Before Christmas my son turned 5, and in the lead up to it, I did a lot of thinking about kids’ party food. I was inclined to put the brakes on the junk and sugar that inevitably goes with kids’ parties, but feared I would be branded the grinch who stole the fun from children’s birthdays. I talked to a lot of other parents about the subject and found that many felt the same as me about the unwelcome and unnecessary sugar and junk overload.
But what about the kids? Its a party, and you want them to enjoy treats they don’t get every day. But consider that typical kids’ party fare includes chips, nuggets, sausage rolls, party pies, biscuits, cake, lollies, soft drink and a bag of lollies as they leave. Now consider that kids are attending more and more parties, and are increasingly having “treats” all the time, and it becomes a very unhealthy norm.
Surely there’s got to be a balance? Will children really have a terrible time at a party if healthy and delicious food makes up the majority of what they eat, with the treats kept to a minimum? Will they go home in tears unless a plastic bag filled with nasty sugar products is thrust into their sticky hands on departure?
I suspected not, and I was determined to draw a line in the sand – no junk food, and no sugar overload.
Because we had lots of games and physical activity planned, I wanted to feed the kids nutritious food that would give them energy. Now don’t break out in a sweat, you are not about to read about carob cakes, soy sausage rolls or dried fruit platters. That is not my way. Yes, there will be butter and sugar and cream, but it will be kept to a minimum, it will be homemade, and it will be served alongside food that is wholesome and delicious.
We received only positive feedback from parents – the kids had a great time, the absence of rubbish food was appreciated, and all went home happy, well fed and exhausted.
So here is my son’s birthday party menu, with recipes and how-tos. No doubt, more work is involved to make a healthier party, but I didn’t do it alone. My son’s father took over games and entertainment duties, leaving me free to be in the kitchen, and I was greatly assisted by my trusty helpers on the day – Adam and Susan – as well as some parents and other guests.
Do you have any healthy/fun kids’ party food ideas? I’d love you to share them here! 🙂
1. Cupcakes. I just don’t think you can have a party without them, because they make children almost inexplicably happy. You don’t have to overload the toppings with artificial colours and flavours. The kids just loved the ones with plain icing and a raspberry on top. This is the cupcake recipe I use:
2. Pink sausage rolls. Do you think you could get your children to eat fresh beetroot? I bet most wouldn’t. But here’s the thing: you can put just about anything in a sausage roll and kids will eat it. These chicken sausage rolls have grated beetroot, carrot and zucchini, and they were devoured. The beetroot turned the chicken mince pink, making it even more appealing to children. You could make these a few days in advance and freeze. You will need: 4-5 sheets of puff pastry, 500 g free range chicken mince, handful of coriander chopped, grated fresh beetroot, carrot and zucchini (about a cup), 1/2 teaspoon cummin powder, salt & pepper, 1/3 cup breadcrumbs, 2 eggs, sesame seeds. Mix the chicken mince with the herbs, spices, vegetables, breadcrumbs and one of the eggs. Spread mixture along one end of each piece of pastry, roll and cut to your liking. I made them fairly small. Beat the second egg, brush the tops, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake at 180 c for 30-40 minutes.
3. Chicken drummettes. You can get little “frenched” drummettes which give kids an easy handle, or just use regular ones. I marinated mine overnight in tamari, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, and honey, and just put them in the oven along with the potato skins on the morning of the party.
4. Potato skins. These are perfect kids’ party fare as they will give them a nutritious energy boost, whilst being appealling because they are like chips. Plus they are a cinch to make. Take 6 large, long potatoes like pontiac or sebago, rinse, and roast whole and unpeeled for about an hour, longer if they are really large. Stick a skewer in to check if you are unsure. You can do this step the day before. Set aside to cool. When cool, cut in half. Scoop most but not all of the potato from inside, you want to leave a layer. (I used the scooped out potato in the egg mixture for the rolls, below). Slice the halved skins into quarters, scatter with some grated cheese of your choice, and sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 15 minutes.
5. Slimy jelly snake swamp. This was my nod to a little junk and sugar. The kids were mesmerised by this, and each had as much scooped into a plastic cup as their parents allowed, providing parental control over how much sugar they got. I used Coles brand jelly crystals as they have no artificial colours. You have to start making this early on the day before, making one layer of jelly at a time. Make up the jelly mixture, and when its cooled but not yet set, pour into a glass bowl over some snakes. Allow to seat. Its important that the mixture is quite cooled down before pouring, or the snakes will melt into the jelly. Repeat until you’ve got as much as you want. Use two mixtures at a time when you get to the top layers, if your bowl is wider at the top like mine. This can take up to 2 days so be patient and watch for little hands sneaking into the fridge for a dip!
6. Dinner rolls with fillings. Little dinner rolls from the supermarket are a great size, are appealing to kids and adults and provide lots of wholesome energy. I would have used wholegrain or wholemeal ones but they didn’t have any. I made two fillings: 1) chicken, basil mayo and lettuce and 2) egg, sour cream, potato, chives and lettuce. You could use any combination you like – cheese and grated carrot, zucchini, and beetroot; salmon, crushed walnut, thinly sliced celery and mayo; avocado, chicken and rocket etc. You can make up the mixtures the night before.
7. Hundreds & thousands icebox biscuits. These were the treats I made for the party favour bags at the end. As we had a pinata with lollies (and little toys), I felt it was highly unnecessary for more lollies on departure. Not a single child complained. I also popped a few little toys – dinosaurs and butterflies – in each one. Icebox biscuits are easy to make because you just roll the dough into a cylinder then slice it. I used Martha Stewart’s icebox shortbread recipe, but mixed in orange zest (for a lovely flavour and aroma) and hundreds of thousands for a colourful effect. As the name suggests, you can make the biscuit dough, roll it, and freeze in advance.
8. Homemade punch. Keeping soft drinks away from a kids’ party will make a huge difference to the state they are in later in the day. A homemade punch allows you to control the sugar. Try combinations of: ginger beer, soda water, fresh fruit juice, the juice and seeds of fresh pomegranates, fresh berries, sliced fruit, and mint leaves.
9. Fruit and water. Kids will be less likely to end up on a sugar high if they are kept hydrated in a healthy way – with fresh fruit and water. If you have a fruit platter, and few other sweet treats, kids will eat the fruit, but if there are too many other sweet options they will be less likely to. An urn or cask of water with a tap that they can help themselves to is also a great idea.