If I think back to my childhood, birthday parties were more exciting than Christmas day. For one, we didn’t get our presents on Christmas day and the day wasn’t all about you and your friends. I remember dressing up and eating multi-coloured cake. I remember how I would toss around in bed the night before, too excited to sleep. My parents had to lock the door to the dining room so our little excited hands couldn’t get to the fun stuff before the guests arrived.
DIY party décor, a piñata.
What I don’t remember is what the cakes looked like. I only have vague memories of a swimming pool with naked plastic babies in and two mice under a blanket. Luckily my mom took photos, but in a child’s brain, it doesn’t have to look like a million dollars to be super exciting and beautiful. What made the parties special furthermore were the treats and decorations my mom made. To save money or get out of debt, DIY is your best bet.
This was when most sweets had tartrazine (a colorant) in, and my sister and I were allergic to this, so my mom had to MAKE marshmallows, mints, jelly…almost everything. We could eat gingerbread and liquorice and one brand of gummy sweets. Not exactly the stuff parties are made off. She used natural colorants for the icing on the cakes. You can buy those at your local baking supplies shop in small tubs, but these days there are much more to choose from. Even metallic colours and fairy dust glitter, which is great to sprinkle over cakes or cupcakes they are decorated.
They are powders and much more versatile than your run-of-of the mill food colouring. Don’t stop at the food. Mixed with a tiny bit of water, you can make face paint. Because it is non-toxic, the kids can go wild. It doesn’t stain as easily as usual paints. They can use it as make up when playing dress up, to draw on moustaches and eye lashes, or transform them into superheroes!
Looking back, my mom really was the queen on thrifty children’s parties, but nobody would have guessed. From the photos I can tell she put effort into making everything: from the tablecloths to the placemats to our outfits. The trick to catering to children on a budget is to get creative. If you’re not inspired by the icing and ice cream muse yet, visit websites like thefrugalgirls.com for party ideas on a budget. I love the cupcakes-in-cones idea and it’s very simple. A kid isn’t going to look forward to a party more if it’s over-the-top like My Super Sweet 16, and they won’t be disappointed as long as they can get their hands on cake and have a great time with their friends. So there's no reason to take a second mortgage on your house to afford your child's birthday!
Robots kids can make!
If the kids are a bit older, getting them involved in making the food is fun. You can make plan cupcakes and they can decorate them themselves. Or prepare pizza bases and set the toppings out on the table so they can each make their own pizza. Just remind them to mark it somehow to remember which is which! We loved making Pinocchio pizzas with half a banana for the nose and toppings as eyes.
Your job as parent or party-organizer is just to give them lots of things to see, do and eat. Try to plan activities beforehand, so you can distract them from covering each other in food or silly putty (or was that just us?). Don’t force them to play a game though, different kids have different things they are interested in and it’s their party after all, so the best bet would be having a few activities planned and seeing what they catch on to.