Throwing a birthday party, but feel overwhelmed when it comes to planning the party menu? You might be thinking what are we going to eat? How much should I make? What should I buy? How much is this going to cost? These are all valid questions that can cause you to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. Believe me, I have been there!
The first time I threw a birthday party for my little guy, I spent a lot of time and money on the menu. From making difficult dishes to a chocolate fountain, we had a lot of food choices and I wanted everything to be perfect. Instead, I was a frazzled mess as guests were arriving because I didn’t have the food ready. Things had taken me longer to prepare than I thought. There were simple things I had not thought of that people needed for their food and beverages. Overall, there was too much food and some of it was hardly touched. However, I ran out of the simplest things like chips. For someone who calls herself a planner I felt far from it!
All you want to do is throw the perfect party to celebrate your special child turning a year older. In addition, you want your guests to have a great time and eat great food and drinks. The food and drink can end up being one of the most important parts of the party. Learn from my mistakes and follow these tips below on how to plan a birthday party menu your guests will love!
If you want a step by step guide on how to plan an easy birthday party or any party for that matter, check out the Ultimate Birthday Party Checklist. It is a comprehensive checklist that lays out what to do 2-3 months before the party all the way through the day of the party to pull off a smooth and successful celebration.
Start to Plan the Birthday Party Menu Early
One way to avoid stress when planning a birthday party menu is to start planning it early. I have found that starting the planning process 2-3 months before the party has saved me tons of time and money. Furthermore, it puts me in a good position as the party approaches. I don’t feel stressed or overwhelmed because everything is under control and I work on the party little by little over time.
Reasons to Plan Your Menu Early:
- Can consider many options and ideas
- Have time to shop around for deals
- Save money by purchasing food/drink items on sale
- Get the honorary birthday person excited about the party menu
- Have time to get extra things together
- Relieve procrastination stress
Things to Consider When Planning the Party Menu
When you start to think through and plan your party food and drink here are some things to consider:
- What is the theme of your party? Do you want your food and drink items to go along with your theme? Maybe some but not others? Personally, I do not stress about making all the food to go with my theme. I would rather serve our favorite foods.
- Think about how many people will be coming to your party. A ballpark figure is ok as you won’t know your exact numbers until closer to the party. But this way you can think about how many items you want to have and how much you will need. Need help keeping track of guest details and contacts? Get our guest list tracker, guest contact information sheet and special needs worksheet and much more in our Ultimate Birthday Party Planner.
- Does the guest of honor have any favorite food items or drinks that they would like to have? It can be fun to share their favorites with others on their special day.
- Think about the type of guests that are coming. If there will be lots of kids you should have some kid friendly foods and drinks. If there is a favorite food or signature item I make that others enjoy, I might make it if it works. Also, if I know that several of my guests drink a certain kind of beverage, I make sure to have that kind on hand. It is good to have a variety of food and drink so there is something for everyone.
- What time of day and where is your party? Will you have a lot of time beforehand to food prep or will you have to do more cold foods and have them ready in the fridge, use crock pots, etc. I suggest not having a lot of foods that require a lot of prep right at the end (when the party is about to start). Also, it is difficult to have lots of foods that need to bake in the oven at the same time, require a lot of stirring, checking on, etc. The final minutes before a party starts is stressful enough and you don’t need any extra stress because of your food menu choices.
- What plates, napkins, cutlery, and cups will you use? I like to eliminate as much mess and clean up as possible so I use all disposable items. I always check my supply leftover from a previous event to see if I need to get more. Then I ask myself if I want any of these items to match my theme. If you are having cake or a dessert some smaller plates will be needed as well as 2 forks for each person. Finally, for the main meal, I always have a large, high quality plate. The last thing I want is my guests dropping their plate, a plate breaking, or leaking.
Write Down Birthday Party Menu Ideas & Make Decisions
When you start to create your birthday party menu, write your ideas down or save them electronically. Also think about the quantity of the item you want to have. Do you want to have a small or large veggie tray, 10 or 20 hotdogs, etc. Note: This number may depend on how many guests you have coming.
When you are beginning to compile the party menu, start by breaking out your list into 3 sections.
Definite Menu Items
Make a list of items you know you want to serve for sure. You can set aside items in your pantry that you already have and begin to shop for other items in advance when they are on sale.
Potential Menu Items
Next, make a list of menu items that you might be serving. An item could be on the maybe list because you are waiting to see how many guests are coming for how much food you need or you are researching how much it will cost. Another reason could be a guest maybe bringing this item, but you are not sure if they are coming or not. As the party gets closer the potential menu items can get crossed off or added to a different part of the menu list.
