Birthday Party Food for Kiddos… and Their Very Patient Parents

We are still relative newbies to the world of children’s birthday parties, and the terror that can be instilled in the heart of a parent when s/he sees a precious child return from a friend’s party with a goodie bag so chock full of candy that it rivals Halloween.  I cannot speak to how other people’s children act (well… actually I could, but that isn’t polite) when hopped up on that level of sugar and pizza-party junk food, but I can attest to how my lovely, precocious little boy turns into a whirlwind of high pitched cackles and rule breaking that I can only describe as temporary insanity for all involved.  As fellow parents, shouldn’t we want to set our own children, as well as their friends and parents, up for success?

I’m not suggesting that all birthday party food must be reduced to carrots and hummus (although that would be tasty!), but we can create amazing birthdays while still feeding people well… and inexpensively.  The food that I include here isn’t necessarily healthy.  This is celebration food, not something that you would include in your diet or eat on a daily basis.  Nor is it filled with preservatives or the nearly obscene amounts of sugar found in processed foods.  These are all dishes that can be made a couple days (or more) in advance so that the day of the party can be spent enjoying the birthday boy or girl, not panicking over the stove (I’ve been there too).  So let’s have a party, and not feel sick to our stomachs by the end of the feast.

The foods and drink that I am posting here are actually the same recipes that we’ve used for all of Little Man’s birthday parties so far and many of the recipes are not my own.  For those dishes I’ve included the links to the original sites, so all you have to do is click on the dish’s highlighted name and a window will open with that recipe from its original site.  It’s unlike me to recycle exact menus like this for recurring celebrations, but we’re still finding our way in how to throw great kid parties.  I wanted recipes that I knew would turn out great, that could be done in advance, and that wouldn’t break our bank account or my spirit to prepare.  I might break out and try something different next year, but then again if it isn’t broken…

So here’s the menu:

  • Rainbow Fruit Platter
  • Jungle Juice Punch
  • Amazing Mac n Cheese
  • Zebra Cake
  • Snacks and Goodie Bags

Rainbow Fruit Platter

Rainbow Fruit Platter served on a rectangular bamboo cutting board.

Rainbow Fruit Platter served on a rectangular bamboo cutting board.

One of the most commonly re-pinned items from my Pintrest boards is this Rainbow Fruit Platter.  The original site I pinned it from does not exist any more, but similar images have popped up across the internet.  I don’t know what it is about this simple dish (maybe the avoidance of the tasteless cantaloupe and honeydew melon that so often “graces” fruit plates), but every time I serve this at a child’s party it gets eaten up faster than anything else.  For best results, use fresh fruit.  It seems silly to state this for a fruit platter, but having lived in places where during the winter months you sit back and watch the price of fresh produce skyrocket it can be tempting to go for frozen.  To put it mildly, the texture would be a bummer.  It doesn’t matter what shape platter you use for this, I’ve used both rectangular (above) and circular (below).  Just be sure to give enough room for each color arc to be well represented.

Rainbow Fruit Platter (and Pooh Bear) at the party in 2012.

Rainbow Fruit Platter (and Pooh Bear) served on a circular metal platter.

You can use any combination of your favorite fruits, but here are the ones that I keep coming back to both for their great colors and taste.

Rainbow Fruit Platter

Ingredients

Red: Sliced Strawberries and fresh Raspberries

Orange: Mandarin Oranges, peeled and divided into segments

Yellow: Pineapple, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces

Green: Green Grapes, halved

Blue/Indigo: Blueberries and/or Blackberries

Directions:

  1. Find a large serving platter and set it near your work station.  Depending on the platter’s material, you may want to cover it with plastic wrap before putting the fruit down.
  2. Prepare the different fruits and set them aside in individual bowls.
  3. Begin with the red (and largest) arc of your rainbow, and arrange the strawberries on the platter.
  4. Then fill in each succeeding arc with your chosen fruit.  You may need to adjust the size of your arcs as you go.
  5. Add the most delicate fruits, like the raspberries and blackberries (if using) last.
  6. Once the platter is complete, roll up a small paper towel and place it in the void between the blueberries or blackberries to preserve the arc’s shape.
  7. Cover the platter loosely with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until the party.  You can do this the night before, but I don’t suggest doing this too early since the texture of the cut fruit can get mushy.

Click here for a printable version of the Rainbow Fruit Platter recipe.

