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Quick, Easy and Cheap Birthday Party Food Ideas

Saturday 24 March 2012
It can be tricky finding frugal food options for kids birthday party snacks.  There are bound to be fussy eaters, kids with food allergies or intolerances, and a list of likes and dislikes a mile long.  The food needs to be finger food, low faff and easy to prepare without costing a fortune.  Here are the recipes I use most often, and which cater for most needs, when my girls have birthday parties:

Caramel Popcorn

Popcorn is cheap and easy to make and this caramel coated popcorn always goes down well, with adults and kids alike.

3-4 cups popcorn
125g butter
3/4 cup caster sugar

Put the popcorn onto a roasting dish lined with non-stick baking paper.

Put the butter and caster sugar in a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to the boil.  Stop sitrring it and boil for 5-7 minutes until the mixture changes colour - it will go a light caramel colour. Gently swirl the pan to get an even colour, don't stir it.  Pour the caramel over the popcorn geting as much of an even coverage as you can.  Mix wth a wooden spoon if you have to.  Be careful, the caramel will burn if in contact with your skin at this point.

Allow to cool completely before you serve it. This can be made a day in advance and stored in an airtight container.

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Fairy Bread

My girls birthday parties would not be complete without this kiwi classic. You can use other cutters to make different shapes, and slightly more masculine coloured sprinkles for a boys party.

1 loaf white sliced bread
butter, to spread
Pink and white hundreds and thousands, to decorate

Using a cookie cutter, cut shapes out of each slice of bread. Spread with butter and decorate with hundreds and thousands. I normally sprinkle the hundreds and thousands onto a plate and then gently press the bread shapes, buttered side down, into the sprinkles. You get a good even coverage of sprinkles without spreading them all over your kitchen.

party food fairy bread children party food easy party snack

Cheese Straw Shapes
These are great snacks for parties as they are so easy and you can vary the flavour, sprinkle seeds or herbs on the shapes as well, or instead of, cheese. You could use cookie cutters to make whatever shapes you like, cut them into strips and twist to make cheese straws, or add a star to the end of a strip and call it a wand (either wizard or fairy wand depending on the party).
4 sheets of ready-rolled puff pastry, or roll out a 500g block
1 free range egg yolk, lightly beaten
3 Tblsp milk
120g cheese, grated
75g cheese, finely grated (for sprinkling on top)

Preheat oven to 220°C. Grease and line 2 baking trays with baking paper.

Whisk the egg yolk and milk together in a small bowl.  Brush 1 pastry sheet with the egg mixture and sprinkle over about 60g of grated cheese.  Cover with another pastry sheet and gently roll over with a floured rolling pin to seal them together.  Repeat this process with the other 2 sheets of pastry and 60g of cheese so you end up with 2 sheets of double thickness pastry to cut shapes from.  Cover them with cling film and put them in the fridge for 30 minutes so they are easier to work with and cut shapes out of.

Using a cookie cutter or sharp knife, cut the pastry into the shapes that fit your party theme.  Brush the shapes with any leftover egg wash and then sprinkle with the finely grated cheese. 

Bake the pastry shapes in your preheated oven, for 10 minutes or until they have puffed up and are lovely and golden.

cheese twists puff pastry twists cheese twists party food snacks nibbles
Sausage Rolls
500g good quality sausage meat  
2 Tblsp tomato paste
2 Tblsp brown sauce
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tsp English mustard powder
1 onion, grated
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 small eating apple, peeled and grated
3 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed

Preheat oven to 200C/180C fan-forced. Line 2 large baking trays with baking paper.

Use your hands to thoroughly combine the sausage meat, tomato paste, brown sauce, breadcrumbs, mustard powder, onion, carrot and apple in a bowl.

Cut each pastry sheet in half. Shape 1/2 cup of the sausage meat mixture into a sausage shape.  Put it along 1 long side of 1 pastry half.  Roll up the pastry to enclose the filling.  Pinch the pastry with your fingertips or crimp with a fork to seal the join.  Cut the long sausage roll into quarters.  Put the uncooked sausage rolls, seam side down, on to a prepared tray.  Leave some room for the pastry to spread during cooking.  Repeat the process with the remaining sausage meat mixture and pastry.  You can freeze them at this point.

