In a crowded landscape of publications looking to cater to busy parents (hello there!), it’s kind of amazing how much downright bad advice is swirling around out there about what to feed one’s kids. Not “bad” as in unhealthy or undesirable to a child’s palate, just suggestions that might cause more grief than intended. And when it comes to catering a child’s birthday party, I think all parents can agree that keeping it simple is probably best.
Here are some questionable suggestions I found while combing parenting publications online for kids’ birthday party food ideas:
- Fruit skewers, a perfectly convenient way to supply each and every hyper, distracted child with a sharp object whose sole purpose is puncturing soft flesh
- A DIY taco bar, in which children chiefly accustomed to shoving food in their mouths by the sticky fistful are presented a plate of loose meat and sour cream
- Hot dogs, a food whose propensity for choking little windpipes is so renowned that pediatricians have lobbied for warning labels
It’s not that kids can’t enjoy all (or most of) the foods adults can—it’s just that a lot of the suggestions for what to serve at a child’s birthday party seem to be geared more toward impressing your fellow parents or Instagram followers than actually catering to the smallest guests and keeping things manageable in the process. When presented with a crop of amped-up kids excited to dig into lunch, it’s best to serve something that won’t require painstaking parental oversight. While attending such an event last weekend, I encountered an inspired solution: Lunchables.
Yes, just regular old ham and cheese cracker-stacker Lunchables. Sound a little dull? The kids sure didn’t think so. In fact, there are more upsides to this menu option than you think:
- Cost: Depending on which variety you choose and how many you purchase in bulk, you’re paying a unit price of roughly $2.50-$4 per meal.
- Familiarity: Lunchables are a product that many kids are already familiar with, or is at least composed of foods they’re typically accustomed to eating. Crackers, meat, and squares of American cheese? I don’t know too many picky kids who object to that.
- Packaging: The Lunchables tray doubles as a serving vessel, cutting down on the need for plates, and the high walls between individual compartments keep the foods from touching each other—because by decree of child law, none of the foods should ever touch each other.
- Beverages: Assuming you don’t mind helping 15 different party guests navigate the straw of a Capri Sun pouch, the fact that Lunchables come with a drink included means kids won’t have to spend any time waffling on which beverage they want or requesting that an adult pour it for them. The tiny opening of a Capri Sun also means fewer spills.
- Uniformity: God help your soul if you ever give one kid a sandwich with more jelly on it than the kid beside them. Kids are obsessed with the notion of “fairness”—the only yardstick for justice that they have yet encountered in their lives—and Lunchables, with their factory-precise portions of uniform ingredients, keep everything nice and fair.
Of course, you’ll have to check in advance whether anyone has allergies that must be accommodated, and make sure to bring a cooler with ice packs if your party venue lacks refrigeration. If you’d prefer to supply something a little more DIY, you can always create these bundles yourself by ordering a stack of miniature takeout boxes and filling them with Ritz, sliced cold cuts, cheese squares, and maybe some fun addition like a tube of Go-Gurt. But anyone who expects that level of effort from the party host is at least slightly unhinged.
Just don’t overthink things. Go with the easiest crowd-pleaser so you can take a moment to snap photos and, if possible, even enjoy yourself for a few minutes at a time. I haven’t planned a lot of kids’ birthday parties in my life, but I can attest to the fact that I witnessed 16 pre-Kindergarteners all happily munching away at Lunchables in harmony, and by the end of the day, the unthinkable had happened: the fete had concluded without a single tantrum, fight, or food-utensil-related injury. How often can you say you’ve seen that?