I love to entertain. Gathering people together around food and fun to celebrate something makes me all warm inside. Last weekend, that something was my kids’ birthdays.
On the kid birthday party-planning spectrum, I like to think that I land somewhere in the middle. I’m a sucker for a fun theme and color palette and a good-looking food table, but I refuse to spend a lot of money on the event or stress myself out getting it ready. I used to be an event coordinator at a year-round Christian Camp & Retreat Center, so I have some experience with putting together events. That being said, I am not creative. I don’t come up with cute ideas all on my own. That’s what Pinterest is for. Pinterest is my best friend when it comes to planning my kids’ party. But it can also be a pain in my side.
I’ve found that it’s helpful to think of Pinterest as a springboard, and not a standard. Pinterest is a great tool to get your creative juices flowing and see lots of options. It is not good for measuring yourself against realistic expectations. Remember that.
If you don’t have a prior career as an event planner, or you’re not a nerd like me, starting to plan a party can seem like a daunting task. Break it down in to smaller pieces and it will be, at least, manageable, and, at most, enjoyable. It is possible to host an event on a budget and with minimal stress.
Use this Birthday Party Planning Printable Bundle to get you started.
1 – Start with a Goal.
Really? For a kid birthday party, you need a goal?!
It may seem silly, but I believe strongly in the value of “If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you get there?”
Why are you having the party? What do you want to get out of it? Answering these questions before you do anything else takes minimal time, and it gives you something to come back to when you’re going overboard, stressing out, or spending too much money.
P.S. If you’re goal is to plan the most beautiful party on Pinterest or to get the most likes on Facebook, I’d suggest that you seriously consider if your child’s birthday is the best vehicle for achieving that purpose.
The goal for our kids’ party is that it be a time for our kids to be celebrated. We want them to be surrounded by people who love them and reminded of how fortunate they are to have this tribe in their lives. It is also our goal to have fun. ALL of us. We want our kids to enjoy themselves, but we also want to have fun ourselves and we want our guests (kids and adults) to enjoy their time as well.
Their party is not about an opportunity to get stuff.
My mom did a great job when I was a kid making my birthday special. I loved my birthday. But I didn’t love it because I got toys. We didn’t have very much money and my mom couldn’t afford much, so the toys were secondary. I don’t remember a lot of specifics of birthdays or parties. But I remember looking forward to my birthday and loving my parties. Because I felt loved and special. That’s what has stuck with me all these years later. And I want my kids to have that too.
Party Planning Tip: If coming up with a goal for a kid party seems lofty, just think about what you want your kids to say about this event in ten or twenty years. That’s your goal.
2 – Choose a Theme, Date & Guest List
Now you get to the fun part. Our kids’ birthdays are six weeks apart and after having two identical parties six weeks apart last year, I decided to do one party for both of them this year. My daughter turned 4 on September 2nd and my son will be 2 on October 19th. That meant finding a gender-neutral theme for a two and four year-old and finding a date between their two birthdays. We scheduled the party at the end of September, and went with a pumpkin/fall theme. The guest list included family, godparents, close friends and a few of my daughter’s friends from pre-school.
Once you have a date and a theme, and you know how many people for which you are planning, you can go one of two ways. If you’re independently creative, start brainstorming ideas relating to your theme. If you’re like me, type “pumpkin birthday party” into the search bar on Pinterest and get excited at the possibilities.
Notice that I didn’t say “feel obligated to do everything you see” or “feel inferior because of the way others have done similar parties”. The moment either of those feeling creep up on you, walk away. And go back to your goal.
As I browse through ideas on Pinterest, I ask myself these two questions:
1) Can I do this cheap?
2) Will this take me a lot of time?
If the first answer is yes and the second is no, then I Pin it and move on to the next great idea.
There are lots of cute ideas that get passed over. And, again, go back to your goal.
Party Planning Tip: Make your Pinterest board private so that your friends don’t see your ideas until party day.
3 – Pick Food
Some themes lend themselves easily to a pre-determined menu, others do not. Time of day will also factor greatly in this decision. Our party was in the morning, so we had breakfast foods and doughnuts. Because our family loves any excuse to have doughnuts.
