Tuesday, February 9, 2010

10 Tips on How to Throw a Great Cooking Birthday Party for Kids

Want to throw a cooking birthday party at home? You've come to the right place!

One of the specialties of the house at The Kitchen Studio is the awesome kid's cooking birthday parties we offer. We spend pretty much every Saturday rockin' and rollin' with the kids, helping them whip up their own meal and enjoy some great eats and good times as they go.

If you know me at all, you know that I am all about loosening up in the kitchen, and getting kids in on the adventure makes things loose by default from the very start. Nothing will make a kid's eyes widen like sprinkling flour directly on them as they get ready to roll out dough or having them chuck things into a blender for fruit smoothies. Kids desperately want to be in on the action, and we do everything possible to make sure that happens, from making a holy mess to piping frosting to working with real yeast dough for the first time.

Our parties are so popular in fact, that it's sometimes hard to get on our schedule. Or maybe budget is an issue. Regardless, some folks want to do it on their own, but aren't quite sure where to start. I thought that maybe a few tips on throwing the perfect kid's cooking birthday party would be helpful to all of you out there on the interwebs. I'm giving it to you straight, without all that sugary-coating parenting websites will give, 'cause I know you can handle it.

Birthday Party Tip #1:

Prepare for the kitchen to get messy. There is no way around this. If it freaks you out (and that's ok), then you need to go somewhere else to hold the party or throw a different kind of bash. You will not be comfortable and your child will totally pick up on this. Sorry, but it's how it is.

Birthday Party Tip #2:

Limit the guest list. This really isn't the type of party to invite little Isabella's entire preschool class. In general, the younger the kids, the fewer there should be at a cooking birthday party. These parties are very hands-on and you need to supervise what the kids are doing and where their hands are. And booger cookies are soooo not yummy.

Birthday Party Tip #3:

Get some help. Have a (patient) friend be your back-up or even better, hire a teenager or mature tween from down the street to lend you a hand and help keep the kids happy. And don't be cheap! If you're hiring a teen/tween, pay them well and make them earn that money. Just be realistic in your expectations. After all they're not a professional party planner, so be sure to keep that in mind. They're really more of a kid-wrangler. Let them do that.

Birthday Party Tip #4:

Keep the menu simple. This isn't the time for Baked Alaska. Make food the birthday child enjoys. Smoothies are super easy and much beloved. Kids love a good blender, especially a safety lesson that includes the term "wall smoothies" *hint: these are NOT a good thing* Pizza is safe, tacos are wonderful, fried rice is a snap and includes lots of stirring. Ethnic foods can be fun!

Birthday Party Tip # 4.5:

Pick a menu that will be universally appreciated. Your kid may loooove sushi, but that doesn't mean all of the kids do. It also doesn't mean that you should buy some frozen chicken fingers and call it a day. Just remember that even though you are there to celebrate the birthday child, a good host/hostess makes sure that their guests are happy, an essential fact we sometimes forget (Remember all those weddings you went to where there was 4 hours between the ceremony and the reception? That's the kind of thinking we want to avoid, regardless of the excuse.) If you're having a dish that may be considered a little funky by some of the guests, balance it out with something familiar.

Birthday Party Tip #5:

Have an activity ready to go as soon as the kids arrive. Whether it's free cooking coloring pages that you printed from online, or cooking wordsearches (I love http://www.thepotters.com/ for these!), or handy-dandy aprons that the kids color with fabric markers, have something to keep them busy, because you know someone will be early, and someone will be late. (Side note: whatever you do, don't use puffy paint to decorate aprons. It takes at least 24 hours to dry and the kids will want to wear the aprons as soon as they can, so no one is happy. Plus, they'll smear on the ride home or on your couch. Trust me here.)

Birthday Party Tip #6:

Lay down the ground rules before you step foot in the kitchen. No running, jumping, hugging, nose-picking, butt-scratching, hair-fluffing, or saying any of the following: Ewww, yuk, gross, disgusting, I hate that, or I think I'm gonna barf. Kids love to hear grown-ups say barf. They'll crack up and you'll get your point across. And make sure they wash those hands. A lot.

