What Is a Great Party Menu for a Casual Birthday Party?

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Just because your child's birthday party is casual doesn't mean the food has to be average. A casual party gives you the freedom to incorporate traditional favorites and introduce a few exotic but unintimidating dishes as well. Don't worry if your hosting experience is limited -- you can throw a fabulously casual birthday party with a delicious menu with just a little creativity and imagination.

Get the Party Started

Get your child's guests sipping and nibbling as soon as they arrive. If it's cold outside, greet them with a cup of hot chocolate. For a summer party, offer pitchers of fresh-squeezed lemonade or fruit punch. Prepare familiar favorites like pigs in a blanket, meatballs, vegetables and chips with creamy dressing or cheese and crackers. If you want to offer more substantial fare, start with mini sandwiches. Wheat bread with cream cheese and strawberry slices, tiny bread slices with deli meat and ranch dressing or mini pita pockets stuffed with peanut butter and jelly will get your guests ready for the main course.

The Main Event

Don't go too far outside your culinary comfort zone when cooking for a casual kid's birthday party. Break out the grill and throw on chicken tenders, burgers and hot dogs. Dress them up with all the basic condiments, plus a few dips, such as honey barbecue or buttermilk ranch dressing.

If you want something a little different for your main course, do a nachos buffet. Tortilla chips are inexpensive and you can offer virtually any toppings, from chili and cheese to creamy salad dressing and olives. Don't forget about pizza -- a few homemade pies are easy to make and to vary.

On the Side

For older kids, prepare a large bowl of salad -- iceberg lettuce or spinach with red onions, croutons, banana peppers and cherry tomatoes with bleu cheese dressing is a popular side dish. For teens with a hearty appetite, try baked potatoes. They're cheap and filling and you can dress them with little more than butter, sour cream and chives. If you want to really wow your ultra-casual guests, make homemade French fries. Slice the potatoes thickly and fry them at the party so they'll be hot and fresh. If you have young guests, use cookie cutters to make the fries more fun. Fresh vegetables are always popular, especially with a few tasty dips.

A Sweet Finish

Sure you'll have birthday cake, but you should also give your guests a little variety. Offer chocolate-cream cheese cupcakes or homemade fruit-filled pastries. If it's a hot one outside, offer your young guests homemade ice pops -- pour fruit juice and chopped fruit pieces into ice pop molds with sticks, and freeze them before the party. If you're sick of cooking, a few bowls of miniature chocolate candies and some ice cream will satisfy your guests' collective sweet tooth.