My older son turned eleven and his younger brother nine in the past few weeks, their little sister was six in June, and as well as this meaning that the years are flying past it also means that I have a lot of experience with kids’ birthday parties. So, rather than keep all the information in my head I decided to download it into a blogpost my No-Nonsense Guide to Hosting Kids’ Birthday Parties at home! Read it and decide whether to book the playcentre or not.
Over the years we’ve done parties at home with party games, parties at playcentres, cinema parties and parties at home with bouncy castles. Each has their pros and cons.
Undoubtedly the worst thing about at-home parties is that you end up having to clean up both before and afterwards, but it’s easier to cater for everyone and to include friends with additional needs or have grandparents there (the noise in playcentres can be offputting for all adults, including parents!).
First things first- you don’t need a theme. Let’s be honest, pinterest parties where you label the juice with dinosaur names is for social media not for the benefit of three-year-olds who can’t read. We’ve done themed parties a few times, we’ve hosted a pirate party and Spiderman party at home a few years back and the boys suggested that their friends wear sports jerseys if they had them last year. Really for us the theme dictates the cake (or is it the other way around?) and the decoration/icing on the buns. It’s unnecessary so don’t stress trying to make everything “on theme”, the kids genuinely will not notice.
If your child requests a particular themed party a few things with that theme are plenty eg LOL Doll party we had a cake with LOL doll printed fondant, LOL invitations and LOL party banner. She was happy.
For the Spiderman party we had a Spiderman cake, iced the buns in Spiderman theme and used “spiderman coloured” sprinkles on the top-hats.
Send the invitations about 10 days beforehand, not any earlier or parents (like me) will might forget. If you have phone numbers text invitations are best. If you’ve booked something you need very exact numbers for then put a reply by date on them to encourage responses. Be prepared to get no RSVPs.
If you’re having a party at home don’t consider anything longer than 2.5 hours. 2 hours will work too, but believe me after 2.5 hours you’ll be watching the clock.
We tend to go for a 2.30pm or 3pm start which gives us time to do prep on the morning of, attend the kids’ matches or training and tidy up. When the doorbell rings with the first guest we are still likely to be wiping worktops or cleaning toilets though.
As to timing of the party itself we used to always have the hot food and cake at the very end but more recently I’ve had it midway through the party as then you don’t have parents arriving to collect kids while you’re still cutting cake and you’re trying to rush things along. and the kids can go have another play after the food and cake. I bring all the kids to the table (standing) and give them the savoury food first, then when that’s all gone bring out the birthday cake and other sweet food.
As the kids have gotten older I’ve learned that the sweet food must remain hidden until cake time. Under lock and key preferably.
In order to avoid a fight over who gets chairs and who has to stand remove all chairs from the table before you serve the food so that all the children have to stand.
I usually leave some savoury or less unhealthy nibbles out that if the kids wander in from the bouncy castle there’s something to stave off the hunger pangs, popcorn and crisps (Pringles are a party must according to my children) work well for this, or if you have the patience fruit skewers (mini ones with cocktail sticks are good as long as it’s not wasp season).
I leave olives, hummus and carrot sticks, tortilla chips and dips and fancy crisps on the table too but it’s only the adults that tend to consume these.
Consider whether any of your guests have food allergies or intolerances too and make sure that there’s something that everyone can eat.
There is absolutely no need at all to attempt to make anything fancy for children’s birthday parties in the savoury line, and in my view you’re only showing off if you do!
Go with standard kids’ party fare like plain ham or cheese sandwiches (crusts optional), frozen pizza (Margarita is most popular we’ve found), cocktail sausages (our favourites are the Aldi Specially Selected ones, they’ve a great pork content) and chicken nuggets (My children and I differ on these, I prefer the butcher’s counter goujons, they request Birds Eye Chicken Dippers, Iceland does a 38 piece pack for €4, 2 of these feeds 20 kids).
Make sure to have lots of ketchup at the ready.
Knives and forks are very much optional. Paper napkins and kitchen roll are vital.
We have a few things that we always make for kids’ birthday parties
- Birthday Cake (There’s a whole other post on this on the way)
- Chocolate Biscuit Cake
- Marshmallow Top-hats – the kids make these, they melt chocolate, dip marshmallows into it and top them with smarties. Always a hit.
- Buns with icing. I use the Nigella Lawson fairy cakes recipe, we ice with either white icing and sweets or leftover buttercream from the cake.
- Jelly in plastic shot-glasses was a big hit at parties when our kids were younger and when we had less awareness about single use plastics
- For summer parties we’ve done an ice-cream bar where we have vanilla and chocolate ice-cream and a variety of sweets, sprinkles and sauces and each child gets to make their own
- Malteser Slices These are delicious and very easy to make
- Pick and Mix sweets – a few bowls of jellies are always welcome
- Ice-pops or Mr Freezes also go down well on hot days
If you’re serving fizzy for older kids keep it for the food part to avoid over-consumption. Don’t have two many varieties, we stick to Zero Sugar varieties, usually Coke, Lemon or Orange and 7Up or Sprite.
For younger kids’ parties (under 6) we don’t do fizzy drinks, we’ve water and big jugs of no-added sugar cordial.
If you’ve a bouncy castle leave water or juice outside near it, the kids will be roasting. We use a large drinks dispenser and leave cups outside.
If you’re using disposable cups write the kids’ names on them so you only use one per child and everyone knows which cup is theirs.
Make sure to have tea and coffee in for the adults, and wine for you for when they have all gone home!
No, you don’t HAVE to do party bags but if you do choose to they don’t have to be all rubbish.
I had a firm no party bags stance for about 6 parties at home and just told kids that we don’t do them but my kids begged me to do them a couple of years ago so (eventually) I relented.
We usually use paper sandwich bags (you can get these in the supermarket beside the tinfoil) and we put two treats (usually crisps and MAOM chewy sweets or Flump Marshmallows or mini packs of haribo) and something else in – like a bouncy ball, glow sticks or a small friendship bracelet or stickers. Tesco is good for multipacks of this type of stuff, I got 10 bracelets from Ali- Express for €2 so it was cost effective too.
Again, an optional extra, they work best for younger kids.
Older ones will rip out the boardgames (twister is a great one) or the lego if it’s a wet day or the nerf guns or hose on a dry one.
I always print colouring sheets for parties of kids under 7 as a just-in-case.
One year one of the boys had a pirate party we gave each child an eyepatch and did a lucky dip for gold chocolate coins in the garden (box of sand) and a pin the X on the treasure map.
Party games, even simple ones take organising and supervision so you need extra adults to ensure that the chicken nuggets don’t burn.
Pass the parcel is a tough one as younger kids feel very hard done by if they don’t win (and older kids think it’s lame) and it’s hard to get the timing right to make sure everyone does.
Musical chairs or Musical Statues the old classics are good fun
Pinata We’ve bought pinata’s a few times and they a spectacle and enjoyable as long as you make sure that each child gets a turn to whack it first. Fill with little packets of sweets or individually wrapped ones (we always use Maom) and have extras to ensure that every child gets some.
Obstacle Course If you’ve time or bigger children have them make a little obstacle course in the back garden for the kids
Treasure Hunt If you’ve a big garden this can work well using picture clues for younger kids
Scavenger Hunt Look at our beach scavenger hunt for ideas and set the kids out to find feathers, twigs, stones etc
Have a great party!