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Rather than outsource your child’s birthday party, be very brave (at least once) and do it all yourself.

For weeks I had been meaning to call the local animal farm and book my son’s birthday party. I had trawled through their menu and, even though my two-year-old had never touched pizza, I thought, hey, he may well like it and surely not all pizzas have processed cheese? Yet try as I might, every time I reached for the phone, something stopped me. When I reached inside to discover the reason for my delay tactics I hit on it at last – I wanted to have his party at home. So what if I have a tall, small and very narrow double-storey Victorian home totally unsuited to crowds, let alone little crowds. No matter, I thought, I would manage somehow.

And then my thoughts evolved even further: if I was going to have it at home, then why not have everything home-made and home-baked? There would be no hidden MSG, E numbers or preservatives and, heaven forbid, processed cheese! Yup, this whole birthday party idea was just getting better and better, or so I thought at the time.

Find out more about creating birthday traditions.

Organised Chaos

The birthday party was on a Saturday afternoon from 3pm to 5pm. I’d hosted many a dinner party in my day – how hard could this be? Just to be sure, I started preparing on Tuesday evening. I put on some music and kneaded dates into balls. I soon had a large bowl of neatly rounded coconut-dusted date balls. They were delicious! I went to bed exhausted and reeking of dates.

The next night, Wednesday, I made cheese straws – so much easier than date balls. I packed them away in airtight containers and went off to bed. Thursday night I rested, but Friday, being the night before the grand event, I was hard at it again: baby quiches, homemade hummus, carrot and cucumber sticks. My son’s father and I (who don’t live together but are still fabulous friends – most of the time) had many a harried phone call that night surrounding helium-balloon collections (always take a duvet cover!) and infant drinking options (I suddenly realised that perhaps not everyone would be partial to my homemade lemonade). The father kindly mentioned back-up food options in case mine failed. I scoffed; I had it all under control!

Read our experts advice on how to deal with birthday party issues.

The day dawned and, at around 2:45pm, pandemonium hit. What about chairs and sun umbrellas for outside – the temperature was soaring? What about cold beers? There was no room in the fridge. Mini pita breads to go with the homemade hummus had been forgotten; the fruit hedgehog had no spikes and, I knew it, I should have bought sweets. There were going to be some older children, some aware ones… what would they think? Perhaps they’d be glad I was not their mom – one positive spin on it. I started having mild palpitations at the total lack of preservatives, when my son came tumbling down the stairs backwards, his hands still firmly gripping the video recorder he had just found. We scooped him up screaming and welcomed the first guest.

And in they streamed, one tot following another. Soon tots were falling over tots while adults stepped over them gingerly. My son sat in a pile of torn wrapping paper, delighted with what he’d found within. Utter chaos abounded as the balloons were spotted and handed out to roars of delight. People found places to perch, and if there was a raised eyebrow in the house over the absence of Smarties or Gummy Bears, I didn’t notice.

Food was consumed (there was far too much), wine and tea ranneth over (blessed are those with two-year-olds, as organised games are but a thing of the future). Later neighbours poured through the door and the merriment continued. That evening, as I sat with a few remaining neighbours and fed carrot sticks and hummus to my child (I was too tired to think about dinner), and a few leftover balloons started to descend from the ceiling, I was glad that I had not made that call to the animal farm, even if the father and I were so busy that we forgot to take a single photo!

Does your child’s birthday fall in winter, don’t despair, here are some ideas for hosting a party during the cold season.


Cheese Straws
  • puff pastry (pre-frozen from local supermarket)
  • grated cheese (Parmesan works best)
  • 1 egg, beaten

Roll out the pastry and brush the surface with egg. Cut into short or long strips (short ones are easier for younger children to manage). Sprinkle the cheese over the pastry and pop into a very hot oven for about 10 minutes.

Lesson learnt: a winner, easy to make and easy to eat.

Date Balls
  • ½ cup minced dates
  • 2T orange juice
  • ¼ cup ground almonds
  • unsweetened coconut, as much as needed for coating the balls

Combine all ingredients – except the coconut – and mix well. Shape the mixture into small balls, then roll each in desiccated coconut. This makes about 12 balls. (You can alter the size, depending on the children’s age and, therefore, hand size.)

Lesson learnt: date bars are so cheap! When you prepare something days in advance, remember to take it out of the fridge. I found the fruits of my labour, tucked away at the back of the fridge, hours after everyone had left.

Fruit-and-Cheese Hedgehog

wooden skewers
half a melon
various firm fruit
various firm cheeses

Cut the fruit and cheese into smallish squares and thread onto the skewers. Push the skewers into the shell of a melon and add two grape “eyes” and a strawberry “mouth”.

Lesson learnt: I thought it was going to be quick to make, so I only assigned 15 minutes for the job. The hedgehog lay abandoned as guests began to arrive!


2 tins chickpeas (traditionalists will shoot me for using tins!)
4T lemon juice
3 cloves crushed garlic
½ cup tahini

Drain chickpeas and reserve juice. Rinse chickpeas in cold water to remove the skins. Put chickpeas in a bowl with the other ingredients (excluding the juice from the tin) and use a hand-held blender to mix well. Add juice from the tins slowly until you have a creamy consistency. Place in small bowls and pour a little olive oil over the mixture. Decorate with some chopped parsley, extra garlic and green peppers.

Lesson learnt: This is still the best hummus recipe ever – and children love it!

Find some age-appropriate birthday party ideas here.

Donna Cobban