not all treats need to be sugary sweet
I'm all for letting kids be kids, and think birthday parties should be places where the rule book is torn up. That means children can eat what they want, drink what they want and collapse in a sugar-induced heap later that evening.
Of course, kids expect party tables to groan under the weight of novelty snack food and treats, so why not take advantage of this? It's easy to sneak healthy food under the radar, and you'll be amazed at how much gets eaten.
Refined sugar-rich foods, such as cake and biscuits, don't fill up little tummies, which means kids will keep coming back for more jellies, crisps and buns. So start with something healthy to fill them up, like bite-sized sandwiches cut into fun shapes.
Heart- and rocket-shaped wholemeal sandwiches, shaped with cookie-cutters, were devoured by kiddies at my friend's party recently. The six-year-olds couldn't get enough of the novelty shapes, and willingly polished off plates of cheese, salad and chicken sambos before moving on to the sweet stuff.
Of course, the secret is to introduce the food bit by bit. You can't expect kids to favour sandwiches if there's a bowl of colourful jellies right next to them. So start off with savoury, holding back the treat food. Kids love novelty food, so colourful bowls of hummus or guacamole are fun when served with pitta strips, corn chips, breadsticks and colourful vegetable strips. If children don't see a table full of junk food you'd be amazed at how many will happily graze on carrot, pepper, celery and cucumber strips.
Fruit skewers are a great option too, as they're healthy, tasty, portable, colourful and sweet. Thread grapes, strawberries, melon, and mandarin segments onto cocktail sticks and spear them into a grapefruit on a plate. This cute 'hedgehog' looks pretty and the healthy skewers are fun for children to eat. (Avoid fruits like banana and apple which will turn black once cut.)
Take-out chicken nuggets are always a favourite but they aren't the healthiest choice; homemade oven-baked ones are far better, but can be labour-intensive if you're catering for large numbers. Consider instead chicken wings or drumsticks which are hassle-free to prepare (just drizzle in maple syrup, or honey and soy, and bang them in the oven) and fun for kids to nibble on. Finger-licking good, they'll go down well with homemade wedges (which can be chopped and parboiled in advance) and taste so much nicer than oven-ready chips.
If you fancy healthier treats then why not make chocolate Bran Flake buns instead of the more traditional, less nutritious Rice Krispie buns. (Cover most things in chocolate and kids are likely to accept it, I find!)
Sticky, oaty flapjacks are a cinch to make too, and are better than shop-bought biscuits (be sure to add chocolate chips for the suspicious kids out there!). Bowls of home-popped popcorn, lightly salted, is always a favourite and makes for a far better option than fatty crisps. Ditch those sugar-rich fizzy drinks too, and make jugs of fruit cordial, which is cheaper, healthier and more thirst quenching.
Just to be clear, I'm not encouraging anyone to be a party pooper. Rather than deprivation I recommend incorporating a few of these healthy ideas in to the mix.
Always remember a birthday party is a day to spoil, so don't even think of getting healthy with the birthday cake!