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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

31 Days: Day 11 - Decorations and Food

What is the #1 thing that makes a party? I'd say it's a toss up between food (you can't have a party without food can you?! and so many other celebrations revolve around food as well) and decorations, so we'd better talk about both.

You can spend as much (or as little)as you want, and be as extravagant (or not) as you wish when it comes to celebrating. Honestly, if you're happy with it, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. I love making a big splash, but I also like keeping most of my money in my wallet to use for other things. So I have a couple of tips when it comes to the decorations and food for a party.

First, focus on just a few areas. You don't have to decorate every single inch of space in the room, nor do you need to spread the decorations all over in order to make it look festive. There are two or three key places that if you put your attention on making them fun, the entire party will feel well decorated.
1 - the food table! I don't always use this table as a buffet (that could prove disastrous with a group of 5 year olds), but I do like to display any food I'm serving, even if I plan on dishing it up and distributing it myself. It doesn't take much to make this area pop. Go with something that accents your theme/color scheme for the tablecloth and use the food, paper plates, napkins, etc as your decor. Remember to use different heights (cake plates, empty boxes placed under the tablecloth, etc) to add interest. To bring the eye up off the table a bit, I try to place the table somewhere that forms a natural backdrop (or make one out of fabric or something - that would also be a good option) then add in something fun like a banner and maybe something hanging from the ceiling.
2 - the entry to the party. It doesn't have to be complicated - a bunch of balloons tied to the porch and a sign on the front door would be great. But it is nice to have something to signal "here's the party!" to the guests (especially if some have not visited your lcoation before).
3 - the dining table/any table the guests will be using to sit down and eat. A tablecloth and some sort of centerpiece - be creative.

Anything and everything goes! Questions to ask yourself when deciding what to serve:
-do I want to serve a full meal or just snacks and cake? (this will also be influenced by the time you choose to have your party. If you schedule the party from 11:30 - 1:00 you'd better plan on serving lunch!)
-do I want guests to sit down to eat or do I want to serve easy-to-eat food that guests can munch on while standing around or sitting on the couch?
-who will be attending the party? You don't serve sushi to 4 year olds right? An all-women get together tends to eat lighter/want more healthy options than a mixed gathering would. Beer is probably expected at a Super Bowl party, but wouldn't be welcome at something for children. Etc. etc.
-do I want to make it myself? buy it? have it catered? potluck?
*One note about potluck: Since it's hard to know what people will or won't be bringing I tend to stack the deck a bit. I assign myself (as host) the main dish as well as anything that we can't live without at the party (plates, napkins, at least one type of drink, etc). Then I get together with one or two of my close friends/family - people that I KNOW will be coming to the party and not change their minds at the last minute, the kind of people that would jump on the opportunity to help - and ask them to bring the other major items that make a party like dessert, drinks, salad, etc. I also make a quick list of ideas to give guests if they ask what they should bring. This includes things like salads, chips/dip, veggies, fruit, cookies, etc.

Keep in mind that the food is another area that can easily be used to enhance your party theme. Try to think out of the box a little bit with creative ways to decorate the food (chocolate covered strawberries that look like footballs, anyone?) or food that naturally goes with the theme (how could I not serve goldfish crackers as Kaitlyn's fish party? or chocolate donut "tires" at Tyler's monster truck party?). Small touches go a long way to add that little bit of "wow factor" to the party. My favorite thing to do is use clipart (usually the exact same pictures I used on the inviations, party favors, signs, etc) to make decorative pieces for drinking straws or water bottle labels. Trust me, those get oohs and ahhs every time and they take only a couple minutes to make.

Whatever you do, make sure you have enough to feed your guests! And if you need a little further direction - make sure you have something for each of the 3 most imporant categories: Drinks. Something sweet. And a little something savory (or slightly healthy) on the side.

So... anyone have any favorite party recipes they want to share? What are you serving at your next party?

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