Thursday, 26 September 2013

Part 3 Of Taking The Hassle Out Of Organising A Children's Party - Party Food

Party Food

Every party needs food, and it is the food that is remembered.
It does not have to be flash, just memorable.

Cater for your budget only, not the next door neighbours, or catty Jane down the road, who will tell her friends that you had the cheap fizzy, who cares, its about the children having fun.

Savoury ideas for children's birthday teas

This is the part of the tea you ease your conscience (a little) before the sugar feast that is about to come.
And so that when at going-home time some little treasure tells their open-mouthed mum, "It was great - all we ate was chocolate cake!", you can swiftly counter with, "No, sweetheart, we had sandwiches and carrots sticks, too, remember?"

Sandwich suggestions
  • Grated mild cheddar and ham. Nothing more than that. I have learned the hard way.
  • Doing food in party boxes? You need about five things to put in each box. A small yoghurt and plastic spoon. A cheese triangle. A homemade sandwich. Some chips. Grapes or carrot sticks, maybe. A fairy cake. Chocolate fingers. A pretty napkin. Maybe a hat to wear if you want to jazz things up a bit.
  • Small children do like sandwiches cut into shapes with biscuit cutters.
  • Or make stripey finger sarnies. Use one slice of white and one slice of brown, fill, then cut into fingers.
  • Open sandwiches, done like little boats - which is, basically, finger rolls, halved, then spread with things like cream cheese, or egg or Marmite and then a cocktail stick stuck in top with a little flag made out of a sticky note! Obviously, not advised for very small children who might poke their eyes out.
  • Just butter soft rolls, then put ham, slices of cheese, cucumber etc. out in little bowls. Easier than making sandwiches and the children get to pick whatever they like.
  • Fairy bread - white and brown bread slices, spread with butter/marg, with sprinkles on top.
  • I gave seven-year-olds a tortilla wrap each and put a load of different fillings – tuna/mayo, ham, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, mayonnaise, crisps and sauce, so nothing fancy – in the middle for them to make up their own wraps. It was a big hit and they all ate well.
  • Tiny pinwheel sandwiches, where you flatten the bread with a rolling pin, remove crusts, apply filling, then roll up tightly and wrap in glad wrap. Stick in the fridge for 30 mins, then cut slices so you get a lovely spiral effect.

Other sure-fire savoury hits
  • Sausages. Sausages. Sausages.
  • Garlic bread.
  • Many flavours of chips. They don't want anything else. They don't want lovingly made small sandwiches or cunning jelly boats made from oranges. They want crisps.
  • Popcorn. Not for littlies, though - choking hazard and all that.
  • Bread Sticks with dips - children seem to like dipping things in goo.
  • Mini pizzas, made on halved muffins.

Don't forget that some children have gluten/lactose intolerances, so provide some stuff they can eat, too - not just all sandwiches, pizza, sausages.
Enquire beforehand of dietary requirements.

  • Pizzas they can make themselves. We provided the bases and some pasta sauce and lots of different fillings and the children did their own.
  • Cheese cubes. And cherry tomatoes.
  • Cheese straws.
  • 'Lunch on a stick': skewers threaded with a cherry tomato, a slice of cucumber, a cube of cheese, and a rolled piece of ham/turkey.
  • Carrot and cucumber sticks. Put them out in big bowls at the beginning of the party - they will eat the lot. Put them on the table next to the cakes, they won't get eaten.
The key thing to remember - it is a party and the occasional bit of junk food is not a crime and won't ruin them forever.
You are not going to please every child,or their parents so don't try to provide 50 types of sandwiches.
Stick to normal varieties and they will eat it."

Sweet suggestions for children's birthday teas

These are, of course, the main object of every small party goer's eagerly snatching hand. For the sake of your loose covers and post party sanity, it makes sense to mix the (finger-smearing) chocolate treats with others of the non-chocolate variety - and (shock!) even a little bit of fruit.
  • Sparklers. Plain breadsticks, with the end dipped in melted chocolate and then hundreds and thousands/chocolate sprinkles. They look very pretty, the children like them and they're not overly sweet as the chocolate element is pretty small.
  • I do the Nigella-style number biscuits but make it easier by cutting the biscuit dough into circles, then pressing the number cookie cutter in the middle (enough for an imprint, not to go all the way through). Much quicker and easier to get off baking sheet.
  • Do remember to have some sweet stuff that doesn't contain egg – it's a surprisingly common allergy. And, if you know a child with a nut allergy is coming, phone the parents beforehand and check what he/she can have. Better, in my opinion, to cross off the menu anything that might trigger the allergy than have to keep an eye and worry he/she might eat it by accident.
  • Fruit kebabs - strawberries, grapes and bits of orange threaded on to half a wooden skewer. Always get eaten quicker than anything else. They have to be kebabs though' plain old fruit just not as good.

  • Fairy cakes with a dab of buttercream and a smartie on the top. My sister-in-law made delish buttercream once by putting raspberries in it, making it all pink and yummy.
  • Chocolate crispies or Rice Bubble cake make bite-sized ones - they always get scoffed and look pretty piled onto a large serving dish.
  • Strawberries dipped in chocolate - they fly off the table.
  • Mini strawberry tarts. Make mini pastry cases (just like jam tarts) and bake them while empty. Cool them, then fill with either whipped cream, or creme fraiche with a bit of icing sugar beaten in (it's delicious) and top with a strawberry on each.
  • Little mice made from a strawberry with Milkybar button ears and a jellylace tail.
  • Chocolate fingers. There is no limit to the number of chocolate fingers that can be consumed in any party setting. 
  • Different coloured jellies in clear plastic drinking cups. Colourful, and no washing up.


