Ask any parent and they’re sure to agree: feeding kids can be a nightmare. It’s hard to find a balance between foods that are healthy and foods that they actually like. If you’re lucky, your child will have a number of favorite foods and refuse to eat anything else. Each meal is a struggle, and more often than not, it ends up in a tantrum or a food fight (sometimes both). So just imagine the trouble of planning an entire party, where the guests are all growing children with their own moods and preferences. Well, here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be all that troublesome. With careful planning and a bit of creativity, you can serve healthy Filipino food that your kids are sure to love. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Mind the cake
What’s a birthday party without a nice birthday cake? Get the cake right and the rest of the party will take care of itself; get it wrong and there’s hardly a party to begin with. You usually have two choices: buy the cake or bake it yourself. Buying is certainly more convenient, but it takes out a lot of the fun. If you can bake a decent cake and you’re for the challenge, you and your child can help bake the cake together. It gives you a lot of room for creativity, and your child can even use his favorite toppings.
Children want everything sweet, from ice cream and candy to meat and vegetables. That doesn’t mean you have to serve ten different desserts—most Filipino food recipes can be adjusted to suit children’s tastes. Just sweeten up your main dishes, be generous with the dips and sauces, and stick to everyday ingredients. If you’re serving pasta, skip the fancy spices and make it simple and sweet. Kids like lots of cheese, sauce, meat and hot dogs. Those are all fairly healthy, so there’s nothing wrong with giving them a little extra.
Presentation is everything
Sometimes all it takes to turn a dish into children’s food is a change in presentation. Instead of serving ice cream in bowls, why not use colorful ice cream cones in interesting shapes? You can also top them with candy sprinkles, fruit slices, or chocolate powder. If you’re serving sandwiches, trim out the crusts and use a cookie cutter to cut them into fun shapes. Make funny faces on burger patties, arrange fruits on top of salads, or make little gingerbread houses.
You may be dying to try out your new caviar recipe, but this is a children’s party. Kids tend to be picky eaters. Stick to good old Filipino cuisine—tried and tested dishes that children will always like. If you want to serve more ‘adult’ food, put them on a separate table or serve them in the kitchen.
Let them help out
If you could use a little extra help, try having your child help with the preparations. It doesn’t matter if they’re too young or unable to follow instructions. Just give them small tasks such as measuring ingredients, timing the oven, or wiping the tables. You can even let them draw on the birthday cake and make the decorations. Helping out will build up their excitement and make the occasion seem even more special. Also, they’ll enjoy the party even more knowing they had a hand in making it happen.
Often, the worst part of the party is scooping out the ice cream while a dozen kids wait in line with their sugar cones. Better yet, lay out all the cones and toppings and let them make their own ice cream. If you’re worried about making a mess, have someone supervise them or fill the cones as they pick out their toppings. You can do the same with pizza, salads, sandwiches, finger foods, and most Filipino deserts recipes.
Your child can also help you plan the meals for the big day. After all, it’s his party, so it’s only right that he should have a say on what goes on the table. And they’ll know better which foods their friends like and which ones they don’t. Don’t let them decide the entire meal, of course. To balance out their choices, have them pick a couple of Filipino recipes from a cookbook in addition to their favorite foods. If they’re helping cook the meal as well, look for simple Filipino cooking recipes that they can make with minimum supervision.
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Carlo Villamayor is the owner and co-author of the Filipino food blog, Kusina.ph. A devoted cook, he makes it his personal mission to spread the joy of Filipino food recipes with food lovers the world over. Bon appetit!