Checklist for a stress-free themed party

I love to plan, but I’m often paralyzed by my perfectionist (please-like-me) nature and just the endless options to choose from. Over the last few years though, I have thrown and seen too many Pinterest-perfect parties to count, and I’ve found that it really sucks the life out of a party. You stay up all night decorating mason jars and gluing googly eyes to sea creatures, then you have to clean up the glitter bomb that is your house and before you know it, you’re running down the stairs to greet guests with wet hair (maybe no one will notice if it’s in a messy bun) and little, if any makeup because you just spent every. waking. moment. for the last 72 hours, re-creating the deep blue sea in your living room. It’s all too much. The party becomes not about the people or the person being celebrated, but about you and what you did and how creative you are. Meanwhile, your three year old is like, “That looks pretty mommy! Can we go play outside?” Party favors, food labels and 3-tiered cakes dominate the photos instead of the smiling faces of kiddos and guests enjoying conversation. Your friends and family are so enamored by all of these amazing creations that they’re feeling inadequate and already stressing about how they could even come close to doing this for their next event…four months from now.

So, I’m not here to say that theme parties are a no-no, but let’s talk about how you can throw a party that people will remember for how much fun it was and how great it made them feel to be in your home.

1. Allow Pinterest to inspire you, not rule you.

I start there nearly every time. There are a lot of creative people out there and those over-the-top parties do get your creative juices flowing, but you can follow a theme without having it reflected in catchy names for goldfish crackers and custom-labeled water bottles.

2. Simple food.

For example:

  • Beach theme- incorporate tropical fruit in some of your menu items
  • Cowboy theme- BBQ and the usual accompaniments will be fantastic
  • Movie night- popcorn, candy, maybe soft pretzels
 Case & point...I forgot to take pictures of the food! I served Peachy BBQ Pulled Pork sandwiches with Jicama Mango Slaw and Hummus with Veggies for our Beach Blanket Bunco themed event. Also served but not pictured: Strawberry, Watermelon & Basil water, Coconut Frozen Mojitos and Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn.

Case & point...I forgot to take pictures of the food! I served Peachy BBQ Pulled Pork sandwiches with Jicama Mango Slaw and Hummus with Veggies for our Beach Blanket Bunco themed event. Also served but not pictured: Strawberry, Watermelon & Basil water, Coconut Frozen Mojitos and Honey Roasted Peanut Popcorn.

And don’t kill yourself having a ton of options. Chances are you know if you have someone coming who’s vegan or diabetic, and by all means, accommodate that. But really, two appetizers, an entrée with one or two sides and one dessert is plenty. The only dessert one can expect at a birthday party is cake and ice cream. Offering cookies & candy too is a waste of money and a disservice to your guest’s waistline. Check out this infographic for guidelines on how much food to make:

How Much Food Do You Need? Get Your Catering Order Right

From Visually.

3. Limited beverages.

We used to offer every major soft drink, tea, water, lemonade, juice boxes for the kids, etc and we were left with a counter-full of half-empty 2-liters. I was making more tea halfway through the party and rushing to get more water on ice. Now we offer tea, water and juice pouches for the kids. If one is that particular about what they want to drink, they will bring it themselves. Bring on the Tervis & the Yetis!

Offering cocktails? I usually make a themed cocktail and the rest is BYOB. Of course, if it’s in my bar and you want it, it’s yours! But you will most likely never succeed in accommodating everyone, so let everyone know what you’ll be serving and they can take it from there.

4. Offer hospitality over perfection.

 These are (some) of the women I play bunco with each month. We all take turns hosting, cooking, loving & praying for each other!

These are (some) of the women I play bunco with each month. We all take turns hosting, cooking, loving & praying for each other!

THIS. More than anything, people will remember how you made them feel. Relax. Feed them. Love them. My best friend does this better than anyone I know. People want to feel genuinely welcomed into your home, your real home, by the real you. 

Also, rest assured, if you really lack the time or the food part of entertaining isn't your thing, you can always hire a personal chef (like me) to do it for you!


Drink your beer and eat it too!

