5 Kids' Birthday Party Food Etiquette Questions -- Answered!

So, you're planning a birthday bash for your child. You've got the place, the theme, the decorations ... even the birthday outfits (you and your kid do have to represent). But what about the food?

Gone are the days of just throwing a cake mix cake at the kids and calling it a day. Parents are worried about preservatives, gluten, dairy ... you name it. Kids have life-threatening peanut allergies. Maybe there's a vegetarian or two in the bunch? And what's the deal about feeding the parents? There's a lot to consider.

Here, we've got the answers to your most pressing birthday party food etiquette questions so you can concentrate on the fun stuff (yes, birthday parties are a good excuse for a new outfit, moms ...).


1. When do you serve a meal vs. snacks? According to Suzanne Wind, author of The SMART Playbook: Game-changing life skills for a modern world, it really depends on the time of day. If you're planning a party during a mealtime, you should serve a meal. It's that simple. "Most people today do expect you to serve some type of lunch or dinner food before the sweets," says Wind. "Pizza works. If it's a morning party, it could be bagels. But always be considerate and serve some type of meal before the cake."

2. Is it ever okay to serve just cake? This is generally a no-no. "At a kids' party, you may not want to just serve cake," said Christine Landry, writer of the etiquette blog Retroette. "The resulting sugar high of all the guests may be more than any parent can take. There's no hard-and-fast rule on this, but I personally like to have at least one item each of something sweet, savory, and healthy at a kids' party. It's a nice balance."

Adds Wind, who is also a mom of three: "I've been to parties where they only serve cake during dinnertime and, as a parent, you are a bit upset. Some may have later eating habits, but you can't assume that everyone doesn't mind cake at 5 p.m. instead of dinner."

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3. What's the etiquette for kids with food allergies? Moms who have kids with food allergies are usually hyper-vigilant about notifying you about their child's dietary restrictions. And you should make sure you accommodate them. "Always try to serve cake and food that is peanut-free," said Wind. "If you can't get a peanut-free cake and you know a child has an allergy, buy him a special treat (like Oreo cookies) that has been pre-approved by his parents."

Parents of kids with food allergies should also be considerate and offer to bring a special treat for their child.

4. What about other dietary restrictions? As a general rule, parents should warn you about any food restrictions. For example, if you know a child is lactose intolerant and you're ordering pizza, you can get a small with no cheese and the toppings of his choice as a nice gesture. But there are more mainstream sensitivities you should take into account at every birthday party. "I always assume someone is vegetarian and make sure they have enough options," said Landry.

5. Do you need to feed the parents? In a word: yes. When you're planning your food menu or quantity, you should factor in the adults. "They're your guests, too," said Landry.

"It is always more considerate to offer parents some pizza and cake if they stay for the party," said Wind. "But you don't need to go out of your way to buy different meals for grownups." 

The bottom line when it comes the food at kids' birthday parties: Do the right thing. If you don't want to deal with meals, plan your party for a time when there's no expectation (you're safe for a 2 p.m. start, for example). Otherwise, feed both kids and adults ... and do your best to accommodate all of your guests.

Do you think it's harder than ever to plan the menu for kids' birthday parties?

Image © Ada Summer/Corbis

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