Okay, I promise not to say any more about the Boy’s birthday party after this. But we did manage to hold a party for a 5 year old without feeding every one a bunch of junk; we do every year. The cake is a given source of sugar, we expect that, and we make it ourselves and make it REALLY good. (On the Boy’s third birthday I made a very healthy honey cake with cream cheese icing in the shape of a 3D train. No I didn’t sleep that night. The recipe is in Super Baby Food.) By his 4th he wanted a big boy chocolate cake, so I gave way to sugar in the cake, but that doesn’t mean it has to be every where else. We also served drinks with sugar in them this time. That was it.
For his birthday food the Boy wanted chicken noodle soup. I know I was surprised too. He first wanted us to all go to a Vietnamese restaurant for Pho (Soup) he likes the rare flank steak one, but I had to veto that idea because um, I’m not made of money, and between the children and their attending families and my husband’s 7 other siblings, I was feeding a lot of people. (Yes, a 5 year old can like exotic foods; you just have to give them many chances to try them, the presence of rice noodles helps. The Boy is a very picky eater, but he will try new things because they come at him all of the time.)
Anyway, birthday menu was homemade chicken noodle soup, which was very simple to make. Last week I put a big chicken in my big crock-pot with an onion and several garlic cloves and bay leaves. I let it sit on low for two days, drained the broth, pulled the meat off of the chicken, and threw it in the freezer. On party day all I had to add was some seasoning and noodles, and I was done. I made a very large tray of vegetables; broccoli, baby carrots, mushrooms, red peppers, and a dip that was half Brianna’s Asiago Caesar Dressing and half plain yogurt. You can also just use yogurt and add seasonings like spike, onion powder, pepper, Mrs. Dash, chili flakes; you get the idea. I was in a hurry, and Brianna’s is a pretty decent line of dressings, first ingredient Canola oil, but better than most. (Canola oil is high in DHA a type of fat that our brains need, especially children.) I also love Annie’s Naturals, I keep a few in the fridge for when I’m too lazy to make my own.
To go with the veggie tray, I put out a plate of many different kinds of crackers, yes I got to Trader Joe’s this weekend, with a big pepper jack cheese ball in the middle. The kids and grown-ups went to town. I have noticed that children will eat what you give them as long as it looks pretty, and they’re not convinced that they can get something better if they hold out long enough. I didn’t have any chips or candy or Cheetos or any other kind of junk, and so they ate the broccoli and the pepper jack cheese ball, because it was cheese, in a ball, it was pretty; they didn’t even notice or care that it was spicy.
The party bags didn’t have food in them. I’m always a bit peeved by the parents who hand out a big bag of candy to send my kids home with after a party full of chips and soda and cake. (I don’t usually say anything though, I just take the bags, tell the kids that they can have it after the next meal for dessert, and I let them choose one or two things and then toss the rest when they’re not looking, so far it’s worked.) I know it’s cheaper, I know that you can get a big bag of candy for a dollar and divvy it up, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I got one package of hot wheels cars each, and bagged it so it looked cool, it probably cost me $5 more than bags of candy would have and those cars last for years and I didn’t send anyone’s child home in a sugar frenzy, or coma.
So there you have it, a junk free children’s party that everyone enjoyed.
Some other things that have worked in previous years are to make a big batch of pizza dough and let everyone make their own pizzas, including stretching the crust. Except for preparing the dough and toppings, it’s a pretty easy party, because everyone else does the work and has fun. Other party food ideas include fruit salad, hummus and whole-wheat pita chips, or as a veggie dip. I have 5-layer bean dip recipe that I love, so I make it a lot and serve it with baked corn chips, little kids love apple slices with peanut butter to dip in, or ants on a log. A bowl of raw nuts and seeds will be eaten if put within reach of kids; make sure no one has allergies first.
These are just a few of the myriad of healthier alternatives for party food that are out there so next time you hold a party and you walk down that snack aisle at the grocery store wondering what you can feed people that is real food, leave that aisle and go over to produce instead to start with, and work from there. Happy eating.