Throwing a Birthday party can be a very fun event to plan, but also a stressful event as their are so many options and ideas to take into consideration. I have found that starting the planning process early has saved me time and money and put me in a good place mentally as the party was approaching. I start thinking and planning my menus 2-3 months before the party. The food and drink do generally end up being one of the most important parts of the party.
When you start to think about and plan your party food and drink here are some things to think about:
- 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? 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 as no way of knowing exactly your numbers this far out.
- 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 guests that are coming. If their will be lots of kids you should have some kid friendly foods and drinks. I am one that likes to please my guests so if a few of them have a favorite or two food items I make I might make them if it works. Also if I know that several of my guests drink a certain kind of soda I will make sure to have that kind. It is good to have a variety of food and drink so there is something for everyone.
- What time of day 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) or lots of foods that need to bake in the oven, require a lot of stirring, checking on, etc. The final minutes before a party starts is stressful enough and you don’t need to add any extra stress because of your food menu choices.
- Make a list of items you know you want to serve for sure. You can begin to shop for these items in advance when they are on sale (if they are non perishable of course). Then make a list of maybe items to serve and then 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 asking them what they would like for us to bring. So I make a list of things I want people to bring if I have a favorite thing they make, and then I make a list of things that I want to have on the menu that others can bring ranking them in order how much I want them and have a variety as guests have all types of skills and time, when it comes to their food preparation. This way I am ready to answer when they ask.
- What plates, napkins, cutlery, and cups will you use? I like to eliminate as much mess and clean up afterwards 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 in addition to 2 forks for each person. I always like to get a large high quality plate as want a sturdy plate if I am having anything juicy or watery. What a mess if a plate would break!
Once you have your menu set and your numbers are close to finalization:
- Call and order anything you are having a store, restaurant or baker making for you. Before you call have details ready like when you want it ready, when you will come pick it up, ask about the cost, and if you need to bring anything back to them. Have a number of guests ready to tell them if they ask. I always estimate high as would much rather have leftovers than not enough.
- Continue to shop for your ingredients, food and drink. I write out a list of every single ingredient I need to make each item – then I cross off what I have so I know exactly what I need to shop for as things go on sale. I also want to avoid any last minute shopping trips.
- 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. If you are having drinks in a cooler you will need ice. If you are having drinks where they will need ice in their drink you will need an ice bucket and tongs. If you are having anything bottled should have a bottle opener nearby. Also think in advance about any special utensils you may need for someone. We have a guest that needs to drink through a straw so I make sure to have one ready.
- Signage: I like to make signs so people know where things can be found. I make signs for my coolers telling them what is in each cooler (soda, water, beer, etc). I make signs for 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.
A week before the party I make a detailed list of everything you have to do for food prep and which day. I try to do as much in advance as possible. What things can you do 4 days before, 2,days before, the day before, and what you can’t do until the day of which is usually a lot of the food prep. For example, a cheese, sausage and cracker tray – you can cut up the cheese and sausage before the day of just not put it on the tray. With a taco dip you can cut the tomato and olives before the day of just not put it together. I also like to make the base the day before and refrigerate it overnight. I write out every minute detail so I don’t forget anything and I like to cross things off. On the day of for the things you can’t do until right before – I pick a time I want to eat and work backwards for when I need to put things in the oven or turn on crock pots and have all the items out and ready to serve.
Lastly and one of the most important things that will come in extremely handy for your next birthday party is to take notes on your food and drink afterwards. I know it is the last thing you feel like doing after your guests leave as having a party is exhausting and you just want to sit down on the couch and put your feet up, but you will thank yourself when you start to plan for the party next year. It helps save time, money and eliminate waste.
You should record the following information:
- How much of everything was used (eg. ½ of a 9×13 pan of mashed potatoes or 12 of 24 bottles of water used)
- What to keep or discard on your menu for next year
- Other notes like keep an item but make a ½ batch
- Overall did you have too much food or not enough?
- Overall what drinks did you go through? Did you have too much or not enough?
- List any other ideas to have for next year.