Photo: Michael Carson
I remember myself as young as five years old, eagerly handing out homemade invitations to my friends on the playground, helping my mom bake a cake, blowing up colourful balloons, and hanging Pin-The-Tail-On-The-Donkey on the living room wall. At-home parties were the norm and I loved it.
Fast forward a few decades. I’m now a mom of two boys, and birthdays seem to have morphed into expensive playland propositions so grand that I feel like I need to take out a twice-yearly loan to meet these kids' party expectations. Not anymore. For my oldest son Nolan's recent 10th birthday, I decided to kick it old school with an at-home fete!
Since he was old enough to hold a crayon he has been art obsessed, so I proposed that we put the ART in PARTY.
Here’s how we threw a budget-friendly art-themed birthday party:
1. Plan a colourful menu One of my biggest considerations when hosting an at-home party is ensuring there are plenty of menu options for picky eaters and children with serious food sensitivities. Several of Nolan’s classmates have severe peanut, gluten and lactose allergies, so the spread had to be inclusive for all kids.
To fill everyone's bellies, I created a build-your-own rainbow nacho bar, complete with gluten-free corn chips, lactose-free cheese and sour cream (with a drop of blue food colouring to make it fun), mild salsa, homemade guacamole, and a few extra veggies for good measure. You could easily add a protein-based option with a make-ahead batch of meat or bean chili in the slow cooker—so easy to ladle over kids' customized nachos. The rainbow fruit sticks were a big hit, and a great way to sneak healthy snacks onto the menu.
A self-serve drink station on a moveable bar cart or low side table is an easy way for kids to fill up without asking every 30 seconds for “more please." I set out coloured cups and wrote each child’s name on them to avoid mix-ups—it dramatically cut back on the number of half-empty cups abandoned by the end of the party. Another smart clean-up tip: Place an outdoor area rug under the drink station or dining table to speed up tidying and protect your floor from spills.
2. Make dessert the activity I’m not exactly a standout baker, so I happily used a gluten-free cake mix all kids could enjoy and whipped up a dozen cupcakes the day before. For the frosting, I made a super simple lactose-free, vegan icing and separated it into six smaller batches so I could work my magic with food colouring gel. The task of decorating would be left to the kids.
And you know what? My boys declared these to be the BEST. CUPCAKES. EVER.
You can leave the icing plain or you can make it mesmerizing!
To really have fun with the theme, I served the cupcakes on cute artist paint palettes, filled with a rainbow of coloured sugar and confetti sprinkles. These palettes were about a dollar each and because they’re plastic, I gave them a quick hand rinse and sent them home as part of an art-filled loot bag.
3. Play with decor Guests were welcomed in with a customized chalkboard easel that doubled as an art activity station during the festivities. I also created a colourful “paint splatter” photo wall by cutting random shapes out of Bristol board and adhering them with low-tack painters tape.
For the tabletop, I spent some DIY time prior to the party crafting simple, affordable items to suit the theme. I raided my local dollar store for colouring books and turned the torn-out pages into a fun and functional tablecloth, cut Bristol board to look like dripping paint placemats, and sprayed mini canvases with a quick coat of chalkboard paint to make personalized name cards. The best part about the table decorations: after the kids had coloured the tablecloth and eaten off the paper plates, everything was folded up and placed neatly into the recycling bin!