Recipe for a Fun Birthday Party

05.20.11: Think simple and homemade, and stock up on Tupperware

Leo’s first birthday was as much a celebration for us as for him. We’d made it through the first year of parenthood! His second birthday, I wanted him to have fun so bad I lost sleep over it. This year, I knew he’d have a blast. But just to be sure, we really thought it through: how could we include everyone we wanted to celebrate with, and all have a great time, given our small house and the tendency of children to bounce off walls? The answer: three parties!

I know what you’re thinking, this is excessive. He’s three! You’re right, of course, but in the end, it was fun too. We started out simply, meeting cousins, aunts and uncles for a bagel brunch at a park. I made a banana layer cake with chocolate frosting like I did for his first birthday. Then came Leo’s school party. I packed 20 favor bags and brought in strawberry cupcakes. Leo enjoyed the attention. But I hardly batted an eye—I was already planning, and crafting, for his playgroup party the next weekend.

We invited Leo’s playgroup friends to meet us in the park for a birthday parade. Come decorate hats, we told them, and bring noisemakers/instruments for the parade and stuffed animals for the float! This was designed to be fun for the kids, and it was, but it was for me too. Not the way it was when Leo was one and I just couldn’t believe we’d made it, and not like when he was two and I was worried I didn’t know how to throw a fun kid’s party. This time, I just wanted to use the party as an excuse for doing things I love: cooking, working with patterns…making things.

I went to Purl and picked out fun fabrics. I cut them into pennant-style flags with pinking shears, cut out the first initial of each child guest’s name in felt and glued it on, then wrapped the flags around dowels (requiring Aaron to saw and sand a bunch of dowels—thanks honey!). I made tiny flags from origami paper and party picks for the cupcakes. Leo and Aaron decorated a box for the “float.” We filled a bucket with kazoos for guests to take home. Aaron cut out ornate oak tag crowns and I collected materials for decorating them. And I prepared a simple sandwich spread that utilized every single plastic container we own. Here’s the menu:

Pita and potato chips



Whole wheat sandwich bread and challah rolls

Egg salad

Tuna salad


Sliced cheddar and Monterey Jack

Cream cheese


Lettuce, tomato, avocado and cucumbers

Grape tomatoes



Water, seltzer, juices

For dessert, Leo wanted chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting and I followed a recipe that turned out to be painfully sweet. Note to self: don’t try a new recipe for a party. At least I used mini muffin tins, so they were only mini sugar bombs!

The day of the party was cool and shady. Aaron and Leo stuck the flags in the grass in a big semi-circle to mark off our picnic site. Guests came, spent a few minutes on crown-decorating (turns out 3 year olds at parties outdoors don’t have very long attention spans). Then we distributed instruments and instigated a parade of sorts. Leo and his friend Sadie pulled the float. Lunch, cake, and voila, a simple, sweet birthday party for our sweet little boy. He had a great time. And so did we. And if you ask me, that’s a huge accomplishment.

Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.