Planning parties has been a pastime of mine for as long as I can remember. Even when I was in high school and college, family members put me in charge of making invitations and I sort of, kind of, definitely took over the whole entire festa. Always. That hasn’t changed. Now, however, thanks to the Internet, I have so many places to turn to spark the imagination and come up with new ways to celebrate. And the kids’ parties are the most fun of all.
Two years ago, my nephew’s love of Disney’s Cars spilleth over, so we made that the theme of his birthday party. After scanning Pinterest, some birthday party planning guides put out by top publications, such as Parents and Better Homes and Gardens, I decided I wanted the kids to be able to dress up as their favorite characters, eat some themed food items, and take cool photos.
Since we’re Italian, the food always comes first. It’s the law. The thing nowadays is to have elaborate dessert and candy buffets. I know. But my people won’t accept a sweets-only affair. You have to give them some good food first and there better be more of that than the indulgences. You need to have antipasto (appetizers), at least one primo piatto (a pasta or soup), and a secondo piatto (a meat). Often, we have much more. Indeed, the same was true for this party, but I only photographed the principle dishes to get better images to show off.
One of the first pictures I fell in love with was a hero sandwich that looked like a car from an old magazine (seriously, those print editions still exist). I didn’t want to make sandwiches, so I cut out the center of the bread without cutting through it. I turned it into one long bowl. I filled it with a simple dip (a container of sour cream mixed with Italian seasonings salad dressing packet). I made a face on the front of the car by using toothpicks to attach two olives for eyes and a slice of red pepper for a mouth. Of course, sliced cucumbers served as wheels. And I loaded the “car” with passengers, including carrots, peppers, and more cucumbers. I left all the extras on the side for anyone who wanted more. It was really simple and super cute.
I made pasta wheels with bacon, peas, and olive oil. You cook the bacon (or better yet pancetta) first in a sauce pan. Then, you saute the peas (I used frozen) and add olive oil to the pan to heat it up a bit. Then, you pour that over the wheels cooked to al dente. It’s how they do it in Italy, and the kids love it (except my son who refuses to eat any pasta at all). Some of my relatives topped the pasta with grated Parmigiano cheese.
Finally, I heated a spiral cut ham that I topped with warm maple syrup and chopped pecans. I also made a fueling station in the kitchen that included water, juice, and milk for the kids and beer and wine for the adults. The highlight of the “bar” was the homemade strawberry lemonade that I made with fresh lemons and strawberries. Yum.
I decorated the eating area in a really affordable way. I covered the tables with black plastic tablecloths from the dollar store and taped white rectangles to make each look like the road. The kids put their Hot Wheels on top and raced them for real. And I used my son’s Tonka dump trucks to hold silverware and napkins. By the way, my sister-in-law bought a gorgeous Cars cake from the local supermarket. Other relatives brought desserts they had made themselves.
I never met a cardboard box I couldn’t put to good use. I took a huge one, which is not in the photos above, and turned it into a giant car, threw pillows inside it, and the kids used it as a play area during the party. They also had the photo prop I purchased from Oriental Trading that allowed them to pose as a champion race car driver (see collage above). Then, I took smaller boxes, covered them in paper, and decorated them to look like Lightning McQueen, Mater, and Sally from the Cars movie. I attached long ribbons to allow each child to wear the car throughout the party. They kept switching into different characters. You can see McQueen and Mater in the images above. At the time, the kids were still pretty young. If it had been today, I would have purchased the unfinished wooden cars to have them paint those. The fact that my son fell asleep in the box at the end of the party was a good sign that it was a great party.