While healthy food is on the day-to-day menu, there is no reason why that all-important first birthday and other special events can’t provide an opportunity for a few treats. And with some tricks up your sleeve, you can provide party fare that is nutritious and delicious!

Q: What are appropriate foods for my baby’s first birthday party?
A: The problem with birthday parties is that you have OPC there, too. What are they? Other People’s Children! Some parents are fastidious about what their children eat and will expect you to serve entirely healthy fare. I’m in two minds about this. I do think that it is possible to serve healthy, delicious treats, but I also think that birthday parties and other celebrations should be treated slightly more leniently. There must always be times when we can break the rules and get a good, big sugar rush!

You can create healthy party treats by using a little imagination, and if you present it well, you will make it that much more fun. Think about individual jars of apricot and apple purée; tiny sandwiches; mini-muffins with a little chocolate; chunks of cheese and grape halves; tiny pizzas on pita bread, mini-bagels or English muffins; chunks of pretty fruits and vegetables with dips; little containers of yogurt; and then a resoundingly delicious cake and some fresh fruit topping to finish it all off. There is no need for any of these to be considered “unhealthy.” They are fun, child friendly, and are packed with nutrients as well.

Q: Do I need to provide allergen-free foods?
A: This is a tricky one. Most allergy specialists are not in favor of “nut-free” schools and events, because they believe that children with allergies are lulled into a false sense of security and believe that everything they eat is safe, when it may well not be the case.

I think it’s fair to ask if a child has allergies and to cater for this as much as possible (fresh fruits and vegetables will, for example, rarely present a problem, nor will jelly or purées). But if you take on the responsibility for supplying an allergic child with food, you also set yourself up if there are problems. You can, therefore, suggest a few non-allergenic options, but also ask that the parents bring along their own “safe” food as well. Most parents of children who have allergies will not only advise you of the situation, but usually also offer to bring along their own food.

Q: Is there a healthy way to make jelly and cake?
A: Jelly can be made with fresh fruit juice, with fruit pieces added for extra nutrition. Smaller guests may struggle, so it might be easier to add half puréed fruit, and half water, to prevent difficulties. You can use whole wheat flour for cakes (although look carefully at the recipe, as substitutions don’t always work!)

Try baking a cake with fresh wholesome ingredients, packed with fruit, or even vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, or zucchini. For a real surprise that will delight guests of all ages, see the Ice cream birthday cake.

Q: Are babies too young for sweets and other treats?
A: If you plan to offer some cake and ice cream as well as other sweet options on the birthday menu, there is no need to offer anything else. One-year-olds are too young for sweets as such, and do not need the extra sugar, as your party feast will provide plenty, in much healthier forms. Most babies of this age will not have been introduced to sweets, and they simply won’t miss them.
Q: Is it OK to serve fruit juice?
A: At your child’s first birthday party, the little ones will probably be having all sorts of different treats and may well be very thirsty. Water is best, perhaps offer it in small bottles. A little heavily diluted juice is OK, but don’t be tempted to offer anything sweeter. The food is what counts, and keeping the babies hydrated with healthy, fresh water or diluted juice will make it more enjoyable for all.
Q: Are there some easy ideas for serving adults?
A: For the first few years, adults do accompany their little ones to birthday parties, so it does make sense to offer something. Some crudités with dip; pita bread with hummus; chicken skewers with peanut sauce (if there are no nut allergies you are aware of); mini-tarts, or just a platter of delicious cheese with fresh bread, grapes, and ripe tomatoes is perfect.

Did you know…

that there are lots of great finger foods you can prepare that are festive and appropriate for babies? Tiny sandwiches are always a good idea, as are breadsticks, little servings of hummus, lightly steamed vegetable crudités, chunks of cheese, toast fingers with jelly, and fresh fruit. Raisins, sultanas, and dried apricots are also usually appealing, but it’s a nice idea to lightly steam them so they are soft and plump for the less confident chewers.

Ice Cream Birthday Cake

The first birthday party can be a bit of a challenge—expectations will be high. I like to surprise people by serving an ice cream cake rather than a more traditional birthday cake. Your guests will be delighted, and it can be made a couple of weeks in advance.

30 minutes (plus 30 minutes softening)


Cuts into 12–14 portions


  • 2 quarts (4 pints) good-quality vanilla ice cream or vanilla yogurt, softened in the refrigerator for 30 minutes

  • 1 pint raspberry sorbet, softened in the refrigerator for 30 minutes

Raspberry sauce

  • 1lb fresh, or frozen and thawed, raspberries (about 4 cups)

  • 1/2 cup good-quality raspberry jam, or to taste

  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice

  1. Put a 9in springform cake pan in the freezer to chill. Spread half of the ice cream over the bottom of the pan and press down to level. Freeze for 10 minutes to firm up a little, then spread a layer of sorbet over the ice cream, pressing level again. Freeze for 10 minutes, then top with a level layer of the remaining ice cream. Wrap the pan tightly in foil and freeze overnight, or until needed.

  2. To make the sauce, purée the raspberries with the jam and lemon juice. Strain to remove any seeds, then cover and chill (can be made a day ahead).

  3. About 45 minutes to 1 hour before serving, transfer the cake to the refrigerator, so it can soften slightly. Undo the spring clips on the side of the pan, lift off the side, and transfer the cake to a plate. Use a large, sharp knife to cut slices, dipping it in very hot water between each slice. Serve with the raspberry sauce spooned over the top.


Substitute strawberry ice cream for the vanilla ice cream or yogurt, and serve with a warm white chocolate sauce made by melting 8oz white chocolate with 1 cup heavy cream.

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