SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)

The Ultimate Birthday Party Planner

ultimate_bday_art

The new trend in birthday parties: simple at-home celebrations with themes tied to your child's interests and classic games just like the ones you played with your friends. For a low-stress event, plan the five major elements of a great kids' party, choosing from the ideas we've gathered here plus tips from celebrity parents. Then savor the sheer joy on your child's face as you host a party she'll always remember.

The Invitations

Postcards With Punch Easy to address and fun to receive, a postcard invitation announces the theme or lets your child show off his artistic ability. For a swimming party, choose vintage beach postcards; for an art party, pick paintings from a local museum or let your child draw pictures on blank postcards; for a sports party, send postcards of a local stadium or blank cards decorated with sports stickers. A personalized alternative: Glue a photo of the birthday child to the back of a postcard.

Lucky Charms Build excitement by adding a tiny trinket to the invitation: a seashell for a beach party, a rubber animal for a zoo or nature party, a packet of seeds for a garden party, or a button, pin, or fabric patch that expresses your theme.

Tube Time Guests will love receiving a surprise-filled invitation in a 2" by 12" mailing tube. Send chopsticks for a party featuring Asian food, a kid-size jump rope for an outdoor party, a colorful toothbrush for a slumber party, or a small poster for a sports or music party.

Computer Art The birthday child can help create one-of-a-kind invitations on a computer. Make a personalized certificate or flier that fits the theme, scan in your child's photo and print it in sepia tones or black and white on colorful paper, let your child choose a decorative border and typefaces for a more traditional invitation, or make a photo collage or photomosaic invitation with editing software such as PhotoSuite 4 or Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0.

ultimate_bday_art_pg2

Oh, Baby For the youngest guests, play peekaboo games with mirrors or have a selection of oversize rubber balls on hand to roll. Ask toddlers to bring their favorite doll or stuffed animal for a parade, or set out a puppet theater with hand puppets that won't frighten little ones.

Creative Kids An easy craft is a great icebreaker and provides an extra favor. Kids can use fabric paint to design a T-shirt, tote bag, or pillowcase; make and decorate their own party hats; create a sand-art bottle; or adorn a bucket with stickers and use it in a treasure hunt.

Move It Active games anchor an at-home party, and it's wise to plan several, since kids can tire of an activity quickly. Choose a musical game such as freeze dancing, limbo, a line dance, or (for older kids) karaoke. Plan circle games such as Musical Chairs, Duck Duck Goose, Simon Says, or Pass the Parcel (kids unwrap a layer of paper to reveal a small toy, then pass the parcel to the next player, who removes another layer). Pin the Tail on the Donkey -- or a variation that suits your theme -- delights kids of all ages. And definitely bring out your child's dress-up box filled with items that appeal to both sexes.

Happy Ending Dessert-making keeps kids busy but not frenzied as the event winds down. Four easy variations: Make your own frozen yogurt sundae, frost your own cookie, make your own ice cream sandwich using oversize chocolate wafers or chocolate chip cookies, and decorate your own cupcake.

ultimate_bday_art_pg3

Chicken Nugget Dippers Kids love nuggets, so serve them with four yummy dipping sauces: barbecue, yogurt spice, salsa, and peanutty.

Pasta Bar To serve up to 12 kids, cook a pound of any shape pasta and toss with several tablespoons of olive oil. Place cooked pasta in a large bowl, and offer guests four toppings to choose from: grated Parmesan cheese, basic marinara sauce, grilled or sautéed mixed vegetables, and chicken sesame sauce.

At-Home Pizza Parlor Buy plain cheese pizzas and let kids add toppings of slivered peppers, sliced mushrooms, shredded cooked chicken, or sliced pepperoni. To make your own single-serving pizzas, top pitas or English muffin halves with meatless spaghetti sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese. Place under a broiler until the cheese melts, then let kids add their favorite toppings.

ultimate_bday_art_pg4
Sang An

Bowl Cake This half-circle shape, baked in an ovenproof mixing bowl, lends itself to many themes. For a winter party, decorate it to look like an igloo or snowy slope for figures to ski down; for a sports party, turn it into the top of a baseball, basketball, or soccer ball; for an explorer party, create a half globe; for an outdoor party, place figures on a grassy hill.

Square Cake This is the perfect shape to decorate as a wrapped gift, a house, a Lego block, or a treasure map.

Sheet Cake A rectangular cake provides plenty of room for setting a scene: a track or playing field, a quilt with designs in each square, a flag, or a sandy beach.

