5 tips — and lots of recipes — for the best kids' birthday parties

Slam-dunk advice for you, high-five food for all

Slam-dunk advice for you, high-five food for all

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You're going all-out on party favours, games and decoration for your kid's (kids'??) birthday parties, but what about the spread? While your guests can get by on chips and take-out pizza, I'm making the case for for making your fare: the love and effort in homemade dishes will really help make your party special. You don't need a degree in event planning to add this component, promise. Here are five tips to pull off a great kids' party spread with ease, and a bunch of recipe ideas within for you to choose from.

Choose dishes you can make ahead

This is a great entertaining tip all around! It takes the stress out of game day and allows you to work around your schedule. Lasagna and from-scratch pizza are both crowd-pleasing options.

Lasagna can be baked weeks ahead in an aluminum pan, cooled completely, and moved straight to your freezer until the day of the party. When you're ready to serve, there's no need to even thaw it — just add about 20 minutes to the instructed bake time. To check if it's hot in the middle, insert a knife and feel if the tip is warm. Try this Meatball Lasagna, this Lasagna Bolognese, or this Make-Ahead Sausage and Mushroom version where the instructions even say to make it a couple of days ahead for better flavour.

And the dough for this pizza can be made up to three days ahead. Then you can actually go ahead and load it with toppings and bake and freeze it weeks before the party too. Just wrap it tight in plastic wrap once it's cooled so it stores well in your freezer. If you can't fit the pizza in your freezer whole, cut it into slices and layer it in parchment in a large freezer-safe container. Or if you can, freeze the whole pizza flat on a baking sheet and wrap in in plastic wrap when it's stiff and frozen, then reheat it the day of the party. You don't even have to defrost it. Simply bake it at 375 degrees F until the cheese is bubbling, about 20-25 min.

For a make-ahead dessert, get started now on these Vanilla Cupcakes. Both the cake and the icing part can be made the day before, or you can freeze the cake part up to two weeks and ice them the day of the party.

One-pot dishes are smart too

If you are cooking on the day of the party, you can keep it simple and still make things delicious. There will be plenty of cleaning up to do in other areas of your house before the party, so keep the kitchen work tidy and manageable with this One-Pot Chicken Pasta (super kid-friendly) or make this One-Bowl Yogurt Cake to hold those glowing candles.

Edible centerpiece 1:12

Get playful — with one item

Not everything has to be cute and Pinterest-y, but if you choose one fun food item to put a little extra effort into, you'll keep the menu manageable and make the spread memorable as well. What kid wouldn't go nuts for this treat-covered centrepiece? Or try serving these Chocolate Chip Cookies on top of a small glass of milk with a straw inserted through the middle to hold the cookies in place. Kids can take a sip of milk from the straw and a bite off the side of the cookie. Now that's a home run in the party-food department.

Utensil-free food FTW

Because it is a kid's party, after all! Finger food are simple for them to eat and fun to serve as well. Think Pigs in a Blanket or these Sloppy Joes. We're also partial to Cheesy Potato Skins because they're topped with everything kids like (cheese, bacon, sour cream!) and you can use the up the potato insides in this Make-Ahead Mashed Potato Casserole. And serve these pretzels as snacks and send the leftovers home as party favours.

Dips and bites are super-nice

Foods that are just fine at room temperature are good to have in the mix. They don't clog up your oven and you can set them out before your guests arrive so even you can relax once the party starts. Well, as long as you're not also the magician or singing princess for the event too! Look for dishes that the kids can help themselves to when they're hungry. For some great options, here's a entire menu that tastes great hot or cold: Spice-Roasted Carrot Hummus, Pizza Bites with Tomato Dipping Sauce, Chicken Fingers with Honey Garlic Sauce.

Congrats, dear parent. Now that you've got the kitchen work under control you can shift the focus back to playroom decorating or piñata entertainment.

Jessica Brooks is a digital producer, trained chef and DIY investor.