Okay, so I really like party planning. Like, too much. For my sixteenth birthday (which was a relatively modest affair, I might add), I had not one, but three parties planned out, all with different themes, menus, decorations, etc. Each was budgeted out and they were all in this super dorky binder, which I actually took to school to show my friends because I was proud. Yeah…. But really, there’s just something about pulling off a successful soiree that I truly love to do, despite the stress and multitasking…and money.
I guess I’m a giver, in a way. A giver of parties. When it comes to spending money on myself, I consider myself to be relatively budget-conscious. But when it comes to throwing a party, it is so hard to restrain myself from going all out. I can easily spend upwards of my initial budget, and if it means not eating out for a while because of it, I’m more than willing to make the sacrifice. It’s dangerous. I’ll plan weeks ahead, finding ideas online and thinking up cool menu ideas. Actually, it’s kind of helpful for me to start early; by the time it’s close to the actual event, my once overly-grand plans are usually whittled down to something more do-able and modest.
When my roommate suggested we do something for New Year’s Eve at our place, of course I thought it was a great idea. I have far too much free time during winter break; what better way to spend it than planning the BEST NEW YEAR’S EVE PARTY EVER?!
Okay, so it obviously won’t be the best. It couldn’t possibly be. But I can assure you, it shall be great. Hopefully. I’m going with a silver & gold color scheme, and I figured I’d keep the menu semi-light with a few healthier options, now that we’re all recovering from one-too-many Christmas cookies.
Anyways, I thought I’d share some of my ideas and tips for planning a simple party that will probably make your friends think you put way too much effort into this whole thing. Whatever, it was worth it.
- Instead of doing a full on meal, serve appetizers and dessert. Guests will still be full, and they can try lots of different things (and skip the things they don’t like).
- Stagger putting out appetizers instead of serving them all at once. It keeps things interesting and the food fresh.
- Don’t feel like you need to make everything from scratch. Save money and time by putting out a few store-bought food items alongside the stuff you made. (I love Trader Joe’s frozen appetizers!)
- Plan things out as much as possible beforehand! Make a shopping list, set a budget, etc. etc. Don’t go into a party blind!
- While I get the majority of decorations at the dollar store, you can make some pretty cool DIY decorations for any occasion; check Pinterest for plenty of awesome DIY-decor ideas.
- Make a DIY photobooth for guests to take pictures! This is way easier than it sounds; just decorate a wall or empty space and create a cool background for guests to take pictures in front of. Have a few fun props and disposable cameras next to it. For New Year’s, I’m making a backdrop out of tinsel garland and a cheap silver foil fringe curtain I got at Wal-Mart.
- Just because a party looks expensive doesn’t mean it has to be. I buy most of the food supplies at places like Grocery Outlet, Walmart, and Costco. You can make things look more gourmet than they actually are; check out some of my out-of-the-box appetizer ideas for some examples. Setting out the food nicely makes a strong statement, and serving-ware doesn’t need to be expensive to look nice (I got some awesome silver trays at the Dollar Tree for NYE). What you lack in funds, you can make up for in creativity!
- Make a party playlist on your iPod beforehand. I like to use a mixture of new music with a few popular favorites thrown in. Usually, I play kinda mellow stuff for the first hour or so, then transition to the more dance-y stuff as the evening wears on.
- Always serve crudités. That’s a veggie platter, but see how much fancier “crudités” sounds? Vegetables are usually inexpensive, and they’re something easy to put together that people can munch on. And they’re healthy! I prefer to make my own assortment instead of buying the pre-made trays, that way, I can make a more colorful and personalized assortment, plus it usually saves money.
- Make whatever you can ahead. For example, if you’re serving sausage balls, make them in the morning and just reheat before serving. That way, you can minimize the amount of time you’ll be in the kitchen when guests arrive, plus things will run far smoother.
- If you have Cost Plus (aka World Market) where you live, I love to go there before a party. They have really cool stuff, and some of it is actually pretty inexpensive. I usually pick up drinks there, and they have a huge variety of chip-type apps and foreign foods.
