One way to encourage our little chefs is to incorporate cooking or baking into a birthday party theme! Here are some ideas on how to do just that:
Preschool Parties: For a young child’s birthday party you can have the kids create their own pizza muffins. My twins attended a birthday party when they were 4 years old, where this was an activity that kept them entertained for a while. Just toast the muffins and put them on parchment paper covered cookie trays, and write each child’s name underneath 2 muffins, lay out the toppings and let them assemble their own pizzas. (make the pizza sauce ahead of time). My kids were at a party where this was an activity when they were about 4 years old and they loved it. For older kids you could get fancier and make real pizza dough ahead of time, or get some from your local pizza shop, and provide lots of topping choices to allow more individuality (any sliced veggies, different cheeses or cooked meats would work).
Cupcakes: When my son was turning 8, we let the children ice and decorate their own cupcakes. Sprinkles, sugar crystals and other assorted decorations were laid out on the table. I worked with my son the day before and we baked from scratch 3 types of cakes and made 3 types of icings. That was some serious work, but the kids loved it. You can’t go back to fake icing and boxed cake mixes once you try doing it from scratch; there is no contest which tastes better. We bought bakery boxes with the see through top at a local craft store (Michaels) and packed them cupcakes to take home as a party favor.
Sugar Cookies: When my son was turning 9, we had the kids cut Halloween themed cutter cookies and held a decorating contest between the party goers with prizes for most creative, most neat and scariest cookie tray! The kids filled a party bag of their cookies as part of their party favors. My younger son loves Star Wars, so one party we had the kids cut out star wars themed cookies and decorate those…you can match the cookie cutters to most seasons or party themes. If the birthday falls in Nov/Dec timeframe you can do holiday cookies or have the kids create individual gingerbread houses!
Tips: Do as much of the prep the day before the party as possible, keep it simpler for the younger ages and expect a bit of a mess afterwards, it is unavoidable.
A birthday tradition I have kept up with almost every year for all three of my kids is to make them their initials in cutter cookies. We make the dough a week or two before the birthday together, decorate them together, then bake them and freeze them for their birthday. I never expect to have time for the activity on the day, so we pick a quiet weekend before the big day for the baking, then as their birthday approaches we can use them for school or church parties or to hand out at the birthday party.
Taking it out of the house: If you don’t want to deal with the set-up and clean-up at home by hosting the party, you can check your local area for cooking/baking party opportunities being offered by small local businesses, and let them do the work. These types of parties work best for grammar school aged children. We found a place in our town which was a small culinary shop that offered kids cooking parties (and also camps). They walked the kids through assembling fresh pasta and sauce and then making a dessert. The kids loved it. Another year we had our twins’ party at an ice cream shop (Maggie Moos) where they learned how the ice cream was made and then were able to do their own mix-ins, creating their own unique flavor combination. A friend of mine hosted a party at a chocolate shop, where the kids learned to make chocolates, another slam dunk party. Most all businesses catering to children have entered the birthday party market these days, so just inquire at your favorite shop and I am sure you will not be disappointed.