Jungle Juice Punch

Finding a drink that is both suitable for kids and enjoyed by adults can be tricky at parties.  For my part, I don’t allow Little Man to drink pop (or soda for those south of the border) or any of those popular punches made out of flavor packets that are little more than sugar and food coloring.  Instead I use one of the iced tea and fruit juice-based punches published by Giada De Laurentis on the Food Network website.  For kid-based parties my favorite is Giada’s Apple Mint Punch, which I call “Jungle Juice” for the parties because of its golden green color.  I make a double or triple batch and serve it in a large bee-hive shaped glass beverage carafe.  In Giada’s recipe she makes simple syrup with fresh mint as the sweetener.  It pains me to pay for fresh mint in the store (especially in winter), so I often use dried mint.  If you use dried herbs, just use half the quantity that the recipe specifies.  Dried herbs are much stronger than the fresh, so you don’t need quite as much.  If you are making this when your garden or local farmers market is full of fresh herbs, use whatever mixture of herbs you like best.  My favorite version of this was actually from last summer when my mint had been severely hacked back in a fit of mojito making, so instead I used fresh basil and tarragon.  The punch was delicious!

Amazing Mac n Cheese

Since Little Man still takes naps, I like to have his parties in the morning so that things are breaking up right around the time for him (and his friends) to settle down for nap time.  That means that I want the kiddos and their parents to have something good for lunch, so that they have energy to play, none of us are feeling sick from too much junk food, and the kids can leave feeling happy not completely pooped and grouchy from sugar crash.  My favorite dish for this is an amazing Mac n Cheese from the Pioneer Woman (aka Ree Drummond) also on Food Network.  I make a double batch of this in the morning, pile it into my largest lasagna pan and set it aside until I’m just about ready to serve lunch.  Then I top it liberally with grated, sharp cheddar cheese and broil the top until its melted and golden brown.  I’ve also made this the night before and reheated it for a party the next day.  Just be sure to give yourself ample time to rewarm the casserole in the oven, and hold off on adding the cheesy topping until you are just about ready to serve.  Every time I serve this I have parents’ asking me for the recipe.  Now you have it!

Zebra Cake

065Of course I forgot to take a picture of the inside of the cake, but if you want to see the cool, zebra-print pattern check out the link that follows with the cake’s name.  The first time I can across Zebra Cake was from the DIY Queen website.  The original post consists just of cool pictures of the process, but I found a number of other sites where the process is described in greater detail.  Check out Fae’s Twist & Tango for a great example with detailed explanation of the steps and sample cake recipes.  It’s astoundingly simple, and gravity does much of the work for you.  Simply choose your favorite white cake and chocolate cake recipes (or box mixes) and prepare the batters.  The batters need to be of pourable consistency, so if they are too thick you might need to thin them out a little.  Then you start by pouring a small scoop (about 1/3 of a cup) of the white batter in the middle of your prepared (butter and parchment paper) cake pan.  Then add a similarly sized scoop of the chocolate batter, and repeat.  Try to save the last scoop for the chocolate batter.  With each scoop, gravity will slowly push the other rings out towards the edges of the pan.  Then bake, cool and decorate as you would like.  Little Man’s party was animal-themed (hence the cake I chose), so we used a delicious chocolate frosting, simple candles, and a ring of non-toxic plastic animals for decoration.  Once the candles were blown out each child (birthday boy first) got to choose an animal to add to their goodie bag.

068Snacks and Goodie Bags

Beyond the Rainbow Fruit Platter and the Mac n Cheese, I like to keep the rest of the offerings simple.  For this birthday, Little Man’s sole request for food at his party was for Cheezies, a Canadian cheese-puff that is similar to the American Cheetos.  One word of advice, don’t start a discussion with a Canadian about which brand is better.  They are very passionate about their Cheezies…  So to honor Little Man’s one birthday request, and to celebrate our new Canadian home, a good sized bowl of Cheezies appeared next to the Mac n Cheese casserole at his party.

Little Man's sole request for food at his party was Cheezies.

Little Man’s sole request for food at his party was Cheezies.

The Goodie Bags for Little Man’s party were relatively simple in that there wasn’t a ton of stuff, and we tried to keep sugar to a minimum.  Each child got a small bag (gotta love the dollar stores) with their name in puffy paint.  Inside each bag was an animal foam magnate kit to do at home another time.  Then we’d also gotten animal-themed stickers and handed those out after the kids did a great dance party.  Each child also got a handmade animal mask (see next week’s post for more information on those), and two stacks of miniature homemade cookies (Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Raisin).  We wanted the bags to be fun and special, but not filled with candy or expensive to make/buy.  They were also fun for me to work on over the week prior to Little Man’s Party.

A tray filled with the Goodie Bags and things to go in them.

A tray filled with the Goodie Bags and things to go in them.

On the whole, I think the party was a success.  For the next week Little Man kept asking to have his friends over for another dance party.  The streamers finally came down, and now we’re settling in to these new adventures with a little boy who is one more year older.  It’s fun to day dream about the new adventures we’ll have together over this next year… and what he’ll want for his next birthday party.

