The decision to host a child’s birthday party can lead even the calmest of parents to head straight to the bedroom for a little lie-down. Visions of long-suffering clowns, jumping castles and Shetland ponies with an overactive bowel are enough for many parents to just give the whole idea a big miss. But you don’t have to be the world’s number one organiser for your child to have a memorable time.
Try to keep the idea of a kid’s party as special and not an every year event. You may want to alternate the years each of your children has a birthday party, just to keep it all fair. If you can’t remember which child had one last, don’t worry – your kids will. If you have an only child, aim to keep track by having a party on the odd or even years.
But I don’t know how!
Try, from the start, to avoid subscribing to the commonly held view that your child’s birthday party is a demonstration to other parents. Then you will already be making things easier for yourself. Keep it all reasonably simple and straightforward. Don’t underestimate the ability of a bunch of kids, no matter what their age, to have a good time with very few props and very little intervention from their parents.
Party food ideas
Food is a must at a party. Everyone expects it and there will be major disappointment if you don’t deliver, and not just from the kids. Little children are rarely left on their own at parties, so don’t be surprised if at least one of their parents decides to stay to keep an eye on them.
Unless you want a mob of hungry adults descending on the fairy bread, think about catering for them as well. Finger foods that are easily served and cleaned up after, such as sausage rolls, party pies and chip and dip are always popular. Try to match the party theme with the adult’s food as well; everyone loves a party no matter what their age. Remember, the focus will be on the kids, so no reasonable parent is going to be reviewing the adult menu too critically.
Many people view their child’s party as an opportunity for the adults present to have a few drinks themselves. In moderation this is fine, but it is important to remember it is a child’s party and there needs to be a responsible, mature attitude to how much alcohol is consumed. There is nothing attractive about an intoxicated parent milling around a hoard of excited kids.
Depending on the ages of the children who are coming, you will need to be flexible about the food you are offering. Obviously, what you provide to a crowd of one-year olds will be different to a bunch of pre-schoolers.
Parties are seen as a time for treats and indulging in more sugar and junk food than usual. Even if you normally feel like a member of the food police, be prepared to relax your standards for the day. If you don’t offer at least some party food, there’s bound to be long faces. For older children, there is more risk of harm to their emotional well-being in feeling different, than what a few hours of party food will do for their digestion.
Remember to check with other parents if their child has any food allergies. Most families are careful about this and send their own “special” food that is safe for their child to eat. This is a good starting point for planning all the party food. If a child is allergic to nuts, it would be wise to avoid having any form of these on the menu at all.
Note: Remember that popcorn, nuts, small hard lollies and some toys pose a risk of choking to small children. Make it a clear message to the kids that, if they are eating, they sit down and can’t run around.
What’s the ideal number of guests?
Start planning your child’s birthday with an idea of how big (or small) you want it to be. One idea is to match the number of guests with the birthday child’s age, for example, a two year old has 2 guests and so on. Another formula is to take your child’s age and add 2, so if they are 2, they can have 4 guests.
But if you feel you can manage a couple of extra, feel free. As kids get older it becomes very important for them not to feel excluded. Sometimes, in the interests of avoiding hurt feelings, invite the whole class or group – this is preferable to leaving some children out. Hosting the event at a local park or party venue, rather than at home for a large number is often more realistic.
Party food ideas for a 1st birthday
Keep party food simple for one-year olds. They don’t need vast amounts of sugar or colouring and can easily develop an upset tummy from even a small amount of party food.
Fairy bread, jelly-cups with fruit, custard, cup up grapes, fresh fruit pureés, cut up strawberries.
An ice-cream cake with jelly and fruit is a popular option.
Offer water or very diluted fruit juice.
Toddler party food ideas
Chocolate crackles, fairy bread, mini muffins made with fruit, yoghurt and jelly cups, cut up vegetables with an assortment of dips.
Water or diluted juice is reasonable for drinks.
A novelty birthday cake <link to_Kids birthday cake ideas> is always fun. Consider individual cup cakes with colourful icing and decorations.
Fruit kebabs are a hit. Add watermelon, rock or honeydew melon, grapes and pineapple.
School-aged kids party food ideas
Mini pizzas, homemade sausage rolls, vegetable pieces cut up into finger sizes with a range of hummus, tzaziki, and sour cream dips. Popcorn necklaces, chocolate crackles, pizza, tooth picks with cheese, cherry tomatoes, cubed ham and pineapple chunks.
