Planning food for a children’s party

Planning food for a children’s party – Part 1 – A Cunning plan!

So you have decided to do you own food at your child’s party.. great!

It means a bit more effort but it also means that you will provide wholesome food which will work out cheaper.

It’s time for a bit of maths and planning. It’s easy, don’t worry.

The more you plan things the less extras you will end up paying out for.

Time planning the party and having a written plan means the more in control you will feel. Start jotting down notes and a list of actions.

Step 1: How many mouths to feed? What’s the budget?

Well ok, say 20 children are coming, but are any parents coming too? Helpers, friends, the bus driver, the entertainer?
Count up how many adults you plan to feed and how many children… and don’t forget you!
What’s your budget? Whatever your figure, divide it up by the number of children.
In terms of plates of food, count one adult as two children, e.g. 20 kids + 5 adults = 30 portions / plate-fulls. If you have £45 then that’s £1.50 per child / head .

Now, you have your number of children and adults, you also know how many portions/plate-fulls you will need..
What’s in a portion?
Well… appetites vary and some children will eat more than others but the best way, I find, is to picture a side plate (paper one – less washing up!) and imagine a few items on the plate.
As an example: a small sausage roll, a small bread cake with a filling, a small handful of crisps, a few veggie sticks or salad. That’s a reasonable amount for say a 5 year old. What do you normally serve your child for dinner? That’s your best guide. So visualise a small plate-full, think of some food items you would include and make up an imaginary “plate“ and multiply up by the number of portions.

E.g. 15 children + 5 adults = 25 portions …so 25 sausage rolls, 25 – 35 small made up rolls, 25 chicken wings and so on..

Ask yourself a few questions?

  • Do I need to provide snacks and drinks only or should I provide a buffet/meal?
  • What time of day is the party to cover – are children and parents expecting to be fed?
  • Is it Summer or Winter? What food is appropriate? Hot or cold?
  • What facilities do I have? Check the venue and find out exactly what they have and you may need.
    • A cooker to bake things off?
    • A sink and drainer?
    • Work surface to assemble bits?
    • A fridge or freezer for ice or lollies or ice-cream?
    • Utensils?

Step 2: Come up with a menu

Base your menu on:

  • The facilities you have to hand.
  • The skills and time you have.
  • Friends and family who can help out.
  • Your budget.
  • Any special requirements?
    • Children with allergies?
    • Children from different faiths and cultures?
    • Children or parents who are vegetarian or vegan?

Step 3: Create your shopping list

Try to write down everything you need.
In a quiet moment, sit down with a pen and paper and visualise the day from start to finish.
Jot down everything you may need to buy (or borrow) and create your shopping list.
Here are some tips:
“I may need to give the venue a quick wipe over and brush up.”
This could mean getting:

  • Washing up liquid.
  • Disinfectant spray
  • Pack of disposable cloths
  • Hand soap for the toilets

“I need tablecloths and napkins.”
Check that you have:

  • Check you have tables / work surfaces to put food out on.
  • How many.. paper tablecloths, napkins, paper plates, knives, forks, spoons.

“I want to decorate the room.”
Get balloons, party poppers, bunting, etc.

“I can make some items the days before.”

  • Birthday cake.
  • Trifle.
  • Sausage rolls.
  • Chicken drumsticks.

“I will need to make food on the day”

  • Sandwiches-bread rolls.
  • Spreadable margarine / butter.
  • Fillings: egg mayonnaise, chicken, beef paste, cream cheese, ham, salad, tomatoes,…
  • Veggie sticks: carrot, peppers, cucumber.

“I will get some ready made items”

  • Dips: homous, multi pack…
  • Make up salads – bags of salad, tomatoes, cress, cucumber…
  • Pastry goods- ready frozen, egg to glaze.
  • Crisps – assorted bags.
  • Condiments:
    • Tomato sauce.
    • Mayonnaise.
    • Brown sauce.

“My friend Katy / my mum is making the birthday cake and some butterfly cakes”

  • Eggs.
  • Butter.
  • Sugar.
  • Royal icing.
  • Jam.
  • Decorations.