- Be aware of who’s coming. Are a lot of your guests vegan? Vegetarian? Do any guests have allergies? While you don’t need to write your entire menu around one gluten-intolerant guest, it might be nice to have one or two things they can eat. A lot of my friends are vegetarian, so I tend to stick to a mostly-vegetarian menu, but I still include one or two meat options.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help! I am so bad about this, but do as I say, not as I do.
1. Mini Grilled Cheese Who doesn’t love grilled cheese? Make it mini, and it’s the perfect finger food for a cocktail party. It’s super quick and easy to put together, and depending on the ingredients used, it’s also very inexpensive. Just make a normal sized grilled cheese and cut into fourths. Go classic, with white bread, cheddar, and American cheese, or go gourmet. Try apple, swiss, and fig butter, or go Italian with fresh tomato, mozzarella, and pesto. For something fruity, you could do peach, gruyere, and arugula. If you’re feeling extra fancy, check out these awesome mini Croque Madames. (ham & gruyere topped with quail eggs).
2. Salad Kebabs Salad isn’t exactly finger food, but put it on a stick and it makes a great party appetizer. Try one of these variations:
Watermelon, Feta, and Cucumber
Cherry Tomato, Basil, Fresh Mozzarella
Antipasto (Olive, Mozzarella, Salami, Cherry Tomato)
3. Finger Food Quesadillas Use small corn tortillas (I like Trader Joe’s 5″ Corn & Wheat tortillas) and fill with yummy toppings. Use one tortilla, fold in half and fill, then cut into four pieces. You could stick with just cheese, or try a filling of black beans (drained and rinsed), pepper jack cheese, and fresh pico de gallo. These can be made earlier and reheated right before serving.
4. Sausage Balls These are great for large groups, and they can be put together in advance. Start with a basic recipe like this one for Bisquick Sausage Balls and it’s easy to modify it depending on what you’re looking for. You could use hot sausage and Sriracha, or lighten them up with lean sausage and a light cheese. There are a ton of variations online! Serve plain or with an accompanying sauce.
5. Mac & Cheese Muffins I’ve seen these all over Pinterest, and it sounds awesome. While not necessarily healthy, it’s small enough to be a lightened up version of a classic. Here’s a basic recipe for standard mac, but if you want something fancier (and lighter), you could use whole wheat macaroni and add spinach and gruyere cheese.
6. Cranberry Salsa I guess cranberries are more of a Thanksgiving thing, but cranberry salsa is something festive, yummy, and it looks kinda pretty. It’s pretty easy to make, too– just use a blender to combine a 12 oz. bag of cranberries, about 1/4 cup chopped red onion, 1 chopped jalapeno, 1 cup cilantro, cumin, salt, lime juice, and about 1/2 sugar or less (to taste). Serve with corn tortilla chips, or pita chips.
7. Red Velvet Cake Balls I made these one New Year’s, and they were a hit. You’ll need a good chunk of time to make them, but it’s worth it. Bake a red velvet cake using a mix (I like to use Mam Papaul’s mix) and let it cool. Once cooled, crumble and mix with cream cheese frosting. You can use canned, but making your own will taste better, and it won’t have all the junk in store bought frosting. After the frosting is mixed in, stick in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Take it out and roll into small balls (I like to use one of those batter scoopers). Arrange balls on a baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least an hour more (or freeze for less time). Then, roll balls in candy melts. I like to dust metallic lustre on mine for New Years, which you can purchase at craft stores. These are the perfect New Year’s dessert– they’re decadent but small enough that they aren’t too decadent.
So what do I have on the menu for my New Year’s get-together? As of right now, I’m planning on serving a few appetizers and desserts, all bite-sized. The menu includes:
Tortilla chips w/ Cranberry Salsa (homemade) & Salsa Verde (store-bought)
Crudités (home-assembled) with Eggplant Hummus (store-bought from Trader Joe’s)
Spicy Sriracha Sausage Balls w/ Apricot Yogurt Sauce (homemade)
Mini Apple, Fig, & Swiss Grilled Cheese (homemade)
Thai Vegetable Gyoza (store-bought from Trader Joe’s)
Chocolate Dipped Fortune Cookies (semi-homemade)
Funfetti Rice Krispie Bites (homemade)
It’s all pretty easy and can (mostly) be prepared in advanced. Assuming things are successful, I’ll post some of the recipes here.