Menu Items Others Will Bring
Finally, think about what you want others to bring if they ask. To all my family parties we each bring a food item to help the host. Usually we ask them what they would like for us to bring. So I make a list of things I want people to bring if we have a favorite item they make. Then I make a list of things that I want to have on the menu that others can bring. Be sure to include a variety as guests have all types of skills and time when it comes to food preparation. In addition, this way I am ready to answer when they ask me.
Make Final Birthday Party Menu Decisions
After taking some time to think through potential menu ideas, look at items you already have, and check into costs, etc make the final birthday party menu.
Tasks to Complete Once the Birthday Party Menu is Set
Once you have your menu complete, work on the following tasks to ensure your menu is ready for party day!
Make an Ultimate Ingredient List
Once you have your menu set, go through each food and drink item on the menu and list out every single thing you will need to prepare it. Then go through your pantry, fridge, and freezer and check off what you already have at home. From what is left on the list, make your birthday party grocery shopping list.
Shop For Ingredients
With your birthday party grocery shopping list, begin purchasing your party menu ingredients. To keep your party menu budget to a minimum, check store sales ads for the cheapest place to get ingredients and buy the items when they are on sale. Start shopping early so you can purchase items at their lowest price. Buy each ingredient at the right time instead of spending a fortune on groceries for your party. Then cross off items as you get them so you do not buy them twice.
Place Any Orders
Call and order anything you are having a store, restaurant or baker make for you. Before you call have the following details ready:
- When you want the item ready
- Ask about the cost of the item and options
- When you will come pick up the item
- Ask if you need to return anything back to them
- Have an estimated number of guests ready in case they ask. (Estimate high as would rather have leftovers than not enough)
Prepare to Serve the Food and Drinks
Think about how you are going to serve your food. What dishes and utensils will you use? Where will you serve your food and drinks? If you are having a crock pot it needs to have an outlet nearby. To keep drinks cold you may need a cooler or a tub with ice. If you are having drinks where they will need ice in their drink, you will need an ice bucket and tongs. Any bottled beverages should have a bottle opener nearby. To limit small kids from spilling avoid large, open cups or containers. Also, think in advance about any special utensils you may need for guests.
Make Signs For Menu Items
Make signs labeling things so people know where things can be found. Have signs on the coolers telling guests what is in each cooler (soda, water, beer, etc). In addition, make signs to label the garbage and recycling. Also, an option is to have food tags by each item telling what it is. These tags can go along with a theme and be fun to do.
Make Detailed Lists
A week before the party make a detailed list of everything you need to do for food and drink prep. For a detailed birthday party checklist with exactly what you need to do to pull off the best party click HERE. Try to do as much in advance as possible instead of saving it for the day of the party. List out what things to do 4 days before, 2 days before, the day before, etc. The day of the party is usually when you will do the most food prep, so do your other party prep (decorations, activities, etc) the days before the party. Put every single detail on your to-do list so nothing is forgotten.
There are some food items you can make before the day of the party. For example, with a cheese, sausage and cracker tray, the cheese and sausage can be cut up the day before. With a taco dip you can make the dip base, cut the tomato and olives the day before, store it all in the fridge and put it together the day of the party. Doing these small tasks ahead will add up to big time saved on the day of the party.
On the day of the party you may wonder when to turn the crock pot on, or what time to put things in the oven to have them all ready to serve and eat at the party. The key is to work backwards from the time you want to eat. For example, if you are planning to eat at noon, and something takes an hour to bake in the oven, put it in at 10:55am. I always like to give myself a couple minutes buffer. To help you know what time you want to eat and do other events at the party create a party timeline.
Final Thoughts on How to Plan a Birthday Party Menu
Planing the perfect birthday party menu can be easy if you break it down into steps. To recap:
- Start thinking about your menu early and getting ideas.
- Consider your party theme, number and type of guests, the birthday person, and day/time of party when planning your party menu.
- Actually write out your party menu and include definite items, potential items and items others can bring.
- Take care of any tasks for your menu items now that you have your menu set like placing food/drink orders, shopping for ingredients, and making signs.
Follow these steps and have your guests raving about your excellent birthday party menu!
Looking for a step by step guide on how to plan an easy birthday party? Check out the Ultimate Birthday Party Checklist. It is a comprehensive checklist that lays out what to do 2-3 months before the party all the way through the day of the party to pull off a smooth and successful celebration.
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