Gone are the days when no birthday tea was complete without gallons of lukewarm juice; dare to bring out such additive-packed stuff now and you'll cause a full scale war alert among all assembled parents.
And as for fizzy drinks, some parents do have very strong views about them - and about Coke, in particular as some kids react quite extremely to it."
Which pretty much restricts your options to water and/or juice.
  • Provide a bottle of water each. One with a sports type top. And buy lots of water because little ones get thirsty.
  • If you go for juice, get those little individual cartons with straws. They're pricier but they don't spill (much) when they get knocked over (and they will). Saves a lot of hassle with cups and jugs and serving. But do have some water on hand for kids who aren't allowed or don't like juice or you'll find you've some poor, red-faced little child wilting in the corner at the end of the party.
For small gatherings of older girls, you could venture down the "exotic fruit cocktail" route: take glasses of lemonade and pour a little fruit juice in each, then pour about a tablespoon of grenadine (pomegranate) syrup down the side of each glass - you'll be left with drinks that have separated into oh-so-sophisticated coloured layers.
Decorate with a cherry on a cocktail stick and a little paper umbrella for extra edge of almost-grown-up cool.

Decorating children's birthday cakes

When it comes cake decorating, the world is literally your oyster - well, your pirate ship or Barbie doll, anyway. 
With a bit of imagination, a steady hand and lots of icing to cover up the joins, you can turn a plain old sponge into pretty much any shape you (or, more likely, your child) fancy.
There are lots of super-complicated cake-decorating books you can find in libraries but we think we might like these simple suggestions that other Mums have suggested

Star cake: Get some ready-roll icing. Cut out star shapes and spread them out on a sheet of paper, then mix some food colouring with a little vodka (don't worry: the alcohol evaporates). Use a small paintbrush and flick several (food-colouring) colours over the stars. Then stick the stars to the cake with egg white or icing. Easy and effective.

Snake cake: Make a ring-shaped cake (like a doughnut with a hole in the middle) and cover it will fondant icing (the sort you roll out). Then, roll out long, thin sausage-shaped snakes of coloured fondant and arrange them so they're slithering out of the middle of the ring. You could, of course, do the same thing really easily by using those long jelly snakes from the lollie shop.

Train cake: Cover a square cake in green butter icing and use matchstick chocolates to make three train tracks of different lengths, with chocolate fingers broken in half as buffers. Stick on three toy trains and candles.

Dinosaur cake: I made a normal round sponge, sandwiched with buttercream, then halved it, cut out the middle to make a semicircle shape and stood it on its end to make a sort of archway which I covered in 'grass' (dessicated coconut coloured green) and upturned choc buttons to emulate the spiky feel of a dinosaur. I then bought a pack of little toy dinosaurs and positioned them around and about, so it looked like a dinosaur scene and made lots of little buns as boulders.

Teddy Bear cake:
I made one 8-inch round chocolate-flavour sponge cake and two cup cakes. I dusted them over with cocoa powder to give them the appearance of 'fur' and then put them on a foil-covered tray with the 8-inch round for the face and the cup cakes for the ears. I used Pebbles to mark out the facial features, gave him a bow made out of ribbon and fixed it in place with a pin. It looked a treat!

Picture cake: Make a square cake and level the top. Spread butter icing all over the cake. Place a laminated photograph of the birthday child on top of the cake in the centre. Stick sweeties of your choice on the remaining butter icing and press on gently.

Arctic explorer cake: Cover cake with white ready-roll fondant, with icing sugar sprinkled on it for snow. Sugar cubes piled around for blocks of ice. An igloo made out of a teacup covered with icing and marked into bricks with a small icing entrance funnel thing. Add a Playmobil man with sled.

Sweetie house cake: Four loaf cakes stuck together with jam to make a cube. Another loaf cake, sliced diagonally in two to make a sloped roof. Cover in pink butter icing. Use After Eights chocolates for square windows and candy strip things for window boxes with little sugar flowers in. Pink wafer biscuits for roof tiles. Jelly beans and dolly mixtures all around the edge.

Princess castle cake: Make a square sponge. Place one half on top of the other with jam/buttercream inside. Smother in pink buttercream. Take four empty ice-cream cones, smother in pink buttercream and place, inverted, at four corners of cake. Use imagination and liberal application of sweeties to make doors, windows etc. Cover with edible glitter, or that coloured sugar you can buy for added sparkle.

Pirate ship cake: Chocolate loaf cakes stuck together with choc butter icing, and carved into a boat shape at the bow! Cover with choc icing and chocolate fingers. Make portholes with any large round sweets. Make paper sails on bbq skewers. Top with small pirate Playmobil figures.

Barbie cake: Two sponges stacked on top of each other, slathered in pink buttercream, then various sprinkles to make it look like a Barbie ballgown skirt. Wrap a Barbie in tin foil up to her waist and jam said Barbie into middle of cake. 

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