Mediterranean Chicken Meatballs with Fat Tire-Tomato Broth

So this guy walks into a bar. He sits down next to me and proceeds to quiz me about my life. He's so intrigued, listening intently even with all the shenanigans going on around us. It's not all that loud though. We're the pre-happy hour group, employees of the local Anheuser-Busch distributor. For most of the guys, the day begins early, with beer being slung from the truck to the store shelves by 6am. For me and my counterpart, we're in the dead time between split shifts. By day we schmooze with bar owners to get beer specials, by night we schmooze with the college kids to convince them that Bud heavy isn't just their dad's beer. But back to this guy, he's charming, intelligent, hilarious and a gentleman, with just a touch of a bad boy edge. 

Fast forward 13 years later and this beer man has won my heart, given me two beautiful girls and made Kentucky my home. He's still a beer man, but he's moved up considerably in both position and flavor profile to the craft brew segment. He brought this magazine from one of his trips and I was inspired to make many of the recipes but chose this one, Lamb Meatballs in Tomato-Beer Broth, for National Drink-a-Beer Day.


Per my usual style of cooking, I used what I had on hand (ground chicken instead of lamb, for example) and made the recipe my own. I took their suggestion for an amber ale and used New Belgium Fat Tire in the tomato broth. The result was beautiful and made a delicious dinner. It was written to be an appetizer but I had some leftover Cumin-Spiced Lentils and Rice that echoed the Mediterranean flavor of the meatballs. 

And, since the recipe only calls for 1/4 cup of beer, please enjoy the remainder while you make this recipe. I would hate to see good beer go to waste, especially on National Drink-a-Beer Day!


Mediterranean Chicken Meatballs with Fat Tire-Tomato Broth


1 lb ground chicken breast
½ cup onion, minced
1 egg
1 tsp cumin, ground
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper, ground
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1 Tbs dried parsley
Feta, crumbled

Beer-Tomato Broth
3 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
½ cup New Belgium Fat Tire amber ale
2 tsp salt, divided
1 Tbs (0.5 fl oz/15 ml) olive oil
2 Tbs garlic, minced
1 pinch crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves


Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Combine all the ingredients except the feta in a mixing bowl and mix well. Using a 1 inch cookie scoop (or a spoon), scoop the meat mixture and form into meatballs about the size of a walnut. Arrange on a silpat-lined cookie sheet and bake until internal temp reaches 165, about 14 minutes.


Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, beer, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a saucepan with a lid. Place on low heat and simmer, allowing the tomatoes to soften, for about 40 minutes. Gently press the tomatoes with a potato masher, strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve into a heat-safe bowl and discard the solids.


Return the saucepan to the stove and warm the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, red pepper, and thyme and sweat slowly, for about 2 minutes. Add the tomato liquid to the pan and simmer until reduced by one third or desired richness. Season with the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt.


To serve as an appetizer, place a toothpick in each meatball, gently pour broth over the meatballs and sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese.



Gratitude. It's a lost art. We get so wrapped up in our own little world that we forget to put ourselves in another's shoes. We're in a hurry and don't pay attention to inconsequential details like our server's name, or even what they look like. When our food comes out wrong we assume whoever is cooking it must be an idiot, not that staff hours have been cut so far back that the line cook is doing the work of two people so sometimes that special request (in the hundreds they get a night) gets overlooked. 

Tonight when you're headed out to dinner with your favorite partner in crime, plot out a not-so-random act of kindness because today is special. It is National Food Service Worker's Day:

Thank the host for seating you and maybe even hand them a tip.

Ask your server their name and use it.

Ask whoever delivers your food if they have a prayer request that you can lift up when you say the blessing.

Leave a ridiculously large tip.

Ask to speak to the manager and compliment their staff in both the front and back of the house.

Send a note back to the grill cook.

Any of these could make a big difference in how their shift goes, and those positive vibes can have a ripple effect among the whole staff and even the patrons. Let's all make a point to appreciate the people that make, serve and clean up after our meals. If you've ever worked in the food service industry, you likely do these things already (if you don't, use this opportunity to remember where you came from...don't be that customer).  And, if you haven't ever known the joys & trials of the industry, be extra grateful! 

What's your favorite way of showing your appreciation for food service workers? For those in, or have come through, the food industry, what's the best act of gratitude you've experienced?