Okay, so it’s been a couple of weeks since I hosted this birthday party, and honestly, I’m still recovering. It’s not that the party itself was hard to throw, it’s that it happened smack dab in the middle of a very busy period. My son and I had just returned from visiting my parents, who live fourteen hours away. This required a two-day drive—flying wasn’t an option, as I was transporting things from one house to the other—so I was pretty tired. We had been away for two weeks, which means my husband had been living like a bachelor (read, the house was a mess upon our return). I had a week to get the house clean, the yard in order, the food prepared, the party favors assembled, and the decoration put in place. In addition to all of this, there was laundry to be done, regular family meals to make, the end of one youth sports season and the beginning of another, and preparations for the first week of school (which started a few days after the party). I was running around like a decapitated chicken.
Enough about the insanity that is my life. Let’s talk about the party. No sooner had the last guest left from his Paw Patrol-themed party last year, my son announced that he wanted his next birthday party to be Hot Wheels-themed. Accordingly, I spent a decent amount of time over the past year looking up ideas on Pinterest. Of course, due to the time limits previously mentioned, I couldn’t go full throttle (pun intended) with all the ideas I found, but I definitely put some to use. There were nods to roadways, road signs, orange cones, race flags, pennant banners (so many pennant banners), and lots of Hot Wheels cars to be played with. As my son and the majority of his friends are five or younger, I opted not to do a craft, figuring the kids would have more fun just playing together. I didn’t receive any complaints, so I will assume it was the best course of action. For the menu, I decided to center it around one of my son’s favorite foods: Hotdogs. I provided a “Build Your Own Hotdog Bar” with a variety of toppings and several suggestions for hotdog combinations, as well as some kid-friendly side dishes.
To create a festive “race day” atmosphere, I hung pennant banners EVERYWHERE. That was not my original intention. I had originally planned on hanging them in doorways, but the pennants were much larger and spaced further apart than anticipated, so my initial plan wasn’t going to work. In addition to the Black-and-White checkered banners associated with racing, I decided to use Red, Yellow, Blue, and Orange pennants (the last two colors were a nod to Hot Wheels colors). To hang the bunting, I used white electrical tape. It holds well, molds to a variety of directions, and if removed carefully, does not damage the paint.
As entertainment for the younger guests, I put down a grid of Roadway Tape and had a yellow tin bucket full of Hot Wheels cars and trucks nearby so they could choose their favorite to drive around.
For further kid-friendly entertainment, I got the Hot Wheel Elimination Racetrack for them to play with.
The door into our office/library was decked out with Road Sign Decals. I wasn’t overly happy with them, as they were smaller than what I had in mind, but I didn’t have the time to make my own, so I’m going to stop whining.
To decorate the buffet, I used a Roadway Runner and Orange Traffic Cones, which were also scattered decoratively throughout the house. A chalkboard sign set in the middle of the buffet gives some hotdog combination suggestions. The centerpiece on our dining room table was a red vase holding 8×5.5-inch Checkered Race Flags. Smaller red vases holding 4×2-inch Checkered Race Flags flanked the birthday cake along with a couple of traffic cones. Because the size and shape of the cake did not fit any of my cake stands, I used an inverted Corning Ware baking dish to elevate the cake. Food was served on white ceramic platters, in white ceramic dishes, or in clear glass bowls. Clear plastic plates (dinner and dessert-sized) and utensils (forks and spoons) were provided for eating. The utensils were held in small tin buckets. Orange picnic napkins were provided with the plates, while small stacks of orange cocktail napkins were scattered throughout the house for our guests’ convenience.
To hold the kids’ beverages, I used glass milk bottles (found at Michael’s Craft Store), which were decked out with Black-and-White Striped Paper Straws. The milk bottles were grouped together on a tin tray so that they could be easily moved if necessary. Bottled water decorated with Checkered Race Flag Duct Tape were also available as a non-alcoholic option. For adult refreshment, a glass pitcher set on a tin tray held sangria. Clear plastic cups were provided for consuming the sangria and wine.
