Highbrow fare is fine for adults, but what about the kids at the party? They might not be satisfied with that fancy cheese platter and those exotic hors d'oeuvres. Instead, serve up some fun with creative finger foods and bite-sized snacks presented in clever new ways.
"Eating sans utensils can be a lot of fun for kids," says Joy Howard, assistant editor of Disney FamilyFun magazine. "It allows them to try the foods in small portions, so less gets wasted -- and serving familiar foods in unconventional ways makes it more exciting."
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches seem pretty dull until you slice them into triangles and serve them on decorative skewers with banana slices. Suddenly, kids can't wait to dig in.
"You can put just about any sort of food on a stick, whether it's sliced fruit or sandwich fixings," Howard says.
From cheese and veggies to seasonal fruit -- such as pears, grapes and apples -- if you can cube it, chop it or slice it, you can serve it on a toothpick or skewer. Try a stack of lunchmeat, cubed cheese, olives, sliced pickles and grape tomatoes between bread cubes for a creative twist on a classic sandwich.
Be creative, but don't get too complicated.
"When it comes to food, a good rule of thumb is to keep things simple," Howard says. "You don't have to serve what you'd find on a restaurant's kiddie menu, but it's always good not to overdo it with too many ingredients or spices."
It's all in the presentation, and the folks at FamilyFun have endless ideas:
--Convert those boring veggies into must-have munchables with stuffed cucumber cups. Slice an English cucumber into thick rounds; scoop out a well in the center of each piece; and fill with a kid-friendly dip, such as hummus or ranch dressing.
"You can also garnish the cups with scallions, bell peppers or fresh herbs to make it more festive," Howard says.
--Give the classic bagel and cream cheese a festive makeover by transforming it into a frosty snowman. Blend room-temperature cream cheese with a bit of garlic salt and onion powder, and chill the mixture for 2 hours. Form the cream cheese into 2 balls, and stack them snowman-style. Embellish the frosty fellow with a hat made of crackers, raisins for buttons and eyes, a mini carrot nose and arms made of broken pretzel bits. Serve with mini bagels, crackers or bagel chips.
--Serve simple entrees in style with phyllo shells. Available in the grocer's freezer section, these flaky pastry cups offer endless opportunities for fun finger foods. Whether stuffed with chicken and topped with cheese like mini potpies or filled with macaroni and cheese for utensil-free nibbling, the bowl-shaped shells are ideal for little hands.
--You've heard of pigs in blankets? Try a lighter twist on the traditional party fare with pickles in blankets. Spread salami slices with a thin layer of cream cheese; place a gherkin pickle in the center; and roll it up. Cut each roll into thirds, and serve them on toothpicks.
Snacks that kids create themselves also earn rave reviews.
"Setting up a well-stocked station for kids to make their own food will keep them engaged with one another and entertained during your party," Howard says. "They'll also be more inclined to eat something they've made."
One customizable offering that is sure to pique their interest is the make-your-own mini pizza. Start with precooked crusts, and let the kids add their own sauce and choose their own toppings.
How about a decorate-your-own-dessert station?
"You can avoid having to put things in the oven during your event by baking a batch of cupcakes and frosting them ahead of time," Howard says. "The kids can decorate them using candy pieces."
For healthier fare, let them craft their own edible snowmen with bamboo skewers, banana slices, chocolate chips, pretzel sticks and fruit pieces.
"The kids can stack three of the banana slices on a skewer to form the snowman and then use the pretzel sticks for his arms and the chocolate and other fruit to embellish him," Howard says.
Don't forget the drinks. Instead of soda, serve hot chocolate with a twist. Flavor warm milk with vanilla and sugar, and then let the kids garnish their own drinks with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and miniature chocolate chips.
"Classic winter drinks, such as cider and hot chocolate, are always safe bets," Howard says. "You can add a twist to cider by topping it with caramel whipped cream or flavoring it with cinnamon candies."