Cupcakes Top them with designs that echo the theme, or decorate with faces that look like the party guests'. Arrange them to look like a bouquet of flowers or a bunch of balloons with licorice strings.

Cat Birthday Cake
Cat Birthday Cake
ultimate_bday_art_pg5

Imagination Station Inspire creativity with colored pencils, pastel chalk, a diary or blank book, or modeling clay.

Curiosity Corner Choose seeds and a small flower pot, a theme-related book, a fact-filled place mat, or binoculars.

Great Games Send active kids home with a mini football, Frisbee, yo-yo, or jacks.

Decorative Touches Pick a snow globe with a slot for photos, Chinese parasol or fan, stuffed animal, or Japanese kite.

Makes:
14 to 24 cake slices or 24 cupcakes

Prep Time:
10 minutes

Cooking Time:
8" or 9' squares: 20 to 30 minutes
13" by 9" rectangular cake: 35 to 40 minutes
2-quart ovenproof bowl: 25 to 30 minutes
24 cupcakes: 12 to 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/4 lb. butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup ice water

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Step 1: Spray baking pan(s) with oil; set aside.

Step 2: In a small bowl set over boiling water, melt chocolate. Remove bowl from heat and let chocolate cool for 5 minutes.

Step 3: In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add chocolate and combine.

Step 4: In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add dry ingredients to the first mixture and blend. Add ice water and beat till smooth. Pour batter into the prepared pans.

Step 5: Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool, then frost.

Perfect Frosting In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature, 3 cups confectioners' sugar, 1 Tbs. vanilla extract, 2 Tbs. light corn syrup, and 1 Tbs. milk. For chocolate frosting, substitute 3/4 cup cocoa for 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar.

Nutritional Facts:

Each slice or cupcake (with frosting): 263 calories, 2 g protein, 36 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat (8 g saturated), 1 g fiber, 49 mg cholesterol, 9 mg calcium, 1 mg iron, 172 mg sodium.

Makes:
14 to 24 cake slices or 24 cupcakes

Prep Time:
10 minutes

Cooking Time:
8" or 9' squares: 20 to 30 minutes
13" by 9" rectangular cake: 35 to 40 minutes
2-quart ovenproof bowl: 25 to 30 minutes
24 cupcakes: 12 to 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 1/3 cups buttermilk
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Step 1: Spray baking pan(s) with oil; set aside.

Step 2: In a medium mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Step 3: In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and cream of tartar. In a small bowl, combine buttermilk and vanilla; add to the butter mixture and combine. Add butter mixture to the dry ingredients one third at a time, scraping the bowl frequently.

Step 4: Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool, then frost.

Perfect Frosting In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature, 3 cups confectioners' sugar, 1 Tbs. vanilla extract, 2 Tbs. light corn syrup, and 1 Tbs. milk. For chocolate frosting, substitute 3/4 cup cocoa for 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar.

Nutritional Facts:

Each slice or cupcake (with frosting): 305 calories, 3 g protein, 42 g carbohydrate, 14 g fat (9 g saturated), 1 g fiber, 63 mg cholesterol, 42 mg calcium, 1 mg iron, 27 mg sodium.

Pasta Bar

To serve 10 to 12 kids, cook and drain one pound of pasta in your child's favorite shape, and toss in a large bowl with 2 Tbs. of olive oil. Meanwhile, prepare and set out the following toppings in small bowls:

  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
  • 2 cups grilled or sauteed vegetables, such as zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, mushrooms, and orange, red, and yellow peppers
  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, sautéed for 8 to 10 minutes with 1 cup snow pea pods; thinly slice the chicken after cooking and drizzle store-bought sesame sauce on top of the mixture

Chicken Nugget Dippers

To serve 8 to 10 kids, prepare 48 of your favorite homemade or store-bought chicken nuggets. Meanwhile, prepare and set the following dipping sauces out in small bowls:

  • Salsa (1 cup)
  • Yogurt Spice Sauce (combine 1 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup mango chutney)
  • Peanutty Dip (combine 1/2 cup peanut butter, 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream, and 1 Tbs. maple syrup)
  • Barbecue Sauce (combine 1 cup ketchup, 2 Tbs. cider vinegar, 3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce, 2 tsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. chili powder; microwave on high power for 2 minutes)

Related Articles:
 

Copyright @ 2003. Reprinted with permission from the April 2003 issue of Child Magazine.