Special Guest Post by Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition Want to know the biggest mistake parents make with kids’ party food? Assuming that children actually care that much about party food. Yes, kids expect cake. But mostly they’re just excited about letting loose with their friends and jumping in the inflatable bounce house in your backyard or dancing around to silly music. So by all means, serve cake and ice cream. But skip the junk and go fresh and healthy with everything else. After all, you’ve got a captive crowd. And if you serve real food, parents may actually stick around—which means more hands to help. At a recent birthday party my son attended, the host served baked chicken fingers with apricot dipping sauce, homemade pizza cut into bite-sized pieces, fresh vegetables and hummus, and fruit salad. The kids happily gobbled it up.  Nobody asked “Where are the Cheetos?”

If you’re ambitious enough to serve a meal at your party, older kids might enjoy a build-your-own taco or sandwich wrap bar. If you’re throwing a party in the morning for toddlers or preschoolers, set up a make-your-own yogurt “sundae” bar with fresh fruit and crushed-up whole grain cereal. Or keep it simple with finger sandwiches: PB&J on whole wheat bread cut into party-themed shapes with cookie cutters (be sure to ask about nut allergies first). If you’re sticking with snacks, here are a few ideas:

*Ants on a log: Fill celery sticks with peanut butter and dot with raisins or dried cranberries

*Popcorn: It looks cute in small paper bags (air-popped and stove-popped pack less artificial stuff than microwave popcorn does)

*Fruit kebobs: Thread strawberries, melon balls, and other fruit slices onto wooden skewers

*Cheese cubes: Put them on the ends of pretzel sticks

*Party mix: Combine whole grain cereal , dried fruit, pretzel twists (and whatever else you have in your cupboard) and pour into small paper cups And lastly, don’t send guests home with treat bags full of candy. Kids don’t need the extra junk, and parents don’t need the extra hassle of negotiating all that sugar.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, writes about nutrition for moms and families at Real Mom Nutrition.