Mini sandwiches or pin wheel sandwiches with a range of chicken, ham, lettuce and egg fillings. Make them freshly the morning of the party on white bread with the crusts removed.
Don’t forget goodie bags to take when the guests leave. Make a trip to the Excitement store or closest Macro and include some items that aren’t food related. Pencils, erasers, stamps, stickers, or small bouncy balls are all ideal.
Ice lollies are wonderful for lifting flagging energy. Just buy the smaller ones and make sure there’s a choice of flavours and colours. This is not the time to read the ingredient list, so just open the box and dole them out! Or if you are up to the challenge, make your own!
Get everyone involved in making their own pizzas. Have a range of toppings and bases ready and offer a prize for the most inventive. Just allow time for cooking or distribute them back to their creator just before everyone leaves.
Provide water and cordial just because it is a party. Soft drinks are an unnecessary indulgence, especially when there’s likely to be a lot of treats. It also fills kids’ tummies up quickly and all your lovingly prepared food won’t get eaten.
Fun party games for young kids
The key to party games is to be prepared for the rules to be slightly lax. The high excitement of the day leads to more than a few individuals becoming tired and emotional. Make up your own rules if it keeps everyone happy but remember to give every child a turn. There are always some kids whose personalities make it easier for them to target what they want and to go for it. In the background, there’s always one or two who just need a little persuasion to join in.
Invest in some balloons. A general hint is that the cheaper ones don’t inflate as well and you’ll need to blow up twice as many to get the same affect. Clusters of balloons tied together give a greater impact than lonely ones all on their own. Don’t forget to put some balloons at the front gate so it’s clear where the party house is.
Beg, borrow or steal a friend’s air mattress pump. They make the whole job of inflating 2 dozen balloons a piece of cake. If you don’t have the energy to do the balloons yourself, wait until a few other adults arrive. This will lighten your own work load – so get your guests busy!
Musical Chairs, Musical Statues, Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Pass the Parcel are always popular. Younger kids can’t be expected to co-operate for as long as the older ones; just be flexible and don’t enforce the rules too much.
Treasure hunts with lollypops, small toys or themes are great. For the sake of safety, make it clear to the kids that some areas are out of bounds. Have some adult spotters planted strategically around just to keep the kids in safe areas. Chocolate frogs or eggs are ideal because they are wrapped and bright enough to spot.
Have some fun with your child making up silly ideas for the kids at the party to do. Write them down on a slip of paper and insert this into a balloon before your inflate and tie it off. Get the kids to sit on the balloons until they pop and then let them know what they need to do according to the note. Ask them to take turns so you can control the mayhem.
Party ideas for toddlers
Time the party for the younger children either before or after afternoon nap time. Otherwise the whole event will soon come to a grinding halt.
Ask guests to bring along something significant to fit inside a time capsule for the birthday boy or girl. This is a lovely keepsake for later years when your child will get a kick out of everyone’s individual ideas. Take photos of the guests with their contribution, or video some of their comments on why they chose what they did.
Face painting is always a delight and very popular with younger children. Get the more creative adults busy with transforming little faces.
Set up a table with assorted trinkets and engage the kids in making masks. Wide elastic to grip the back of heads and pre-cut mask shapes will help with planning. Feathers, glitter-crayons and stickers can transform a simple piece of cardboard.
Dress-up themes are always a hit with older kids. Pirate, princess, under the sea, fairy, superhero, beach, cowboy/ cowgirl parties have all stood the test of time. Get the adults involved as well and immerse yourself into the spirit of it all. No one will care how silly you look and you’ll impress the other adults who’ll think you’re wonderful for being so engaged with your child.
Ask each guest as they arrive to guess the number of lollypops in a jar. The one closest to the correct number claims the prize.
For the little toddlers, a teddy bears’ picnic is always sweet. Make seating available for the teddies to nestle into and make sure they’re not left out when it comes to the party food! Removing sticky icing from a furry face is a milestone for every parent.
T-shirt painting is also fun. Ask each parent to either bring a t-shirt for painting. Set up tables with pots of indelible paint and brushes and encourage each child to paint one themselves. If you time this activity at the start of the party, the t-shirts will have the most chance of drying before the party ends.
Ask all the kids to bring a photo of themselves as babies. Play a game where the kids have to pick which child matches which baby.