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8 thoughts on “Birthday Party Food for Kiddos… and Their Very Patient Parents

  1. Jim

    Give the birthday boy a belated hug and kiss from Central New York! When is that husband of yours going to contribute a “guest article” on the golf courses in that area? And tell him that I saw (on TV) G. DeLaut playing at Torrey Pines this weekend and he looks like some homeless dude! Also, tell him Cheetos rule!

    Reply
    1. TheSheepAreOut Post author

      Will do! And we’re hoping for a guest appearance in your area later this spring… we’ll keep you updated when we know for sure. Don’t tell any Canadians, but I completely agree with you about the Cheetos. I would set up a blind taste test for Dave, but I can’t find the American brand here… and he’d probably cheat any way. I was also just thinking about you since I think for the Super Bowl I might whip up a batch of White T-Shirt Shrimp. I can’t even remember what it was that you guys called them. All I remember is that we had them for the first (and so far only) time up at the cabin with you all, and Dave for some reason was wearing a brand new, white T-shirt that he’d gotten for his birthday. The very first shrimp exploded all of it’s buttery, spicy goodness all over the shirt… hence the new name. I’ll give him a bib this time. Miss you!

      Reply
  2. Mr. Bright Wings

    Fantastic menu, big sis. I don’t particularly enjoy our children’s bday parties. I do try to be a good sport and make it enjoyable for them, though.

    We do give candy to our child bday guests, in part because pinatas are practically mandatory for SoCal bday parties. But we don’t have them eat it there. They get a good wedge of cake and a scoop of ice cream, on top of a fair lunch like hot dogs or mac ‘n cheese or pizza (what’s wrong with pizza for a bday lunch?), then take the candy home and let their parents decide when and how to parcel it out to them.

    Did you know it’s against the law in California to give out packages of home-baked cookies without a permit? It’s true, although enforcement is pretty lax. They’ll only nail you if somebody gets sick and makes a complaint. I’ll get that permit sometime in the near future so we can sell goods from our web page.

    What’s with the hatin’ on cantaloupes and honeydews? 😉 We need to get you mineralizing your soil so you can find out why people used to love cantaloupes and honeydews.

    Reply
    1. TheSheepAreOut Post author

      I still remember the dinosaur themed party you did for your oldest back in SoCal, it was fantastic! I think you guys had papermache dino eggs with toys inside. The eggs were “buried” in your inlaws back yard for the kiddos to excavate. And the idea of letting each kid choose a toy from the cake top came from that party, where you guys let each guest choose their favorite plastic dinosaur from the cake topping. 🙂 And I agree that the pinata format makes staying away from candy a bit harder. If we had easy access to cool pinatas, I can totally guarantee that we would have had one at this last party. There is also the added issue of the indoor party since we aren’t in SoCal and therefore in late January an outdoor party isn’t necessarily feasible. However, when we did the joint Little Man and BrightWings Child 1 party last year, we filled their pinatas with lots of toys (bouncy balls, small magnifying glasses, etc.) and those little bags of fruit crackers and fruit chewies. That does get more expensive than the candy model, but especially for the young age of Little Man and his friends I was willing to put in the extra effort. The same thing goes for the pizza party idea. I’m definitely not arguing against pizza at parties, but I’m gauging my menu choices based on how I personally feel after that type of party. If all I eat is pizza, chips, candy and soda (or pop if you’re north of the border) then I feel totally gross and crabby. So if it does that to me, I figure it will do it to Little Man too. So I try to make choices for parties where it’s still totally party, celebration food, but is designed to make people feel good too. But like my best friend in Boston says, all things in moderation… including moderation. Every now and then you just gotta go for it and deal with the ramifications later on. As for cantaloupes and honeydew melons, my mini-rant was based on the tasteless varieties often found in grocery stores. You know the ones I’m talking about. They also appear on the ubiquitous fruit platters at catered events, and they are always the last fruit chosen since they are generally mealy and tasteless. I LOVE the ones I can get from farmers markets, and last year our farmer-landlord let us harvest some of his cantaloupe and they were pretty good. My favorite is the casaba melons that we used to get in Turkey. Those tasted like honey… I want to see if I can find some seeds once the weather warms up enough for gardening again here. Right now we still have the hard frosts in the morning, and the potential for some snow next week. So all I can do is plot and lie in wait… 🙂

      > Date: Thu, 30 Jan 2014 20:46:38 +0000 > To: hopwoodmh@hotmail.com >

      Reply
  3. Mr. Bright Wings

    Different foods affect people differently. Pizza doesn’t generally cause my any grief. Too much sugar and/or fat on an otherwise empty stomach will get me every time, though.

    You won’t be able to plant any melons ’til your soil is up above 55 degrees or so. That’ll give you plenty of time to finish The Intelligent Gardener and discuss it with me. 😉

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Party Animals: A Child’s Animal-Themed Birthday | The Sheep Are Out...

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