Food ideas for a toddler birthday party

Cake and ice cream. Ice cream and cake.

It’s easy to think birthday foods – especially birthday foods for toddlers – come down to these two staples, but it’s not always the case. There are a few reasons why a birthday party might feature something other than these staples. Many young children have serious food allergies or food intolerances, making typical party fare a challenge. Families from different cultures may have different traditions to bring to the table. And some parents may make it a priority to eat healthy foods in their everyday lives, and may not want to abandon it all for an afternoon of sugary treats.

Chart your own course

Once Baby jumps into the toddler birthday party circuit, you may feel pressured to follow the template established by other families. However, you are ultimately the person who gets to decide how your family celebrates. Maybe you’ve re-created your family’s traditional celebratory treat instead of a birthday cake. Or maybe Baby had his heart set on having the party at a petting zoo, so you decided to include healthy birthday muffins in the take-home goodie bag instead of dealing with the logistics of serving them onsite.

Regardless of which direction you decide to go for Baby’s upcoming third birthday party, there are a few ways you can work to sidestep some challenges that could come up.

  • Do a quick poll: Due to the prevalence of allergies and food intolerances, it’s helpful to know in advance who can’t eat what at the party. After you send out invitations, it’s a good idea to zip off a brief email to parents asking them to let you know privately and in advance if there are any allergy-related issues you need to be aware of when planning the menu. That way you can make sure you have alternatives on hand.
  • Know when to draw the line: In your email to parents, ask specifically for information on food allergies and intolerances. Party planning will take on a life of its own if parents think you want to know about preferences or are looking for suggestions – “Madison hates buttercream frosting” and “Jonathan will only drink a certain brand of juice,” can soon start to take on a life of their own.
  • Go for balance: Parents have different ideas on what constitutes “healthy” when it comes to toddler cuisine. While you may not want to send guests home on a soaring sugar high, you also may not want to cut out all sweets – and you can take some of the pressure off of yourself by remembering that you won’t be able to please everyone. Often, though, you can reach a happy medium by trying for balance. If you’re serving the classic cake and ice cream duo, for example, try skipping juice and go for water, or add a platter of colorful cut-up strawberries and small melon slices to the table and scoop a few pieces onto each plate next to the cake.
  • Serve up a few choices: Even if you’ve worked hard not to come off like a short-order cook at the party, most toddlers fare a little better in situations where they have a measure of control. To fend off an “I hate vanilla cake” meltdown, you can talk to a local baker about a split cake – half-chocolate, half-vanilla – so you can offer limited choices to guests.

With a little advance planning, you can create a fun, memorable party that celebrates Baby’s third birthday in a way that feels right for your family.

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