  • Make fruit kebabs by cutting pineapple, cantaloupe and watermelon into bite-sized pieces then threading them onto wooden or plastic skewers. Promptly remove the skewers from the table after the fruit has been eaten so the kids don’t use them as weapons or use something with a blunt end, like chopsticks, for younger kids.
  • Make ordinary sandwiches fun by cutting them with cookie cutters or turn bananas, celery sticks or other healthy snacks into animals with a few well-placed raisins or carrot slices.
Match the Theme

If you can, choose foods that fit the birthday party theme. Serve Goldfish Crackers and hot dogs cut to look like octopuses at an under-the-sea party, for example. Make spaghetti and meatballs for a Lady and the Tramp bash (perhaps with butter and parmesan cheese instead of marinara sauce to cut down on the mess). Or serve small, crust-less tea sandwiches for a teddy bear tea party.

Watch the Sugar

Birthdays are a time to indulge a bit so don't worry too much about giving your kids some cake and ice cream, but avoid an all-out sugar fest. At some parties, frosted cookies await the guests as they arrive, there’s cake, and then everyone goes home with a goody bag full of candy. Kids’s eyes might light up when they see the sweet feast, but they’ll leave with a bellyache and might end up turning into a behavior problem once they get home. Moderation is the key.

Be Alert to Allergies

Ask parents ahead of time whether their children have any food allergies or intolerances, and plan your menu accordingly. Take special precautions as you prepare the food, such as carefully cleaning knives and cutting boards to avoid cross contamination and setting out cups labeled with the kids' names so a child who's allergic to apples, for instance, doesn't take a sip of another kid's apple juice. Take allergies very seriously, since for some kids eating the wrong thing can turn into a life or death situation.


If planning and preparing food is fun for you, awesome! Have fun coming up with a clever and tasty menu. But if being in the kitchen makes you break out in hives, don't sweat it. Order some pizza and focus on the aspects of party planning you do enjoy, like decorating and planning activities.

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