PARENTING : Filling a Craving for Sugarless Fun : Karen Kelly, a mother of two, runs a Van Nuys company that specializes in natural party food for children and adults.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Robin May Olson is a North Hills writer

Barbara Levine of Tarzana wanted to give her son Jason a first birthday party with all the sweet trimmings, but there was one problem--Jason had a bad reaction to sugar.

Still, she threw a Mad Hatter Tea Party, complete with a table set with crystal and china and a big teapot full of apple juice "tea." There was a big clock, balloons, confetti, streamers, original songs and music, and a dress-up trunk. Cinderella entertained as 30 guests ate whole-wheat finger sandwiches and cake made with natural sweeteners, all courtesy of Sugar Free Fun, a Van Nuys company that specializes in natural food at parties for children and adults.

"It was really fun to have such a pretty party that was also healthy," Levine said. "The kids loved it and my son was happy because he could actually eat the cake." Levine, 41, also hired Sugar Free Fun to cater her last two birthdays. "Karen really finds out what you want and goes a step beyond. I also felt that for the quality she was less expensive," she said.

Sugar Free Fun's sugarless menus sprang from the mind of Karen Kelly, 33, a mother of two who started the company in 1988.

She was working at a restaurant that specialized in sugar-free, low-sodium spa cuisine when she thought up the concept of a party service for kids that specializes in natural food.

Kelly works on the menus with her chef and partner Larry Douglas, 35, who has been in the catering business 16 years.

Their goodies--just about any confection you could want--use no refined sweeteners and nothing artificial. Only sweeteners such as fruit juices, honey and brown-rice syrup are used in the recipes she develops working with a chef. (Cakes without eggs or dairy products are also available.)

Sugar Free Fun's children's parties include setup, serving and cleanup, table decorations, balloons, paper goods, dress-up trunk, name tags, games and activities. The costumed characters that can appear include Alice in Wonderland, musical mermaids, unicorns and dinosaurs.

April Sasaki, 27, of West Los Angeles, mother of Max, 2, had Sugar Free Fun cater Max's first birthday party, and she liked it so much that she had them back to cater his second, at the Santa Monica Carousel. It included an ice sculpture and carts for pizza, fruit and vegetables, drinks and ice cream.

"The kids thought it was Disneyland. I liked working with Karen because she doesn't try to take over. Sher is very professional and very easy to work with," she said.

Perhaps the biggest compliment of all? Sasaki will use Sugar Free Fun to cater a grown-up event in the fall--her wedding.

Where to Go

What: Sugar Free Fun, caterer for child and adult gatherings from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

Price: $55 for one-quarter sheet sugar-free cake; $275 minimum full-party package for a two-hour, 15-child party.

Call: Sugar Free Fun can be reached by telephone only. Call (818) 786-1919 or (213) 385-6202. Brochures available on request.

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