It’s party time at our house. June is full of birthdays (5), Father’s Day, and end of year activities, not to mention an anniversary. So it seems like there is always a party to have or a party to attend. This weekend there were two parties to attend and one big party to host. We celebrated my youngest son’s birthday with a feast of the Knights of the Oblong Table, complete with scooter jousting, Hippity-Hop Ball duels, and a full fledge battle involving pool noodles and cardboard castles. By the end of the evening, everyone was stuffed with artificially flavored and colored treats, exhausted from hippity-hopping on our hills, filthy from head to toe, and maybe a little sore after the rigors of battle. Good party. I’m just glad it’s over for a few weeks, then on to the annual Fourth of July Barbeque.
Admittedly, it’s very hard to have an organic party. I don’t even try to substitute on the treats. I take the kid-to-be-honored to the store, walk down the snack aisle and let them have at it. But I also served watermelon and cantaloupe balls served in a watermelon half (presentation is everything when you want kids to eat something healthy). The punch was made from organic juices. Carrot sticks and dip, strawberries, and orange slices are other offerings that can tempt the junior palate, especially after a rousing hippity hop battle. My advice to those of you trying to serve healthy food at kids parties is to split the difference. Let them have the snacks they beg for all year long, but counter that with some great looking healthy options. The kids at our feast yesterday pigged out on the watermelon balls. I gave them toothpicks to eat with and they loved it. We served the watermelon, cantaloupe, and carrots before we brought out the chips and pizza. When it comes to getting them to eat healthy, you just need a good plan. It worked because after eating all the fruit, seven kids only made a dent in the Doritos bag. Their bellies were full with fiber rich fruit.
Here’s a couple other ideas for keeping parties kid-friendly, semi-organic, and healthy:
1. Buy a huge set of plastic plates with dividers, bowls, and cups. We bought our sets at Wal-Mart in blue, yellow, pink, and green. They only cost $1 for 10, so we now have service for 80 if necessary and I always have a color to match the theme of whatever party we’re throwing, whether it’s a pink princess party (yellow and pink) or a race car party (blue and green). This weekend my little knight chose blue and yellow as his kingdom’s colors. No one misses the theme decorated paper plates that cost $4.50 for 8. Plus it’s much nicer to eat on plastic than paper. We’ve discovered that we can even wash our plasticware in the dishwasher if we set it on the “fine china” setting and use “energy-saver dry”. I know I’ve saved lots of money on unbought paper goods, plus this is much better for the environment.
2. We did the same thing with utensils. We found cheap utensils again at Wal-Mart at just $1 for eight and bought service for 40 for $5. These utensils also get packed in kids’ lunches when necessary since Mom won’t freak out if they slip up and toss them in the trash barrel.
3. Have your party at home. I know it seems easier to go to Chuck-E-Cheese, but it’s definitely more expensive and much harder to truly celebrate your kid. Sure the big mouse sings to them, but after that the kids are scattered all over celebrating the token-bound games and might not even see your kid until the end when their parent forces them to track you down to say thank you. Consider having a smaller party at your house – there are endless ideas to be found on the internet. Winter birthday can be harder, but get creative and keep the numbers down. No one needs that many presents anyway. Or ask a relative with a bigger house to host the party. Just like presents - it's the thought that counts. You don't need to blow the bank on a birthday party for a six year old. Keep it simple and get creative.
4. You don’t need prizes. I have never given prizes at birthday parties and kids don’t miss them. It’s just fun to play the games. We almost always have a piñata so they go home with candy no matter what. Prizes seem to make one kid happy, but other kids sad. Best to skip the cost and stress altogether.
5. Give a real gift instead of a goodie bag full of junk. In the end you spend nearly $4 or $5 on each bag of junk, so instead of a bag full of made-in-China plastic crap, pick out something nice the kids can take home. We’ve given away Beach Balls (let all the kids sign them), shovel and pail (decorate the pail), Flashlights (bonfire party), and this time – pool noodles (after being utilized as swords). None of those gifts cost more than $2 or $3, so I saved money and the kids had something useful to take home. If you need an idea, go to the dollar store – you’ll find something.
6. The younger the kids are the more planned activities you need. Once they get older (say 7), you need to build in some free play too, but when they are young remember the best defense is a good offense and have a plan with more activities than you think you’ll need. There are a lot of people with too much time on their hands posting a gazillion birthday party ideas, games, cakes, and themes on line. Just google "kids birthday party ideas" - you'll find more than you need (and be amazed and grateful that people actually post this stuff!).
7. Take a picture of each guest (actually take 2 or 3 because someone’s always got their eyes closed or their finger up their nose) and use the picture to make a thank you note. I take random pictures throughout the party, plus the classic pony ride picture, but then when it’s time to open presents I sit the giver next to the birthday boy and take a picture of them together as the present is opened. Not only does it give me another potential picture for the thank you note, it also gives me a record of what each kid gave the birthday boy which is critical information when writing thank you notes.
8. Now this one might make you groan, but hear me out. Bake your kid’s birthday cake. I don’t have to say you’ll save money, that’s obvious by the price of decorated cakes these days. And I probably don’t have to tell you that homemade cakes are WAY, WAY, WAY better tasting than store bought cake. And you can probably figure out for yourself that if you bake it yourself you can use some organic ingredients. No, the real reason to bake a cake for your kid instead of buying one is that it’s a gift. When my husband asks me why I’m once again spending too much time trying to figure out how to craft a cake that resembles a race car or Tinkerbell or a s’more, I tell him, “This is my gift to them. I make their cake. I make exactly what they wanted.” Sometimes the birthday child has a vision or even a picture of the cake they want which can be helpful or not. Expectations are hard to live up to. But no matter what they know I’m going to try my best to make them a really special cake and that means a lot. As they get older they like to help me and so the cakes don’t always turn out the way I planned, but they taste great and in my child’s mind at least they are perfect.
When I was cleaning up the feast in preparation for the piñata and the kids were outside having a loud game of capture the castle supervised by my kid-at-heart hubby, my mom commented that I was really good to give my kids all these parties. She said that she let me and my brothers have a party every other year. I only remember one or two parties, but they are good memories. So maybe I’m over the top with the parties for my kids. I just love the opportunity to celebrate them each year. You can never say – “you’re special and I’m glad you were born” too many times or in too many ways. So I’ll keep throwing these crazy parties and making incredible, by-request cakes, because by doing that not only am I making it clear how much I love these kids, I’m making memories. And someday when they’re negotiating the birthday party plan with their own spouse, they’ll say, “My mom used to throw the best birthday parties…”
I'm a true believer in Living Intentionally. In fact, I wrote a book about it - Live Intentionally: 65 Challenges for a Healthier, Happier Life. I teach workshops on the topic and constantly seek to discover more ways to make every moment count.
I'm also a reluctantly busy mother of three remarkable children, one large partially-trained horse who seems to have a vested interest in unseating me, two bossy mares, an almost-daily changing number of chickens, one dog with impulse control issues but a sunny outlook, and 3 perfect kitties. I am blessed with an incredibly patient husband who can fix or build or tolerate almost anything. We live on 6 acres on a hillside in South Central Pennsylvania where anything left unattended ends up at the bottom in the creek (including the children).
I'm currently at work publishing a young adult novel (if you'd like to publish it, contact my agent Tina Schwartz at The Purcell Agency!!) and madly editing a memoir entitled, Cowboy Mom: How an Untrained Horse Taught Me to be a Better Parent and Person.
In my spare moments, I run, hike, cook, and drink much too much wine.