If baking fresh, bake for 35 minutes or until golden and cooked through.  If your're baking them from frozen, bake for 45 minutes or until the sausage inners are cooked through.

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Mini Frittatas

These are great for parties, picnics, packed lunch boxes and an easy standby when savoury options for bring a plate functions are needed. You can leave out the bacon if you want to make vegetarian frittatas, or use small chunks of precooked vegetarian sausages if you like. You can even use gluten free self raising flour instead of normal self raising flour.

Sometimes I add finely chopped peppers or courgettes and cook those with the onions, adding feta instead of cheddar cheese to vary the flavour. These are so easily adaptable and you can use whatever you have available in your fridge or cupboards.

1 large onion, finely chopped
2-3 rashers bacon, fat and rind removed then roughly chopped (optional)
1 tsp oil
1/2 cup self-raising flour (or use gluten free self raising flour)
3 eggs
250ml milk
2 potatoes, cubed and cooked
410g can whole kernel corn
60g grated cheese
1 spring onion, chopped (or use fresh chives, parsley or coriander)
salt and pepper to season
cooking spray or a little oil on some kitchen towel

Preheat your oven to 220C.  Cook the onion and bacon in the oil until soft, and then set aside to cool.

Put the self raising flour in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, milk and cooled onion and bacon. Season with salt and pepper then beat with well a fork to thoroughly combine everything. Pour this egg mixture into the bowl containing the flour and stir until everything has just combined. Add the cooked and cooled potatoes, drained can of corn, two-thirds of the grated cheese and the chopped spring onion or herbs.

Spray a 12-cup metal muffin tin thoroughly with cooking spray, or lightly grease with some oil on a kitchen towel, and spoon mixture into cups. A metal muffin tin will give the best results.

Top with remaining grated cheese and cook at 220C for 25-35 minutes. Let the frittatas cool for 5 minutes before turning out of the tin or cutting. Serve with a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce, tomato relish or chutney and a side salad.

Easy Falafels

I was given this recipe by one of the of the Mums at school and it's now a firm favourite in our house. The falafel can be eaten as finger food at parties, a lunch in a wrap with salad, taken on a picnic or served as a weeknight dinner with couscous and salad leaves. The falafels are also freezable for up to 6 months in an airtight container. Great for make-ahead party food, lunchbox treats or emergency dinners.

2 (400g) tins of chick peas
1 large onion, very finely chopped or grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp ground cumin
4-6 Tblsp plain flour
salt and pepper
oil for frying

Put the chickpeas in a bowl with the very finely chopped onion, crushed garlic gloves, cumin, ground coriander, salt and pepper. Use a potato masher or pestle and mortar to lightly mash the mixture until it begins to stick together. You can quickly pulse it in a food processor but don't be too over enthusiastic, you don't want a mushy puree.

Take walnut-sized blobs of mixture and and shape them into small flat rounds about 1/2 and inch thick. Roll the falafel in the flour ensuring they are well coated. Chill them for 15-30 minutes, this makes them much easier to work with. Heat some oil, about 1 inch deep, in a frying pan. When it's hot add a few falafels and cook over a medium heat for about 5-6 minutes, turning them frequently. Carefully take them out of the oil and drain well on kitchen paper.

To use the falafels from frozen: Put them on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and warm in the oven at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for about 10 minutes or until piping hot.

Serve with a dip and crudités, in a wrap with salad leaves, or as a dinner/lunch with couscous salad.

Yoghurt Dip with Mint and Cucumber

150ml natural yoghurt
2 Tblsp mayonnaise
Juice of 1/2 a lime or lemon
1 small or 1/2 a large cucumber, thickly grated then drained on kitchen roll
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 Tblsp chopped fresh mint leaves
pinch of salt

Put the yoghurt, mayonnaise and lime/lemon juice in a bowl and whisk together well with a fork. Add the drained cucumber, garlic and chopped fresh mint leaves. Mix together well and, if you think it needs it, add a pinch of salt.