We also had some other “theme” foods, like rice krispies treats labeled as hay bales.
Pinterst, again, is a great resource for this. But as you’re looking at the food, ask yourself the same two questions. Also, ask yourself if it’s food that people will actually eat. Because, if not, then you’re just wasting.
One thing I like to do is to find creative, theme-oriented ways to serve the food. I found this picture on Pinterest, and loved the idea.
I knew we’d serve fruit in some way, and this would look super cute on the table. For a few reasons, I decided not to stick the skewers in a pumpkin, but put some candy corn in the bottom of mason jars and put the skewers in there. Fruit in a bowl or fruit on skewers in decorated containers tastes the same, but little details like that can be really fun.
Again, remember to check yourself as you go through this process for when you’re having fun and when it becomes stressful. No kid’s birthday party should be a reason for you to worry, stress or lose sleep. If it’s not worth it to you to skewer fruit, put it in a bowl and call it good.
Party Planning Tip: When considering what food to serve, in addition to time of day, also consider ages of guests and have something for each demographic.
I knew that we’d have a few little kids there, so I wanted to make sure to have something for them too. The good folks at GoGo squeeZ sent me their new seasonal applesauce blend, Apple Pumpkin Spice. Those paired with Go-Gurts were the perfect option for littles.
Once you decide on a menu, write out all of the ingredients needed for each menu item, along with where to purchase ingredients and a serving piece for each item. If you will be serving food in more than one location, also write at which location each item will be served.
4 – Decor
This is where I start to feel inferior. Decorations is so not my jam. I like pretty things and I like coordinating everything, but the separation between seeing what I like and knowing how to create that on my own is massive.
And I’m lazy.
I have zero desire to spend a lot of time on menial tasks; partially because I know myself and I know that taking the time to do those things will cause me to be stressed. But there should be some cuteness. It’s a kid birthday party for pete’s sake. So, I find that balance. At my daughter’s first birthday party, my sister-in-law made a photo collage of my daughter’s first year in the shape of a 1. A dear friend who is blessed with the gift of artistic-ness created the cutest chalkboard with all of her first year milestones. We’ve continued doing that each year, so those are always my starting points.
My sister-in-law still makes the photo collages, but she jokes that I’m going to have to find someone else to do it before my daughter turns 8 because she refuses to do that one.
*By the looks of this picture, we’re celebrating someone’s 42nd birthday. In hindsight, I should have separated the numbers a little bit more. Live and learn.
I found a bunch of cute milestone prints that I could purchase on Etsy, but I didn’t want to spend that kind of money and there were parts of each one that I wanted to change. So I put on my creativity shoes and designed their milestone images using a computer design program. Then I had them printed at Staples.
One reason that I love a cute food table is that it can double for decorations. When your table looks good, you can do less decorating, and I am all about that. Make the food multi-task.
When deciding on decor, I err on the side of using what we have. This is one area where you can so easily get out of control in the spending category.
Because we were doing a pumpkin theme, the color scheme for the event was set to be orange and green. Naturally, I wanted to get orange and green tableware because cuuuuuute. However, we had plenty of navy and yellow tableware that I stocked up on when Target was clearancing them out years ago, so the color scheme became yellow, navy, orange and green. And I didn’t have to buy plates, napkins, silverware, tablecloths or banners. Score!
The party was in our backyard and the best way to get there was to walk through our garage, so we needed something to direct people that way. I made a sign on the kids’ easel and stuck in the driveway. I moved the mums from my front door to next to the easel, and now it’s cute. Easy peasy.
After finalizing decor pieces, think through what needs to be purchased and what tasks need to be done to make those decorations come to fruition. Write in stores for all need-to-be-purchased items and locations for each decoration. If you think through these details ahead of time, you will thank yourself when you’re shopping and even more so on the day of when you are setting up.
Party Planning Tip: The fewer decisions you have to make the day of the party directly correlates to your ability to enjoy the event. If you are stressed and feeling overwhelmed getting everything ready, it can be hard to turn that off and unwind, which can make enjoying this shindig hard.
There you have it. A goal, theme, guest list, food & decorations. This is going to be a great party! Next week, I’ll lay out tips for planning party activities, favor, shopping and set up.