How to win the children’s party game
HAVING RECENTLY spent a small fortune on Chanucah gifts, our family is now engaged in what can only be described as the birthday party season. Since the end of December we have celebrated my birthday, my eldest grandson’s — and we are about to celebrate those of my younger twin grandchildren and my son. (Thankfully I have time to save up for my daughter’s birthday, in July.)
I don’t mean to be a party pooper but as my grandchildren attend a Jewish school and my son and his wife are observant, I am spending a lot of time hunting for kosher cakes, nibbles and all sorts of celebratory foods to mark these occasions.
We are trying to keep things on a modest scale because many of the birthday parties we have attended seemed to us to be too fussy, too stressful and too expensive.
What’s more, the birthday child and his or her friends sometimes appeared to be overwhelmed by the need to demonstrate that they were enjoying themselves.
Not that we believe spoiling a child for one day of the year is the worst thing in the world. The good news is that the custom of inviting the entire school class to our kids’ parties is something we are very pleased to do.
So how to regale the little partygoers as they gather for their celebration? Keep things simple. In summer, have a birthday party at the park. This makes cleaning up easy and the park provides natural entertainment.
It is often surprising what your child comes up with as suggested party activities. One of my nephews thought it would be the greatest fun to pull up weeds from the flower patch in the front garden. You might not see the appeal of their chosen fun and games. But if the request is reasonable at all, just say yes.
If your child wants to have one best friend around for a sleepover and tuck into viennas and chips for supper, go for it. Even if it is not your idea of a birthday celebration, it is likely to make the child happier than the museum trek you had envisaged.
Perhaps the biggest problem is to ensure there is plenty of kosher nosh on hand. Cream cheese or chocolate spread sandwiches and Israeli snacks such as Bissli and Bamba are always popular, as are Walkers ready salted crisps. And — unexpectedly — many of our young guests who had spent time in Israel were happy to devour vegetable sticks dipped in hummus. Our twins also enjoy handfuls of Israeli olives. With all the nosh, it is important to ensure there is plenty to drink. Fizzy drinks (oh go on, it’s only one day) and Israeli fruit juice will go down a treat.
The birthday cake is often homemade. But if you want to buy something, most kosher bakers can provide a centrepiece to the party. Cake designers at Carmelli of Golders Green, for instance, enjoy the challenge of making a gateau to any specification.
These can include a favourite character, such as Cinderella or Barbie, a football pitch or even an iPod. Our grandchildren have requested Spiderman and Hello Kitty.
Cupcakes also go down well and often have a biblical twist. Chabad, for instance, recommends a cupcake recalling the end of the flood, when Noah and his family were able to exit the ark under a rainbow.
The cupcake, in all the colours of the spectrum, features white frosting and a sprinkling of mini marshmallows around the side.
Goody bags traditionally contain a variety of small sweet things to mollify guests as they wave goodbye. Israeli chocolates, dried fruit, apple crisps and even candy floss, as well as a wide range of other kosher nibbles are available from supermarkets such as Golders Green’s Kosher Kingdom and B Kosher.
Also very popular is the Freddo frog from Cadbury, a small kosherapproved chocolate bar that is perfect for eating by the (suitably fenced) garden pond. It’s in its own little wrapper, so it’s less messy than a sticky lump of birthday cake precariously rolled in a paper serviette.
A simple picnic in the park can be the most fun