How can I throw my child a birthday party without spending a lot of money on food?

Real Mom Problem

“For my daughter's birthday party, I was thinking of just doing a cake but I should probably do some kind of food. What is an inexpensive way to feed a lot of people”

by 3girl-mom 3girl-mom

Quick Tips

  • 1. Start shopping early so you can buy party items when they're on sale
  • 2. Avoid planning your party to coincide with common meal times
  • 3. State on your invitations if you plan on serving only cake and ice cream so parents won't expect their kids to be fed a meal
  • 4. Make your own snacks and drinks to save on costs
  • 5. Schedule fun activities so guests spend their time playing rather than grazing
  • 6. Consider hosting the party at a facility outside of your home where food will be included in the party costs

Real Mom Solutions

Kid birthday parties can be a lot of work--and a lot of money! Find great tips for keeping food costs down while keeping things fun from our mom expert and the moms of Cafemom!

Laura Wallis Laura Wallis

Our Expert Mom Says...

A fantastic birthday party does not have to mean a big food budget. I can't even tell you how many parties I've taken my own kids to where, in spite of really nice spreads of food laid out for the taking, they consumed absolutely nothing but a juice box and the frosting they licked off of a cupcake. They simply couldn't be bothered to stop having fun long enough to eat. And not only did they survive--they had a blast.

So don't over think it. The key to keeping your menu minimal is scheduling your party at a time when people won't expect a meal, and don't make it overly long. Think after lunch, like 2:00 to 4:00, or even 3 to 4:30. Write the invitation so it's clear that you'll be serving cake and ice cream only. Schedule activities so kids will be busy, not milling around food tables looking to graze. And if your kids are old enough to make it a drop-off party, you don't even need to provide snacks for the grown-ups!

Finally, making things yourself rather than buying it all can be a great way to save. Sure, juice boxes and water bottles are convenient, but big pitchers of punch and jugs of water with cups are budget-friendly alternatives and no one will care either way. Bake cupcakes and avoid a fat bakery bill: even if you're a novice decorator you can make good looking cupcakes. My favorite trick is to use a pastry bag to pipe on the icing rather than spreading it with a spatula. It creates a pretty swirl and is fast! Top with sprinkles and some candles and you're party-ready.

Laura Wallis is a mom of two and a veteran food and lifestyle writer. She was a longtime staffer at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and still pitches in as a freelance editor on "Everyday Food" magazine and special issues, and contributes to a variety of other food, lifestyle, and health publications. She has also contributed to numerous Martha Stewart books, including "American Food" and "Favorite Crafts for Kids."

More Party Savings Tips from Moms

  • earthangel1967

    I did everything for my kids' parties DIY; handmade the cake, the decor, etc. And I shopped around for good prices. I did a lot of themed activities because those cost very little, except for props or such. Most of the time I didn't serve a meal, only cake and ice cream and snacks, and that saved a lot. (I always made sure to not plan the party around a common mealtime and I put on the invitations that it was for cake and ice cream so parents didn't expect everyone to be fed a meal.)

  • holldoll_86

    Here's our menu -- we are keeping it simple. Mini round sandwiches: one tray is $25 and serves 15-25 people, so we will probably get two trays. Chicken nugget tray was $20-25. My sister-in-law is making a goat cheese/pesto spread with toasted bread pieces and spinach/artichoke dip. My mom is making seven-layer dip. Then we'll have the sweet and snack table: goldfish, fruit snacks, sugar cookies, cake pops, chocolate dipped marshmallows, and of course cupcakes (I've been buying a little as I go and the ingredients for all of these were pretty cheap).

  • troubledstepmom

    I had my son and stepdaughter's birthday party at McDonald's and it was less than $100, including my own goody bags. There were about 20 kids including mine and they supplied everything: cake, ice cream, prizes, and food. It was great. The birthday kids even got their own plates to take home. Everyone had a blast.

  • texmexmom

    I would schedule the party for 2:00 pm and put on the invites: Please join us for cake and ice cream! That way you don't have to worry about food, and everyone knows to eat before coming.

  • MommyOverboard

    We had a campout themed birthday party. I served hot dogs on buns, s'mores, and Kool-Aid. I think I might have spent $20.