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Tea Party food Ideas

Cupcake with candleIt's paaaaarrrrrty time! And, whether that prospect makes you whoop with delight (hello, kids' party virgin) or wilt with despair (greetings, jaded veteran of small people's bashes), it's an unavoidable fact that a bunch of over-excited children are shortly going to descend on you, expecting to stuff their faces with all manner of sugar-coated birthday fodder.

So, what to do – other than panic-book a caterer or party table at Pizza Hut? Well, it all depends on...

Five key questions when you're planning kids' party food
1. The time of the party?

If you've been foolish generous enough to have scheduled your party to spread over or run into anything approaching lunchtime or teatime, then you'll need to put on a decent-ish spread. If you've cannily timed your party for the early morning or early afternoon, however, you can probably get away with drinks and a few snacks – but do make sure the kids' parents know what you're planning.

2. The age of the kids?

Any Mumsnetter worth her party-host-salt will tell you that the official ratio of healthy party food to sugary/junky rubbish changes exponentially with each year of age. So, while a birthday tea for babies or toddlers (with their hovering mums) should include several nods to the existence of vegetables, there's absolutely no point whipping up anything too worthy if your party guests are over the age of five...

3. The number of children coming?

Generally speaking, the more children you invite, the less complicated your birthday tea needs to be. Burger and chips for five is do-able; burger and chips for 25, unless you're surname is Fearnley-Whittingstall, is absolutely not. A rough rule of thumb oft-quoted on Mumsnet is to invite the same number of children as candles on the cake. (Of course, if there are 30 kids in the class this can be wishful thinking).

4. The party venue?

If you're having the party at home, you may be able to sit everyone at a table - meaning you can serve the food on (unbreakable) plates and get everyone to pass things round in a (relatively) civilised way. But, if space (and chairs) are limited, you may have to spread a tablecloth on the floor and produce a birthday 'picnic', in which case dividing the food up into individual food boxes (order them from party-goods websites) can save on mess and washing-up, and ensure nobody hogs more than their fair share of Twiglets.

If you're having the party away from home (in the park, for example, or at a hired venue), food boxes or pizza delivery boxes really are the way to go. Unless, of course, the venue comes with (inevitably chicken-nuggety) party food as part of the deal, in which case you can gratefully abdicate responsibility for everything except, of course, the birthday cake.

5. Your own domestic-goddess factor?

Last but certainly not least on your things-to-consider-before-you-start list is how keen you are to don your pinny and get cooking/slicing/baking/icing yourself. Be honest, now: would you rather just get shop-bought food for them to scoff before they play, or would your inner keep-up-with-the-Annabel-Karmels barometer self-combust if you didn't put in a little time at the cooker-face?

Of course, it really doesn't matter too much which way you go - as long as, time, energy and general stress-wise, you're not biting off more than you (and your small guests) can reasonably chew. If you need a party-madness-or-not check, run your plans past other Mumsnetters on our Parties/celebrations discussion board.

Party food ideas

Mumsnet's a veritable mine of kids' party food wisdom. You only have to look at the discussion threads in the Parties topic to see we definitely know our Skips from our Wotsits hummus dips from our pinwheel sandwiches. And the one birthday-tea message that comes out louder and clearer than any other is: less is more...

Savoury ideas for children's birthday teas

This is the part of the tea you do to salve your conscience (a little) before the sugar-fest that is to come. And so that when at going-home time some little treasure tells their open-mouthed mum, "It was great - all we ate was chocolate cake!", you can swiftly counter with, "No, sweetheart, we had sandwiches and carrots sticks, too, remember?"

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