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!
Another three-part series because this is something that’s on my mind right now 😉
It can feel like there’s a lot of pressure sometimes to host ‘perfect’ events, what with the advent of Pinterest and Instagram and the like. My family is Big on Events, and we can Pinterest party like it’s… uh, 2017. I’ve been involved in plenty of events-coordination that took weeks and even months of planning, and my sisters, mother and I have collaborative Pinterest boards spawning out our ears.
But let’s face it: My life is packed. I don’t have TIME to hold Pinterest events. And honestly? I tried one for my birthday a while ago when I turned 30 and… eh. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was amazing. It’s just that the sheer amount of work coordinating on the day meant I was pretty stuffed by the time the party actually *started*.
Also, many of the “events” I’m doing these days are for kids, and you know what? A three-year-old doesn’t care if you spent six hours on their party or one or twelve. They just love that it’s a party.
But! It is entirely possible to get a party worthy of Pinterest and Instagram WITHOUT going insane, losing your mind, and making you want to stab your eyeballs out by the time the party arrives. All it takes is a little bit of planning…
The first really important step is to figure out which bit of partying you actually enjoy. My middle sister loves decorating. My mum loves cooking. Me? I love the cake. (Okay shush, I can hear your shock and surprise from here :P) So for me, that’s my deal-breaker: everything else I can hack, but the cake needs to be top-notch.
Figure out that one thing that is make-or-break for you as far as an awesome, wow-factor party is concerned. It is having the entire room full of themed decorations? It is an incredible, awe-inspiring cake? It is having every item of food totally in theme? Or is it something else entirely?
2: IDEA KERNEL
Okay, now that you know what’s important to you focus-wise, it’s time to brainstorm some ideas. Chances are you or the person you’re planning for has this bit covered for you: my son requested a Toy Story party for his birthday this year. (Incidentally, “Toy Story” is too big a kernel for a keeping-yourself-sane party, so we narrowed it down further: Buzz was his favourite character, so we’d be having a Buzz focus.)
Last year it was Frozen (which I chose, but he was OBSESSED with it at the time, so he was pretty stoked), and when he turned three I initiated him into our time-honoured family tradition of sitting down with the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Cakes cookbook and letting him pick a cake (no shocks to anyone, he chose the race-car :)).
Recently, I’ve been planning for the baby’s party. Figuring this year was the last year I’d really get to steer the party-theme ship, I decided to do narwhals, because NARWHALS, Y’ALL. However, when we recently discovered that she is totally obsessed with cows, I flipped and now we’re running with cows.
It’s important that you hone in on that one specific thing is that you’re interested in, because it helps when it’s time to…
3A: PLAN (BRAINSTORMING)
While you can totally do this months ahead (and I do because I like to get things sorted during school holidays so term time is less insane), you do run the risk of having to flip if the person’s interest changes (especially with kids). Of course, you can always say, “Tough luck!” Your call 🙂
What you DON’T want to be doing, though, is planning the night before. Har. But with that said, if you use this system you could easily pull off a low-stress, Pinterest-worthy party with only a few hours of planning a week or so ahead, if you can either do everything yourself or have people you can outsource to.
So what exactly do you plan? EVERYTHING, but usually in a specific order.
First of all, hold onto your idea kernel. It’s going to be your guiding light when you come across ideas that are shiny but ultimately distracting.
<– Idea Kernel for the narwhal party
Secondly, brainstorm. I do this on Pinterest because it’s a great way to generate a lot of ideas fast, and you don’t have to do the thinking because you can pretty much be guaranteed that someone out there has already done it for you. Alternatively, you could do image searches on Google; you’ll still get some good results, it’s just more of a pain to try to save them and they might not be as strictly relevant.
So what am I searching for? Anything around my idea kernel. For the Toy Story party I searched ‘Toy Story cakes’, ‘Buzz Lightyear cakes’, ‘Toy Story party’, ‘Toy Story food’, etc. Often on Pinterest you can luck out and find that someone’s helpfully put together some composite images that show the food, the decorations, and the cake all in one; these can be a great place to look for ideas, especially for food.
For the baby’s party, you can see the original Pinterest board here. If you note that the first pins are at the bottom and most recent are at the top, you’ll see the gradual drift in ideas: my idea kernel was narwhals with mermaids in a teal-and-purple colour scheme, so down the bottom of the board are a lot of mermaidy pins with purple and teal colour-schemes. However, as I went along you’ll see that the pins drift towards silver + blue + Arctic. I had this thought that since it was a winter party and narwhals are Arctic I could incorporate that… but because I had my idea kernel, I realised I was drifting away from what I really wanted, and knew it was time to stop brainstorming.
When I was re-brainstorming for the cow party, I knew I’d be looking at a lot of farm party things – but because I knew I wanted to focus specifically on *cows*, I could avoid getting distracted by all the cute general-farm-themed stuff out there, and it literally took 15 minutes to put together a plenty-big-enough board.
How big is ‘plenty big enough’? You know it’s time to stop brainstorming either when you find yourself repeating a lot of ideas, or when you start to drift away from your kernel. You can get a perfectly decent brainstorm done in 10-15 minutes.
So now you’re finished the brainstorming phase of your planning. Tune in next week for the nitty gritty of what you actually need to plan to keep yourself sane 😉 <3