Let Them Eat Cake

Am I A Monster For Eating The Pizza At A Kid's Birthday Party?

An etiquette expert reveals whether it’s ever OK to swoop in for kids’ food during festivities.

Written by Elizabeth Narins
Is eating food at kids' birthday parties a faux pas? An etiquette expert weighs in.
Nikola Stojadinovic/Getty Images

While plenty of parents would prefer to skip kids' birthday parties, my husband can't get enough of them: What's not to love about free kids' entertainment and, moreover, free food?! He practically fasts for events to prepare his dad bod for the kill.

It's why the last birthday party invitation our toddler received really threw him for a loop: "Pizza will be served for kids," it read. While I appreciated the extra information — no need to make my kid lunch! — my husband's deep disappointment made me wonder whether it's ever cool for adults to arrive hungry when they are purely onsite to help supervise.

To get the verdict, I asked Dr. Sarah Davis, EED, co-author of Modern Manners for Moms and Dads: Practical Parenting Advice for Sticky Social Situations.

To Nosh or Not to Nosh, That Is The Question

Davis gave me a nuanced answer. Whether or not parents should expect to eat at kids' birthday parties can depend on the birthday boy or girl's age. "With younger children under 3, hosts should plan to feed adult guests," Davis tells me. "After age 3, when hosts begin to invite the whole preschool class, they might not budget to feed adults as well," she projects.

As such, she's on board with stating the party menu right on the invitation. This way, all expectations are set. Whether you're doing lunch at 3 p.m., dinner at 4 p.m., or exclusively serving sweets, it's best to let guests know so parents can plan and feed children appropriately. If the invitation doesn't lay down the law, she says, the rule of thumb is to assume your child will be the only family member who gets fed. (Sorry!)

You can also ask the host what will be served when you RSVP — a good time to share any of your kid's food allergies. While the host isn't obliged to accommodate them, Davis says, a heads up gives you the opportunity to bring an allergy-safe alternative so they don't feel left out.

Extras, FTW

But back to adults eating: The good news, which I relayed to my husband immediately after chatting with Davis, is that excess party food *could* be fair game for us big kids — a classic surprise and delight!

"If someone offers you cake or chicken nuggets, you can accept," she confirms. "But if they don't offer it, it's not appropriate for you to serve yourself," no matter how many of those little pizza slivers or cupcakes are left. Sometimes, the hosts will intentionally over-order to feed birthday party staff, she says. Or, they might have other plans for leftovers, like serving extra cake at a family party. In other words, you're not entitled to a slice of... well, anything.

One exception, she tells me, is eating your kid's scraps. Should your toddler leave their crust or eat the icing off their cake and reject the rest, it's semi-savage but technically fine (read: not rude) to swoop in and clear their plate. Crusts for the win!

BYOS (Bring Your Own Snacks)

If these rules sort of ruin the fun (or are already making you hungry), Davis says it's OK for adults to BYO food. Sure, it's a bit passive-aggressive to sit down for a full fast-casual meal at a kid's birthday party (read: don't do it). But Davis has seen parents procure a protein bar at parties and doesn't consider it problematic.

So, there it is. The food rules you didn't know you needed — and permission to put your money exclusively where your mini-guests' mouths are the next time you host. You're welcome!