Cover the dip with clingfilm and leave in it the fridge for at least 1 hour to allow the flavours to mingle before you serve it.

falafel baked falafel lunchboxes packed lunch chickpea falafel snack protein snack

Savoury Puff Pastry Swirls

These are a delicious party food, lunchbox treat, picnic lunch or tummy filler for after school guests. They can be frozen so are a great standby to have lurking in your freezer. You can alter the fillings to suit your taste, budget or occasion so they are very versatile.  You could even make a sweet version using 2tsp of cinnamon 3 Tblsp of sugar sprinkled over the pastry or spread the pastry with chocolate spread or jam.

4 sheets frozen pre-rolled flaky puff pastry, thawed
2 Tblsp tomato sauce, chutney or relish
2 cups, or large handfuls, grated Mature Cheddar cheese
100g ham, finely chopped (optional)
1 pepper, very finely chopped (any colour will do)
1 onion, very finely chopped or grated
1 tsp dried mixed herbs

Filling suggestions: – vegemite/marmite and cheese, well drained sweetcorn, finely chopped mushroom, sliced bacon, salami or chorizo instead of the ham, red or green pesto and sliced olives.  The possibilities are endless! 

Join 2 sheets of pastry together by brushing the edges with water and crimping with a fork to make a very large rectangle. You need to make sure it's a good secure join. Do the same with the remaining two sheets of pastry. Brush the large rectangles you have created with tomato sauce or relish and then sprinkle with the cheese and lay over the ham. Sprinkle with the dried mixed herbs and any other fillings you would like to include.

Tightly roll the pastry up from the short sides, a bit like making a swiss roll or sushi and secure the edge so they won’t unroll. To get a good securely sealed edge, wet the edge of the pastry then, after you've rolled it up, use a fork to crimp the edge of the pastry to the rest of the roll. Wrap each of the rolls in clingfilm and chill them in the fridge for at least an hour, this makes them much easier to handle. The rolls can also be frozen at this stage for up to a month.

To cook the rolls, preheat your oven to 200C. Line two oven trays with non-stick baking paper.

Slice the rolls (this can also be done if they're still frozen, as long as your knife is sharp enough) into 1/2cm or 1/4 inch slices and lay them flat on the trays.  Don't forget to leave some room for them to spread. Bake the swirls for 10 – 15 minutes until they are nicely puffed up and golden. Take the trays out of the oven, turn the swirls over and bake them for another 5 minutes to make sure they are evenly brown and there are no soggy bottoms *snigger*. Cool them on a wire rack and serve them warm or leave to cool and put in lunchboxes or take them on a picnic.

You can make a huge variety of filling combinations using the basic pinwheel idea. However, if you are making a savoury version, it always pays to have one filling with a bit of oil or natural fat in it such as cheese, ham, bacon or chorizo because it helps the pastry stay crisp and keeps the filling moist without it going soggy.

The swirls can be cooked in advance and reheated to be served warm, but I find they are much better either eaten fresh or cooked from frozen when required.

puff pastry swirls savoury party food nibbles children party food pizza bites

Cheesy Vegetable Fritters

These are a great tummy filler and I make them often on the weekend for a quick and healthy lunch.

1 courgette, grated
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 carrot, grated
1/2 cup fresh, tinned or frozen corn kernels
1 cup wholemeal self-raising flour
1/2 cup plain self-raising flour
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 free range egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated tasty cheddar cheese
olive oil cooking spray

Grate the courgette and squeeze out as much moisture from it as you can using your hands. No need to faff about putting it in a tea towel or anything like that. Put a little olive oil or cooking spray into a large, non-stick frying pan on a medium-high heat. Add the prepared courgette, carrot and corn to the pan and cook, whilst stirring it for 2 to 3 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Set aside to cool whilst you make the fritter batter.

Sift both flours into a large bowl. Tip andy of the wholemeal flour husks left in the sieve into bowl as well. Make a well in the flours and pour in the buttermilk and lightly beaten egg. Whisk the mixture gently to combine the flours and wet ingredients. Add the cooled vegetable mixture and cheese. Stir again to thoroughly mix.

Spray the frying pan with cooking spray or put add a little oil to the frying pan. Put it on a medium heat and spoon about 1 heaped tablespoon of mixture per fritter in to the pan. I normally cook 4 fritters at a time for 3 to 4 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface. Turn them over and cook for 2 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer to a plate and cover them with foil or a tea towel to keep them warm. Repeat the process until all the mixture has been used. It normally makes around 16 fritters. I usually serve these with either a homemade or store bought mild tomato salsa or chutney.

