Bake your own cake & plan a menu that is realistic. Photos: Rashmi Naik
By now some of you would have figured out the school lunch conundrum. Let's move to another topic that can make nerves of steel quiver and shake. Yes, hosting birthday parties!
We all love watching our little ones grow up, and thumbing through the photo albums, we reminisce the day they were born. But when it comes to planning their birthday parties, we want to bury our heads in sand. Some mums I know even feign illness to avoid the stress of dealing with a birthday party, while others pop into the closest McDonalds or Dominos and be done with it. Without getting judgmental, let’s appreciate that it is indeed tedious – planning birthday parties without breaking the bank can be quite an onerous task.
Contrary to what we like to believe, children know how to appreciate simple things in life. It is us adults who feel the insatiable need to prove ourselves, and needlessly compete with each other. There is no denying that birthday parties require some planning, observation, detailing but most important of all, it's about having fun.
So, let’s bring things a notch lower, tone down the bling and bring back the innocence. Here are my 5 golden rules to planning birthday parties:
Set yourself a realistic pace: Bake the cake and make the desserts the night before the party or first thing in the morning. Leave the buttercream for the next day, and it is best to keep the sponge cake ready. Don’t cram up all the cooking for the last minute.
Avoid duplication of effort: Plan the menu to accommodate adults – you should not have to cook separately for adult guests. What I mean is this you could tone down the spice and keep some paprika flakes for the adults in a separate bowl – works well for both, kids and adults.
Presentation matters, always! Photo: Rashmi Naik
Break down the menu:
- Think of some pass alongs such as pop corn, fruit kebabs, chips or French fries – these are basically finger foods as the kids settle down and well before the games begin. Avoid anything too sticky or messy.
- The starters can be mini pizzas, potato cheese balls and the like – it should be snacky and yet a substantial bite.
- Main course should have one prominent dish that can be modified to suit the taste of adults. Make it interesting – a simple baked macaroni, chole with kulcha, cheese pav bhaji, a Burmese khowsuey or a Mexican dip with guacamole, salsa and nachos will almost always find takers.
- Apart from the birthday cake, consider a caramel custard or fruit salad.
- Consider a task sheet for each dish – for instance, a Mac n' cheese will entail the following. 1. Boil the macaroni 2. Make the cheese sauce 3. Roast some panko and chopped garlic 4. Grate a pinch of nutmeg etc.
- Shop at least two days in advance for the main ingredients and non-perishables. You don’t want to spend the last minute searching for natural vanilla extract or unsalted butter.
- If your best friend, sister or mum wants to bring a dish, maybe your child’s favourite food to the party – accept it graciously.
Presentation matters: Dress the table with a bright table cloth, consider investing in a Charlie or a fancy cake stand. Get some bright coloured napkins and disposable wooden or paper based tableware. Keep things handy. You shouldn’t be scrambling around for the knife or candle at the last minute. Make tiny tent cards describing the dish – unleash your creative spirit.
Keep the quantity in check: A tight fist full of macaroni or penne should suffice for one child. Keep lots of packing material handy. The return gift could include some cake or dessert.
1. If the party is at 5:00 pm in the evening, then you should be out of the kitchen by 4:00 pm. Leave at least an hour for setting the table and rearranging the furniture and of course having a shower. If possible try and find time for a good blow dry.
2. It seems daunting to have a birthday party in a pokey, pigeon-hole sized apartment, but it is possible. Keep the number of guests to a realistic number or you can host the party in the building garden, terrace or refuge area.
3. Enlist the other mums to help serve or get the grandmums to ensure that everyone’s plate is refilled. And remember to cut the cake before you serve dinner.
4. Be unabashed when the compliments start pouring, lap it up, you deserve it! The cherry on the cake is listening to your five-year-old proudly tell his or her friends that mummy made the cake with her own hands, at which point, let those tears roll free.
5. And yes, all that dosh you saved by having a home party, send that across to a non-profit such as Akshaypatra and fund a midday meal or donate the money to Akshara Foundation's Library programme and feel the bliss.
The author is a working mum-of- two. When she is not drafting a marketing or communications plan, you can find her writing about food and parenting or reading books on food, fiction and fact.