“I need party bags and… anything else??”

Step 4: Create a plan

Everyone has a different way to do this and some can be more involved than others.
Spread sheets, scraps of paper, endless lists… whichever is your best way – use it. If you don’t sketch together some sort of plan, you may end up more stressed and running yourself ragged on the day as a few things get forgotten about.

Spending time planning will save lots of time later as it’s so easy to forget things when you get really busy.

One of the easier ways is to write down every job you need to do an a small scrap of paper or a post-it note. Think of everything from booking the bouncy castle, checking the venue over, preparing some foods in advance, who will bring what in a car, washer uppers, anything you can think of.

Arrange the notes in a time line, deciding what needs to happen a month before, 2-3 weeks before, a few days before, the day before, on the day and so on.
Put someone’s name by each action and when the task needs to be done by.

It’s your name on each post-it… mmmnnnn can you do all that?? Is it time to call in a favour or two??

Once that’s done, run through it and check everything’s covered. Arrange it in date/time order… the devils in the detail… so the more detail you put down the better!

If you want write it out fine, but an easier way is to stick the notes in groups and stick them into a big timetable stuck up somewhere… where little eyes and fingers can’t play with it!

DatesFor me to doFor Bob to do For Alice to do
1 month before Birthday
2 weeks before Birthday
3 days before Birthday
2 days before Birthday
day before Birthday
on the day

That way it’s clear where you are up to and what’s left to do.

This is just one way of planning… for small do’s it, won’t be necessary but it’s surprising how stressful these parties can be, so plan ahead and feel calmer on the day… that’s got to be a good thing!

A guide for 20 children and 5 adults:

Food to buy:

  • 25 small sausage rolls
  • 25 small breadcake sandwiches (breadcakes + filling)
  • 3 large bags crisps assorted (allow 20 gms per person. Large Doritos = 200gm = 10 portions)
  • 1 cucumber = 40 sticks/batons
  • 2 peppers = 40 sticks/batons
  • 2 large carrots = 40 sticks/batons
  • large bag of ready washed salad
  • Birthday Cake 25 portions
  • Fruit platter:
    • 3 bananas,
    • bunch of black grapes (you may want to cut them in half as they are a notorious choking hazard otherwise),
    • 3 kiwi fruits,
    • 3 oranges,
    • 10 cake slices / mini rolls cut in half.

That’s the bare minimum. You can add a few more sandwiches to ensure everyone has enough.


Plan to provide plenty of drinks.

Water down with own brand fizzy water to make fizzy drinks.

Remember hot days and outdoor parties means lots of active, thirsty children. Water in jugs is a must. But some yummy fruit juice or cordial can be on your list. Restrict each child to 1 glass of fruit juice or squash and top up with water/fizzy water. Too many sugary drinks can fire up litlte bodies to become really excitable when the party will do that anyway. So my advice would be: put a limit on it for a calmer party. Evidence shows that artifical colours and additives do increase hyperactivity in children, and added with a dose of sugar, you will be exhausted coping with the fall out!

  • 3 x 1 liter cartons of fruit juice +
  • 1 bottle of good quality low sugar cordial +
  • 4 bottles of own brand fizzy water (8 liters)

That’s 400mls drink per person.

Remember this is a guide and will depend on your own child’s usual portions – keeping in mind that we all tend to eat a little more if we are grazing and active.

Further thoughts about What else your budget for a children’s party needs to cover

Usually this needs to include stuff to eat and drink with:

  • Drinking cups – 2 per person – 50 cups.
  • Plates – 30 plates + 30 for dessert/cake etc.
  • Platters – you can buy large oval party platters to plate up sandwiches etc. – get about about 10 of those.
  • Cutlery – 30 of each. Depends what you need to stab, cut, scoop or fork-up with?
  • Napkins – 30
  • 1 – 2 tablecloths.
  • A cake stand?
  • Party bags to take home?
  • If you choose a themed party, Frozen, Pepa Pig, Spiderman, these items can be quite expensive.
  • Any decorations?
    • balloons,
    • party poppers,
    • hats,
    • bunting?

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