You can freeze the cooked fritters. Just wrap them individually in plastic wrap and place in a large airtight freezer bag. Seal the bag well then label it with what's in it and the date. The fritters can be frozen for up to 3 months.

You can replace the corn kernels with 1 finely chopped small red capsicum or some frozen peas. You can also add some finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or mint leaves when adding vegetables to the batter mixture.

Other Snack Ideas
I always have crudites and dips available to counteract all the sugary foods that are usual party fare.  I make my own hummus and herby yoghurt dip, although you could buy them to save time.  Cherry tomatoes also go down well, especially if you can get ones in different colours such as yellow.
Fruit Kebabs are also a great standby.  Kids can make their own at the party or you can prepare them ahead of time.  I use drinking straws instead of skewers for younger children and always cut off the sharp ends.  You can also carve out some melon balls *snigger* which are a great way to get kids to eat some fruit.  Berries and grapes also go down well too as they are small and flavoursome.
Sandwiches cut into smaller portions or shapes with cookie cutters are a great savoury or sweet snack option that are cheap to make.  You can use homemade bread, or creatively shaped rolls, if you want to.  Sometimes I roll them up and cut them like swiss rolls, the sandwiches look like swirls which helps them look more appealing to kids.  

Sparkling water is a great alternative to fizzy drinks or sugar laden squash.  You could mix some fruit juice with the sparkling water for a personalised fizzy mocktail.  Smoothies are a great idea too. 

You can make ice cubes out of juice or sortbet and add them to plain water or juice to keep drinks cool. 

Try different combinations of juice for a fruit punch and water it down for younger children.  Adding ice to drinks also waters it down as the ice melts, should you need to be sneaky about it. LOL

Quick Berry Milkshake

I've been making this milkshakes like this for years.  You could use frozen mango chunks and sorbet instead of berries and icecream if you wanted to.  Try varying the flavour to suit your tastes, what is in season, and what you have in your fridge and freezer.
400g frozen mixed berries or 400g fresh berries
1 litre or 4 cups milk
5 large scoops of berry or vanilla flavoured frozen yoghurt or icecream

Put the berries in a blender with the milk and frozen yoghurt or icecream. Blend until smooth. How easy is that?! You can use a stick belnder if you don't have a normal blender. If the milkshake is too thick just add a little more milk and blend it again.

Pur into glasses and serve either on it's own or top each glass with an extra scoop of frozen yoghurt or icecream if you like. You could put a strawberry on the rim of each glass for an edible decoration.

The fabulous Cass from Frugal Family wrote a Guest Post for me about how to keep costs down when organising birthday parties, you can read it here.

What are your top tips and ideas when organising food for kids parties? 


  1. What a fab collection of goodies! Made a note of some of these for The Boy's birthday.

  2. with 3 birthday parties coming..let me tell you your post is awesome , so full of ideas and so useful ! thanks :P

  3. great ideas!!! Thanks... great post! I am entertaining 93 people for my little girl's birthday and this will really really help!

  4. If you want to cut down the expense over your Kids Birthday Party, then the only way which helps you is the selection of cheap food that is explained quite nicely in this blog.

  5. I like the fairy bread idea. That recipe is simple and easy to make and few ingredients are required for that.

  6. Yes I am off to make some of these oodies, thank you for the great ideas...x

  7. This would look like a fantastic buffet at a wedding, trust me ive seen a lot worse at some parties!

  8. I really liked Mini Frittatas.If your party budget is low,then these recipes are best to include in party food menu.

  9. I knew you were from NZ as soon as I saw the Fairy bread !!!! My Mum used to make them for me for my birthday when I was a kid. Ive lived in the States. For 41 yrs now, but seeing that made me homesick !!!

    1. Sorry for making you homesick x Perhaps you could introduce Fairy Bread to the US :o)

  10. Amazing collection of food, and I guess they are pretty affordable too, Thanks for sharing wonderful kids birthday party food ideas with us.

  11. Baked chicken wings are also great cheap party food - season with Old Bay or paprika/olive oil and salt and pepper or pesto or bbq sauce and bake for 30 mins in a hot oven. Potato wedges for the vegetarians with same seasonings.

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