Birthday Party #7:

The younger the kids, the more you should measure everything out ahead of time. This will also cut down on the number of measuring tools you need to have on hand. Kids love to smell and touch and dump and whisk. LET THEM DO THIS. Have any spice containers open so that you can pass around the herbs and spices for them to sniff. The scent is really strong and it freaks them out, which is awesome, in a good way. They'll be curious to see how those ingredients taste in the finished dishes.

Birthday Party Tip # 8:

The older the kids, the longer you can cook. Four year-olds just want to stir, mix, roll, and eat. Keep the actual cooking time to about 45 minutes for these guys. Older kids (from 7 to 15, really) can cook for about an hour and a half with no complaints, as long as you keep them moving. Lag time is a killer, so plan your menu really, really well.

Birthday Party Tip #9:

Build in time to eat. I usually try to allow 25-30 minutes for eating and talking. If you're planning on including present opening, build that into the schedule too. Maximum cooking birthday party time should be around 2 hours. Write out a schedule for yourself and start on time. Be flexible and ready to adapt. If something goes wrong, make a joke about it and let the kids share in the laugh - they love to see grown-ups make mistakes too, and if you can roll with the punches, they'll always remember that.

Birthday Party Tip #10:

Reward good behavior, acknowledge bad only when completely necessary. I always look to profusely praise the kids who raise their hands, use good manners, etc. Most kids will pick up on this pretty quickly. I even mention that I ask the kids with the best manners to help with the most tasks, and everyone wants to help. If you have high standards (and you should), let them know early on and they will do everything they can to please you. Everyone will have a great time and you will only need one glass of wine when you're done, not a whole bottle. :) (BTW-Kids often act better when their parents are not around, so unless you know that you're inviting a particularly difficult kid, you may be happier doing this one as a drop-off party).

Bonus Birthday Party Tip:

Have the kids clean up after themselves. No, not the kitchen, this is a party after all and you're the one who decided to have a cooking birthday party at home. Have the kids (NOT their parents, and that is so important) clear their places and gather their belongings. I've had kids as young as 4 take their own plates to the garbage and in return, praise them up, down, and sideways. You're a parent, not a servant. Teach them young and they'll have the habit for life.

Seem like a lot? It is. But, you can always come to The Kitchen Studio and we'll take care of the entire party for you. Or, if you still want to go it alone (you can do it!!) check out http://www.backyardbirthdays.com/ . Backyard Birthdays will create a custom birthday party plan for your child and mail it to you so that you can execute it on your own. The best part? They'll take care of everything from custom invites and thank yous to a timeline for how to run the party and recipes (which make a great and inexpensive party favor!) all for an affordable price. You can also give them a call at 646-456-7671. Ask for Laura - she'll be glad to help!


BethS said...

Thanks for the great information. I'm thinking it will just be easier to have the party at The Kitchen Studio. Taking reservations for July, yet?

Chef Christine said...

Indeed we are! We'll get you on the calendar now and guarantee your cook-a-rama bday party spot!

Marlene said...

Great suggestions. We can't wait for our Thai night on the 28th!

Chef Christine said...

Thanks Marlene! Any chance you have any junior cooking supplies at the terrifc Dancing Bear Toys in dowtown Frederick(http://www.dbeartoys.com/)? This could be a great handout to go with them!

We're also posting this on www.GottaBreakSomeEggs.com, our blog targeted to building confidence and teaching teens & tweens how to rock it out in the kitchen.

Michelle (What's Cooking) said...

I do cooking parties for kids, too. These are great tips! Don't you love it when kids get excited about cooking :-) Something practical and life-changing to be involved with!

Chef Christine said...

Absolutely Michelle - it's the best part of the job! Actually getting into the trenches with the kids and letting them play and have fun!

Check out my blog focused just to tweens & teens at www.GottaBreakSomeEggs.com if you have a minute! We have new videos coming soon!