Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How to plan a toddler’s birthday party

Allie turned 2 last week and MJ and I were considering whether we should have a birthday party for her or just a small gathering of the 3 of us plus our dog.  December is a busy month so having a gathering of 3 plus dog with some cupcake definitely sounded attractive, especially since Allie is not yet old enough to be mad or upset about it, so we could definitely get away with it. But then we thought that December will be busy every year and we shouldn’t fall into the habit of not celebrating Allie’s birthday just because we are too busy buying Christmas presents and getting ready for all the other holidays coming up. So we’ve decided to throw Allie a small birthday party and this was the list of things to think about and decisions to make. I'll say right away that we had a pretty modest party, so this may be useful if you plan on somthing similar.
Location
We’ve looked into renting a space and I did an extensive google search in our area to see what was available. Things didn’t look so good, because it was either too late (we had started thinking about the party about 3 weeks before it happened), too expensive or too inconvenient time wise (with the nap schedule of most toddlers this age). So the decision was easy enough to make: party at home.
Guests
The decision to have a party at home automatically brought up another issue: whom we were going to invite. We would’ve loved to invite out child-less friends who know and love Allie and it was also very important to have kids over so Allie could play with them. Friends with kids plus friends without kids added up into a pretty major company that our small house would not be too comfortable for, therefore we made a decision to invite only kids (and their parents, of course).  We ended up inviting 9 kids, not really knowing if they’d be accompanied by just one or both parents.  That number seemed reasonable, as it almost never happens that everyone ends up showing up, so we expected about 20, maybe 25 guests in total.  We ended up having 15 guests in total. Perfect!
Invitations
Nice paper invitations sent by mail are great. But we just went with a free and quick Facebook invite. So easy! You just create an event on Facebook and invite whomever you want. You indicate the details you want on the invite: time, length, RSVP option, etc. It worked great and made it easy to track our guest count.
Time and length
Time of the party was easiest of all to decide. The options were either before or after nap, and we went with the after nap option, since that way we had the entire morning to get ready. From what I hear most 2 year olds have a pretty similar nap schedule), so 2:30 pm seemed like the perfect time.  For length, all the sources I found online had similar suggestions, that an hour – hour and a half is an appropriate length of the party for toddlers.  We weren’t exactly going to kick people out after a certain time, we just figured that as long as kids were having fun, we’d be happy. But it was funny that an hour and a half was exactly how long it ended up lasting.  The Internet was right! :)
Food
My first impulse was to order pizza and be done. But my Russian soul  could not make a piece with that. I’ve decided that I’m going to cook. But the food had to satisfy a few criteria:
-kids need to like it
-adults need to like it
-it needs to be easy and quick and inexpensive to cook
-it can be eaten without any silverware and even without sitting down
-while eaten by kids “on-the-go” around our house, it shouldn’t be messy to eat and has little chance to be dropped
-tasty
I was so lucky that my mom visited the week of Allie’s birthday party! She helped me with all the cooking, so not only cooking became less stressful, but we also had so much fun hanging out in the kitchen together for the entire morning!
Here is what we ended up having:
-Veggie platter with a White Bean Dip. Cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, celery and carrots and the bean dip could not have been easier to make: in the food processor I threw 2 cans of cannelloni beans, the herbs that I had on hand (chives, parsley, dill and some mint), a bit of lemon zest, a clove of grated garlic and some olive oil; processed it all for a minute. Done! Delicious and healthy for kids.
-Pigs in a blanket. That was my new discovery. I am going to make them for every single occasion from now on. So easy and so popular! You just buy those teeny little hot dog, wrap them into strips of store bough crescent rolls dough and bake for 10-15 minutes. You can serve them with some fancy store-bough mustard  but I actually whipped up a batch of homemade ketchup.
-Little pizzas cut into bite size pieces. That was also super easy. I bought pre-baked crusts and just slathered some tomato sauce on them,  added some mozzarella on top and pepperoni on 50% of my pizzas. So I ended up with 2 kinds of pizzas: cheese and pepperoni.  I put them in the oven when the guests started to arrive, so I had hot pizza in just a few minutes.  Just remember to cut them into small pieces for the kids.
-Crepes with different filling were the star of the show. My mom was completely in charge of that and all the compliments go to her. Thank you mama! It took her a while to bake all the crepes before the filling went in, but if you want to have them as your “star”, you can just buy crepes and only take care of the filling at home (of course, they won’t be as good as my mom’s, but still… good alternative). For filling my mom did three fillings: one was cut up boiled eggs, second was sauteed mushrooms and third was herbed cream cheese. Wrap the filling in the crepe and then slice it into bite size pieces.
-Cupcakes. Of course you have to have some kind of cake for a birthday party. I made carrot cupcakes, so everyone had their individual cake and the fact that they had carrots in them somehow made it better for kids in my head. There are million of recipes for carrot cupcakes, I made this one by Martha Stewart. Delicious!
For drinks we had:
-juice boxes for kids
-red and white wine for adults
-Ginger-ale
-Warm apple cider with spices going in a slow cooker and a bottle of spice rum next to it. Alcohol free for kids and with some rum for adults.
Remember to have on the table:
-Sippy cups for kids
-Paper plates
-napkins
-plastic forks
unfortunately I only remembered about needing to take pictures at the end... But this is a little piece.

Activities
There are some really cool activities that I found on the internet, and I think next year Allie and her friends will be ready for them, but at 2, here is what we did: 

  • We had a kid’s radio playing on Pandora in case anyone felt like dancing and Allie did dance for a little bit, but a dance party that I had in mind didn’t really happen (perhaps too young?). 
  • We also placed a bunch of white paper and crayons all around the party areas, so a couple kids colored and drew. 
  • We put out the toys that would be fun to play: bowling with stuffed toys; a little Melissa and Doug house with people, a few balls, a few balloons. Kids seemed to have a lot of fun with those.
I considered playdough, but I am glad I changed my mind. I think the cleanup would’ve been a lot longer and harder.

Decorations

Balloons worked great! They also doubled as entertainment, kids loved playing with them. I also bought this gorgeous Happy Birthday sign, but I am yet to find where I put it, needless to say it never got hung up  on time for the party. We also got party hats and blowers, they were fun and festive to have around.

Party favors

Girls got bracelets and boys got soccer or baseball or basketball balls. Thank you Target!

I'd say Allie's 2nd Birthday party was a great success: she had fun and got great presents and MJ and I enjoyed having fun friends over and loved seeing kids play together.

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