My son’s second birthday party was this past weekend, and whereas in the past I would use an occasion to feed other people as an excuse to break the rules and revert to conventional foods (sugar, white flour, fried appetizers, etc.), lately I’ve found it easier and easier to create healthier alternatives and show the people I love just how far you can go with whole foods and clean ingredients. These are some of the tips I’ve put into practice and some of the recipes I made this year, which I’m sure would vary greatly just compared to what we served last year.
1. Don’t forget your fruits and vegetables. If you’re having a tailgate party, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to serve pizza and fried chicken wings. A child’s birthday doesn’t need to equate to Goldfish crackers and chicken nuggets, either — you can think outside of the box OR go back to old standbys, like fruit salad as a side and a crudites platter as an appetizer. There’s no reason to ignore basic nutritional necessities when party planning. After all, these are people you care about! Show it. We ate both of these during our weekend festivities, and I made the dip for the veggies myself.
2. If entertaining stresses you out and the last thing you want to do is add another “burden” to your to-do list by cooking something fresh, pick a recipe that you can make ahead! Even if you just shave off a few steps (like preparing a spice rub a few days before or marinating meat several hours ahead of time), it will make a difference in your mood. Not running around like crazy can make entertaining much more fun! Look for recipes that specifically state that you can make or freeze the food ahead of time, or put two and two together by reading through the steps yourself and calculating how you can save time and hassle on party day. You do NOT need to resort to convenience foods if you give yourself enough time and plan ahead! (I even get all of my ingredients and utensils out ahead of time so that when I do start cooking I have my mis-en-place perfectly organized with time to spare.)
3. Birthday cakes do not have to come from a bakery or a box. I made Deliciously Organic’s coconut cake (in a Mickey Mouse mold, mind you) and frosted it with a mix of heavy cream, maple syrup, mango puree for Mickey’s face and VERY minimal sprinkles for his red tongue and black (chocolate) ears. We even tried the recipe ahead of time to make sure it was delicious, it fit the mold and I could decorate it without it looking like ET instead of a mouse. I was met with success at each step, and I’m convinced it’s because I planned ahead and chose something healthy and sensible that I could stand behind proudly when serving.
4. If your guests offer to bring something, take them up on their offer — and ask them to bring something you’d prepare yourself, like a green salad or side. This is another way to save yourself some time in the end, and with just a little guidance (tell your guests what you’re serving so what would pair well with the menu) anyone who is respectful of your wishes will show up with a sensible and tasty dish.
5. Keep the drinks to a minimum. If you’re not used to stocking sugary sodas, don’t buy them just for a party. The same goes for syrupy mixers and pre-made cocktail blends — if you wouldn’t buy it and drink it yourself, why serve it to your guests? Offer a few simple options like red and white wine, light beer and dark beer and call it a day. If anyone is disappointed with the selection, it’s perfectly acceptable to state the obvious: We don’t drink Coke, so I don’t keep it in the house. Sorry!
There’s always room to improve — I would still make a few tweaks for next year — but overall the party was a great success, people raved about the food and there were very few leftovers (although we did enjoy them and I polished off the last bit of cake just yesterday). And, of course, most importantly, the kids ran around like crazy, we all had fun. All the invited guests but 1 were able to make it, and I think also because of all the planning we did, cleaning up was a cinch. When you plan and execute from a thoughtful place, it shows in many ways.