Parties are not the time to impose stringent dietary restrictions on our kids. But party food needn’t be an explosion of sugar and artificial colours. We talk to the founder of healthy family food site Food for Kids and steal some healthier recipes for party food that kids actually want to eat.
A table laden with jam sandwiches, Wotsits and Lilt might have cut it in our day but you’ll get run out of town with a pitch fork these days if you serve up too many E numbers – particularly to under 5s. But how do you tread the line between offering up healthier foods that appease our parental conscience and being that parent who serves the quinoa burgers and kale juice that the kids artfully avoid?
Vicky Charlesworth, founder of healthy family food site FoodForKids.com and mum of two, tells us how she manages to strike the balance and shares her menu of fresh, delicious, simple food that keeps both kids and parents happy.
Do you think there has been a shift in expectations as to kids party food?
Yes absolutely – although I think this shift is in its infancy. Parents are increasingly more aware of what they are feeding children and this also includes party food. Every parent knows the issues with a sugar-high hyper child. I don’t think this is to say there should be no sweets, cake or sugar but I think there doesn’t need to be much. Food can be exciting, delicious and fun without additives, E numbers and sugar.
Talk us through the menu you put together for your daughters’ birthday parties
For parties I try to create a food ‘experience’. Just like adults enjoy food when they eat out, the same principle applies to kids. Keep it simple and make it fun. My daughters (5 and 3) have both had parties recently and this is what I have served up at home for them and their friends. I’m pleased to say that every last thing was eaten up!
On the savoury front:
- I find that sushi is always surprisingly popular with kids, even with those who haven’t necessarily tried it before. I think there is something about the party environment and seeing their friends eating something that makes many kids more happy to try something. It is much easier to make than people think and you can choose whichever fillings you like (or buy it in!)
- The rice balls below are really fun – they are simple to make, endlessly customisable and always a hit with kids. The toppings look like sugar craft but they are beetroot, radish, carrot and herbs!
- Alongside these I served up edamame beans, grilled sweetcorn straight from the barbecue and a huge bowls of parsnip crisps, which I mixed up a bit by adding some purple carrot. Beetroot works really well too for colourful crisps.
- I really recommend these melon lollies. All you need is some cookie cutters and skewers and the possibilities are endless! It is deceptively simple idea but looks really impressive when they are all stacked into a bowl to serve and I haven’t come across a child who doesn’t like them. I served the watermelon star wands (with blueberries on the skewers) for my younger daughter’s party and then mixed it up with the flowers for my elder daughter.
- I also served up a big bowl of strawberries – a great seasonal benefit of my daughers’ birthdays falling when they do – and sweet popcorn is a great alternative to traditional sweets too.
Any fun drink ideas that make a change from apple juice?
I actually think water is perfect – sorry to be boring! With all the running around kids do at parties they get hot and thirsty. If everyone is having the same, kids don’t think twice. For older children you could offer a sparkling water or a fruit cocktail such as a ginger and lemon fizz. It is really easy to make and you’ll definitely impress the other parents!
Say I had 15 reception age kids to feed: how much of everything should I make?
It’s always better to have too much than too little food. As a rule of thumb I go for 5 pieces of sushi each, one half piece of sweetcorn plus a small bowl of each of the following: crisps, edamame and popcorn for every 3-4 children. I’d then plan for one star fruit lolly, a few strawberries and a piece of cake to follow.
Tell us honestly, how long did you have to spend in the kitchen to get it all ready?
Well it was really the cake that took my time – it took me an evening. Cakes are not my thing but because people know I love food there is pressure to come up with something fairly respectable! I’d say in total that evening plus around 2.5 hours on the day. If the party falls on one of my daughter’s actual birthdays then I want to be doing something of their choice (unless they want to cook) so I like to be as organised as possible and not spend too long in the kitchen.
I think organisation really is the key – know what you are going to make, buy your ingredients and, importantly, don’t come up with other ideas whilst you are wandering around the shop! Get as much done in advance of the day as you can.
Which bits do you buy in and which do you make at home?
I am all for making it as simple as possible. For parties I actually buy the popcorn, but I make the caramel popcorn recipe above regularly at home because it is just so good and I get loads of requests for the recipe. I buy frozen bags of edamame and make the sushi at home. If you don’t fancy making it you can pick it up in most supermarkets or just ask your local Japanese restaurant.
You can also use pre-peeled sweetcorn for ease. My girls love that little kitchen task but if you are pushed for time ready-peeled is the way to go.
Do you put on food and drinks for grown ups too? If so, any tips?
I would always have a drink to offer. In terms of how far you go and if you offer food, this depends on who is coming, if it’s a drop off party and what day of the week it is. For example, on Monday at 4pm it’s not unreasonable to just offer water, tea and juice for adults and you might want to put out a few biscuits. But 3pm on a Saturday afternoon then I’d definitely have a few bottles of wine and some easy nibbles – nuts, extra parsnip crisps, popcorn that kind of thing.
Which are your favourite suppliers for party food and tableware?
I find notonthehighstreet great for disposable plates – they have some beautiful collections. For something more substantial I love the colored melamine plates and mini bowls made by RICE, which I sell at foodforkids.com. I use disposable plates for the kids and RICE plates to serve from but if you want to avoid the clear up altogether I’d go for disposable everything – in one swoop your house will be clear!
Any other top tips for pulling off a great kids party menu?
- Keep your menu simple.
- Use real food – keep away from pasta, chips and chicken nuggets. Parents will be really grateful.
- Stick to colourful food that is fresh.
- Provide a few different menu items so fussy eaters or those with food allergies/intolerances will be able to eat something, but not so much choice that it’s hard work for you.
- Choose dishes than can be prepared in advance and don’t require lots of last minute cooking. After all you want to enjoy the party too!
- Do your food shopping online and get it delivered the morning of the party or the evening before so it is all fresh.
- Get someone else to make the birthday cake if baking isn’t your thing!