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Fun Finger Foods for Kids' Birthday Parties

Looking for quick, creative starters and main courses that'll delight your little guests – and create less stress for you, mom and dad? Try these six recipe ideas.

Planning a party for your kids? If you're feeding the guests – beyond cake and ice cream – chances are the first food that comes to mind is pizza. Cheesy, easy-to-order pizza often makes the rounds at children's parties. But why not try something different? With a little extra planning and creativity, you can pass on the standard pie – and have something tastier for your bash.

My criteria for kids' party food is fourfold: It should be easy, bite-sized, get my kids involved (see: easy) and be fun to put together. Have your kids help you prepare the treats beforehand – or even better, make the food part of the party activities and let all the kids get involved. Chances are good that if they make the food, they'll eat it (even if it's something new for them).

Starters with pizzazz

Bagel Faces

What you'll need: Six bagels, mozzarella and cheddar shredded cheeses, olives, red pepper

Kids love bagels. Make them even more popular by adding smiles! Split the bagels in half. Line a cookie sheet with foil (for quick cleanup) and preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Let your kids create faces on the bagel halves by putting one layer of mozzarella cheese all over the half. Add cheddar cheese to the top part of the half as "hair." Place sliced – or whole – olives for eyes and use red pepper strips to make smiles. Let your kids make goofy faces or form red pepper noses. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until all the cheese has melted. Allow bagels to cool before you serve.

Celery Fingers

What you'll need: celery sticks (cut into thin, long pieces), cream cheese, large pitted olives, ranch dressing mix (optional)

Despite the stereotype that kids hate vegetables, I find that if you offer a little ranch dressing or something else that the kids can dip their veggies in, the carrot slices and cucumbers disappear. Add these celery fingers as a centerpiece to your veggie tray or just put them out in clear glasses on your food table. To make the fingers, allow the cream cheese to soften to room temperature. Add dried ranch dressing mix to the cream cheese (or skip this step). Place a small amount of cream cheese on the tip of the celery stick. Push an olive onto this end. This is a great snack to let kids put together while you're finishing putting up party decorations.

Pretzel Mix

What you'll need: pretzels, marshmallows, M&M's, peanuts, raisins

Chex mixes are great, but not all kids like the flavors – plus it can get expensive to buy all the ingredients. I make a pretzel mix and let my kids add all their favorite bite-sized treats. Our pretzel mix usually includes the ingredients listed above, but let your kids come up with other combinations – dried fruits like cranberries, banana slices and apricots are also fun additions.

Main course food

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cut-Outs

What you'll need: bread, peanut butter, jelly, cookie cutters, regular and mini-sized chocolate chips (optional)

It doesn't take much to make a staple food exciting and party-worthy. When she was 5, my daughter could (and would) eat PB&J sandwiches at every meal if I let her. Come party time, I dress up the sandwiches by using cookie cutters to make them into shapes like stars, hearts and animals. For an added treat, we sometimes make designs with regular chocolate chips on the outside and pepper the inside with miniature chips.

 

Pasta Bar

What you'll need: penne pasta, rotisserie chicken (pull meat off and cut into small pieces), ham cubes, olives, cheese cubes, cooked broccoli, ranch dressing and barbeque sauce (optional)

Kids love pasta almost as much as pizza. Let them create their own pasta masterpieces as part of the party. Make a buffet beginning with a large bowl of pasta and smaller bowls with ingredients they can add according to their own tastes. My kids like to add chicken, cheese and broccoli to their pasta, but you can get inventive and add other kid favorites to your buffet.

I also offer a sauce mixed with half ranch, half barbecue. Younger children like to keep their pasta sauceless, but older children might enjoy the change. While any pasta shape will do, my kids' favorite is penne – it fits perfectly on their fingers. Sure, we usually try to eat with forks, but when it's party time with kids, if they want to eat with their hands – and even off their fingers – that's part of the fun!

Pita Pizzas

What you'll need: flat pitas (instead of the smaller, thicker variety), spaghetti sauce, mozzarella cheese, olives, pepperoni, ham, other pizza toppings

If your kids insist on pizza, try making it a little more original than store-bought. And again, try to involve your party guests with making the meal. Preheat your oven to 375 F. Give each child his or her own pita on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil that has her name on it. Let the kids place tomato sauce on their pitas, or do that part for them.

Offer a variety of "pizza" ingredients, like pepperoni, ham, olives, green peppers and others. Top with mozzarella cheese and carefully transfer the pizzas onto cookie sheets. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the cheese melts and the pita becomes crispy. Let the pitas cool and slice with a pizza cutter. Each party guest will have his or her own pizza. Serve on paper plates. If anyone has extra you can send it home with him.

A few tips on staging

Get your kids, and your party guests, involved in making the food and you'll not only have more fun, but you'll have fewer leftovers. Remember, though, finger foods can be messy (kids are prone to roam around while they're nibbling on them since they don't need to use a plate and fork).

And while you don't want to reign kids in too much, since finger foods' portability is part of the fun, you may want to restrict them to a specific area to contain the mess. Make it a room with a hard floor, and use a big, colorful plastic table cover as a rug to make clean-up a breeze.

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