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

Fun and Easy Birthday Party Themes

When you've got a little one, every birthday is big. But when it comes to celebrating, less is more. Time-consuming themes and elaborate menus may make you too stressed to savor the day.

Here are three themes that are surprisingly easy to pull off. That way, you can spend the day enjoying your child -- and all of his adoring fans.

The cake: Make a vanilla cake using 1 1/2 boxes of cake mix (or 1 1/2 batches of your favorite recipe). Pour mixture into a well-greased, well-floured 8- or 9-inch stainless steel oven-safe mixing bowl. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour and 15 minutes (or until the toothpick comes out clean). When the cake is done, let it cool for 20 minutes before removing it from the bowl by turning the bowl upside down and gently patting it.

Section the cake into sixths by piercing toothpicks through strands of yarn and inserting them into the top of the cake to make the boundaries clear. Divide a batch of vanilla frosting into three portions to dye different colors with food coloring. Use a small, narrow spatula and spread frosting in long downward strokes (the frosting will be easier to spread if you add a bit of hot water) in alternating sixths of the cake. Put a white gumdrop on top.

Party favor ideas: Set each kid's place with a beach bucket and shovel, with or without treats stuffed inside.

Extra touches: Spread beach towels over the back of guests' chairs for a surfside effect. Use plastic plates and glasses in primary colors.

Great advice: If your child is turning 1, the party is basically for the grown-ups. The challenge is to make sure your baby has a good time, too. She might be overwhelmed by a big crowd, be uninterested in presents (babies like the boxes and wrapping paper best), and act clingy. Don't be embarrassed if she wants to take a nap in the middle of her party.

The "cake": As an alternative to cake, this party has a quilt made up of cookies! It's easy for you to bake and decorate and easy for guests to grab and eat. Make or buy one batch of sugar cookie dough and roll it thin. (Crispy cookies are easier to decorate.) Cut into 2-inch squares. After baking the cookies, frost in different colors, then decorate each square with sprinkles, stars, mini M&Ms, or whatever else you like. (Keep in mind that round hard candies pose a choking hazard for kids under 4.) You can also use decorator icing and devote a few squares to your child's age, birth date, or a special message. Set up all the cookies in a big square -- it'll look like a quilt.

Party favor ideas: Give the kids sets of old-fashioned building blocks.

Extra touch: Pass around a memory book for guests to write down their wishes for baby.

Great advice: Time the party to take place around 11:00 a.m., after your baby's morning nap. Serve bagels, muffins, and juice; brew tea and coffee, and then unveil a simple treat like these cookies -- the food takes no time to prepare, the kids will be at their best, and you'll have the rest of the day to recover.

The cake: Cupcakes are a great simplifier because they're so easy to serve: no cutting or forks required. Create animal faces on iced cupcakes by using shredded coconut, mini M&Ms, cereal, wafers, chocolate chips, licorice, or whatever else you can think of. Improvise with whatever you like, but remember, small hard candies are a choking danger for the under-4 set.

Party favor ideas: Give each child a new Beanie Baby or inexpensive set of plastic animals, plus a box of animal crackers.

Extra touch: Serve sandwiches cut in the shapes of different animals with cookie cutters.

Great advice: There are two schools of thought when deciding how long the party should be. One is to limit it to an hour or two, the maximum amount of time a child can go without getting seriously overstimulated or needing a nap. The other is to have an open house, where guests can come and go throughout an afternoon, with no set time for cake cutting or presents. This allows other parents to arrive when their kids are fresh and stay as long as they can, though your birthday child will have to drop in and out.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.