A variety of store-bought cookies were displayed on a Tiered Plate Stand. To make the party favors special, I decorated black gift bags (found at Michael’s) with strips of white electrical tape to look like a road; the gift bags were topped with tissue paper so that each child would feel he/she was receiving a gift. The favors included a Hot Wheel in the child’s favorite color, a bag Hot Wheel fruit gummies, an individual-sized bag of M&Ms, a checkered race flag, and a Make-Your-Own Race Car Sticker Sheet. Individual servings of popcorn were held in Fuel Can Boxes.
“Build Your Own Hotdog” Bar
Macaroni & Cheese
Buffalo Chicken Dip
Potato Chips, Pretzel Sticks, Tortilla Chips & Popcorn
Hawaiian Punch & Lemonade
Beer & Wine
So let’s talk about the “Build Your Own Hotdog” Bar. At a kid’s birthday party, you have to have kid-friendly food. But it’s also important to satisfy the adults present. While I enjoy a hotdog every once in awhile, not everyone does. So, my solution was to find a variety of ways to make hotdogs interesting. Two kinds of hotdogs were provided: Beef for the purists, and turkey for the heath-conscious. I started with the basic condiments: Mustard (yellow and brown), ketchup, and pickle relish. Then I thought about other possible toppings. My parents love sauerkraut on theirs, so I decided to include it. When planning some special combination options, I drew inspiration from a few different places. A number of years ago (pre-marriage and baby), my husband and I went to Cincinnati, where we tried the famous Skyline Chili. He had it on a bed of spaghetti, which he enjoyed; I had it on a hotdog and fell in love. Needless to say, I had to make a batch of Cincinnati Chili, and provide shredded cheddar and chopped onions in case someone wanted to make a “Three-Way” Cincinnati Chili-Dog. Living in the south, we have ample opportunities to indulge in the amazing cuisine known as Barbecue, which prompted me to provide homemade Pulled Pork, barbecue sauce, and coleslaw (I used Gina and Patrick Neeley’s coleslaw recipe) for Barbecue-Dogs. Finally, I was guided by another kid (and grownup) favorite: Pizza. Pizza Sauce, shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and chopped pepperoni were available for Pizza-Dogs. Of course, our guests were welcome to assemble any combinations they pleased.
Rather than grilling the hotdogs (which would be time-consuming), I heated them in slow cookers with a little water to provide steam. Slow cookers were also used to keep the barbecue and chili warm.
Now let’s look at the side dishes. I always like to provide crudités for something fresh and nutritious—this time, it was baby carrots, broccoli florets, yellow bell pepper strips, celery sticks, and grape tomatoes (my son’s favorite), along with Ranch Dressing for dipping. I wanted another healthy option, so I decided on fruit salad—a bright mix of pineapple chunks, quartered strawberries, and blueberries. Finally, I made Chrissy Teigen’s Macaroni and Cheese (minus the Parmesan Garlic Bread Crumbs, because kids might not like the topping). Please note: This is the best macaroni and cheese recipe I have ever had. If you’ve never made it, do so as soon as humanly possible.
In addition to these side dishes, I made Buffalo Chicken Dip, served with tortilla chips. There were also giant pretzel rods and potato chips for guests to nibble.
When the kids became thirsty, they were given the option of Hawaiian Punch, lemonade, or water. Grownups had the option of water, a variety of sodas, craft beers, red and white wine, and sangria (from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook).
Dessert was a Lightning McQueen themed birthday cake from the Publix Bakery—chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. I had intended to make several kinds of cookies, but found I was short on time (shocker), so the Publix Bakery came to the rescue with M&M Cookies, Rainbow Sprinkle Sugar Cookies, and Heath Bar Cookies.
As exhausting as this party was to throw together, it was so much fun to host, and my little guy loved it. Spending time playing with his friends was his favorite part, but he seemed to enjoy the rest as well. As a close to this post, here’s a “before the party picture” of my son not-so-patiently waiting for his guests to arrive, and an “after the party picture” of the decorations coming down (I have this obsession with cleaning everything up as soon as the party ends, even if it means staying up all night—I do not want to deal with anything the next day!).