Catch up on part 1 of this series here! (I totally accidentally typed ‘catch up on party 1’ the first time. HA.)
3B: PLANNING PART 2 – The Specifics
Now it’s time for the specifics. I like to do two things: a menu, and a quick decorations sketch. You can see my decoration sketch for the narwhal party here, and below is my sketch for the cow party. I didn’t do one for the Toy Story party because it was down at the local park – the only decorations I had were labels for the food/drinks (I had actually bought paper plates and cups on sale the year before in preparation, but they are lost somewhere in the depths of Mount Doom* and so I just used lime green ones on the day :P). And for the Frozen party there were literally no decorations except table scatters** and Frozen-themes paper cups 😛 😀
* Where ‘Mount Doom’ = the giant, towering pile of boxes from our last house that we don’t have room to unpack.
** Mixed sequins and assorted shapes available in hundreds of shapes and colours. These ones had silver and blue snowflakes and then cardboard discs with Anna and Elsa on them.
Unless decorations are your FOCUS item (and honestly, even if they are), this is where things can spiral out of control and stress you out. The internet has SO many great ideas that look AMAZING – but let’s be honest: most of them look amazing because the person either paid a fortune for them, or spent years of their life on them. Having planned five kids’ parties of my own now and been involved in a host of others, my rule of thumb is that magic number THREE, as in you only really need THREE key decorations to bring things together.
If decorations are your focus item, you might want to decorate the whole room, but for the rest of us, honestly? Just decorate the table. Make one corner of the room special, and you can pretty much ignore the rest, or just fill it with balloons and/or streamers in your theme colours. From my two sketches, you can see my three key items: a backdrop on the wall behind the table, a decorative item on the table to give height and drama, and then small decorations across the front of the table.
Narwhal party: “snowflakes” as the backdrop, silver branches with sea stars on the right back of the table for height/drama/wow factor, and a couple of jellyfish across the front.
Cow party: tied-fabric-strip garland across the back as the backdrop, naked branches for height/drama, and a cow garland across the front of the table.
I made the cow garland the other night (pictures here) and it took a grand total of 30 mins while I was watching TV, and even then only because the cutting out was fiddly. Pro tips here: see how the image I chose has a nice, thick, black border around it? That’s wriggle room for cutting so you don’t have to be so careful about cutting *exactly right*. Further pro tips? If you look closely at some of the cows, you’ll see how neatly I did NOT cut them out, but literally no one is going to notice this except you, because they’ll be focused on the food on the table. On the flip side, a lot more people will notice if you lose your sanity 😉 🙂 😀
Which brings us to the second half of the specifics planning: food. First, BEFORE you plan the menu, figure out:
- how many people you’re feeding,
- how much time you have to cook, and
- how many people you have to help you cook.
The Toy Story party had a more extensive menu because my amazing mum volunteered (okay I begged and pleaded just a little) to make like 20 pizzas for it. The baby’s parties, both this year and last year? Soup. Soup and bread, because I am cooking and it’s mid-winter and even these ‘family-only’ parties are about 25 people and soup is QUICK and EASY, and easy to scale up.
Even the pizza for the Toy Story party was comparatively easy, because Mum could make them way ahead and freeze them. You do NOT want to be stuck doing major food prep on the day of the party, trust me on that one. That is almost a guaranteed way to lose sanity. (Though reheating the pizzas proved more challenging than planned – lesson learned!)
So I tend to opt for one main savoury dish that is quick, easy, can be prepped ahead and is easy to scale up – pizza, soup, etc. Figure you need one main dish like your pizza or soup, and maybe 2-3 accompaniments (though I’ll be honest, all I’m accompanying the soup with is a variety of breads – I guess 2-3 varieties still though, so similar concept?), and the same for dessert: if you’re serving cake, PLEASE serve it as your key dessert, because otherwise you WILL be left with acres and acres of cake that will see you through to the next family birthday! 😀 So, like savouries, figure cake + 2-3 accompaniments.
Which brings you to the only other food-related decision you have to make: to theme or not to theme! Because we’re all about maintaining our sanity here, and because we’re just decorating the table, and because why let something do one job when it could do two, I do tend to theme at least some of my food, because then it counts as extra decorations 😉 But you totally don’t have to, and you don’t have to theme all of it (see: soup).
For the Toy Story party (which, note, I have four accompaniments for each course because I had help with cooking!):
Main savoury: pizza, which becomes Pizza Planet pizza of course.
Accompaniments: “Camouflage salad” (just green-leaf salad with a variety of leaf colours, referring to the army men in the movie), “Slinky Dog pasta” (pasta salad with spiral pasta), “Sheriff badges” (cheesy puff pastry stars – referring to Woody), and “Mr Pricklepants pull-apart garlic bread” (get a loaf of bread, cut it into inch squares but not through the base, douse it in garlic butter, wrap in foil and bake).
Main dessert: Buzz Lightyear-inspired rocket cake
Accompaniments: “Cowgirl trail mix” (with lots of lollies and chocolate, of course, referring to Jessie), “Hamm’s Portraits” (pig-face-shaped meringues), “Green Aliens” (cups of green jelly with three meringue eyeballs on top for the Pizza Planet aliens), and “Potato-head Cupcakes” (DIY cupcake decoration – triple bonus: food, decoration AND an activity for the kids!).
For each of these I just had a little banner on a toothpick with a picture of the character and the name of the food, and voila! That was the decorations for the entire party.
For the narwhal party I wasn’t going to theme at all, because I was literally going to do just soup and bread and cake (I did this last year for her first birthday), but now it’s a cow party I am actually going to do a couple of themed desserts. The main dessert is cake, obviously, but I’m also going to do chocolate mousse cups with pigs of some sort for pigs in mud (if I have lots of time and energy, I’ll pre-make some piggies out of fondant; if I have a moderate amount of time I’ll pipe and bake some pink meringue balls; and if I’m running totally short on time and energy, I’ll just buy some cheap plastic farm pigs from a dollar store, sanitise them, and stick them in the mousse); circular chocolate brownies for ‘cow pats’ (totally gross but Mr 5 will LOVE it); and round sugar cookies with animal faces (the most time-consuming thing I’m doing, but if I play my organisation right the only things I’ll be doing in the two days up to the party will be these cookies and the cake).
Which reminds me, I forgot to talk about the cake! Obviously, the centrepiece of the decoration on the table is your cake! Unless you legitimately have no room for it, using the cake as the decorative centrepiece is one of those double-ups that again just make sense 🙂 Why have a gorgeous cake if you’re not going to display it and put it to good use after all?! You can see how the cake sits as the focus of the table in my sketches above.
So that’s most of your planning done. Next week we’ll look at step 4: The Timeline!