What should I make for a toddler's outdoor birthday picnic?
About 20 guests, starting mid morning, at the park with no heat etc. We might be able to have camping burners, but I have to check the rules for the area. I also have a small catering hot box to fit half sheet pans. I'm a fairly creative cook but I'm stumped for ideas on this one!
A few questions:
Do you want to serve more breakfast or lunch type items?
Are you looking for toddler-friendly foods, adult food, or some of both? Some kid's parties don't have many kids in attendance, and it definitely can impact the food! ;)
Any food restrictions (allergies, things your kid hates, etc)
Do you already have the cake/dessert sorted?
Okay I know this isn't creative or "foodie" at all but . . . .
Along with a hot box, don't forget about using thermoses. A beverage thermos filled with boiling water will keep hot dogs hot for hours - filled with boiling beer and onions will keep brats hot for hours. Both very picnic and toddler friendly.
I would go with chicken fingers that can be served hot or chilled, maybe some hot dogs, a nice salad for the big kids and whatever kind of cut up raw veggies with dip for the little ones. If the party is for the kids, they probably won't pay too much attention to the food. The salad and veggies can be chilled in coolers and the hot box should be able to handle the rest.
All of the below can be as simple or gourmet as you like.
Finger sandwiches -- kids might like PBJ (check on allergies), cheese, turkey; get fancier for the adults -- cucumber, salmon, pimento cheese. Mini or quartered bagels with toppings.
Fruit, crudite and dip, relish tray, Goldfish crackers, popcorn, chips, hot dogs and brats on the grill or pigs in blankets
Cupcakes. Don't forget a lighter for the birthday candles!
mostly toddlers, or mostly adults? more of a brunch or more of a lunch? are you someplace where the temperatures are moderate or someplace where guests will be bundled up and wanting hot food? i'm in the north...
quiche (without or without crust) can be baked with all sorts of fillings and is fine room temp. can also be baked in casserole dishes and cut small or baked in mini-muffin tins for small hands.
use cocktail bread for small sandwiches-- ham and swiss, turkey and cheddar, hummus, avocado and cucumber, almond butter and raspberry jam.
muffins and good croissants with excellent butter and good jam
sausage and peppers can be heated in the morning and transported warm -- that's also good room temp. cut the sausage small for kids
fill some wide-mouth thermoses with chicken/corn chowder, tomato bisque, or chili. cornbread on the side.
pulled pork can be brought warm and then set up on disposable racks with sterno. same with baked ziti
i don't like bowls of snacks with little kids around -- too many dirty hands getting in there. but you can make popcorn balls and chocolate covered pretzels.
any fruit in-season for you?
cookies, brownies, blondies.
If there are any grills available for use OR you have one you could bring, I'd go with grilling hotdogs, mini hamburgers and whatever else you could put on a grill. Whole hot dogs could be cut in half for the little ones. Set up disposable pans with sternos to keep warm. Sides of pasta salad & platters of fruit and maybe roasted veggies with dip are both easy and kid/adult friendly. JMO, I wouldn't use beer in anything for kids
You're in LA/San Diego so not too cold just now, right? Look at this "lunch on the go for toddlers" thread for some inspiration
For the adults, who will be chasing toddlers, do a variety of salads, including potato salad, sandwiches, maybe "hand pies" for all (Calzones for main, two-bite apple pies for dessert)
I would tend to serve things that are best eaten with your hands and served at room temp. I like all kinds of focaccia or sheet pan pizza, sandwiches(these can be simple to wildly creative), fried chicken. If you don't mind packing cutlery, You could make up some salads and package them up in Chinese take out containers. How about frittata's, stratus or quiches? There are so many wonderful options. Can you let us know more about what you are thinking?