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FAQ: What Ideas Do You Have for an Old-Fashioned Picnic Party?

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Question: FAQ: What Ideas Do You Have for an Old-Fashioned Picnic Party?
A reader named Marie wrote asking for ideas for her daughter's fifth birthday party. She knew she wanted to give it an old-fashioned theme and already had several great ideas, including sack races, face painting and egg-and-spoon races. She also planned to borrow a bouncy castle from a friend and serve classic barbecue-type foods.
Answer:

Marie's picnic party planning is already off to a great start! Here are a few more ideas for a traditional backyard birthday bash.

The Menu

Definitely stick to a barbecue-themed menu, including burgers, hot dogs, chicken or other favorite grilled meats. Serve traditional picnic side dishes, too, such as potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw and potato chips. About.com's Guide to Kids' Cooking offers some Fourth of July recipes that would work well for a backyard picnic birthday party.

Serve the food in red plastic food baskets (compare prices) lined with red-and-white checkered napkins or parchment paper.

Watermelon is a must. You could also make fruit kebabs if you're looking for an easy way to serve fruit to kids. Consider using plastic skewers with rounded tips instead of pointed wooden ones since they're safer for your daughter's age group.

You could set up a large jug of lemonade or put out individual lemonade bottles. Replace the bottles' labels with your own, perhaps by cutting strips of red-and-white checked paper, which is often sold by the sheet at scrapbooking or craft stores.

Old-fashioned looking soda bottles would also make a cute display in a galvanized bucket of ice, but consider whether the guests are old enough to walk safely with glass bottles in their hands.

For dessert, you could set up an ice cream cone station where the kids can top their ice cream with sprinkles, jimmies, cherries and other treats (you might want to offer bowls in case those ice cream cones get a little top heavy).

If you're feeling ambitious, have the kids make the ice cream at the start of the party using a wooden ice cream maker or a Play & Freeze ice cream-making ball (compare prices) they can kick around.

Another classic picnic party dessert is apple pie, but if a birthday party just isn't a birthday party without a frosting-topped cake, check out these picnic-themed treats I spotted on Flickr:

Too much effort? What screams backyard barbecue more than a 9-inch by 13-inch single-layer cake served in a Pyrex pan? Frost it, cover it with sprinkles and call it good.

Picnic Party Decorations

Don't feel like you need to go overboard on decorations. Your backyard is probably lovely enough as it is, and the whole gist of the party is a celebration of yesteryear's simpler times, anyway.

You could add a few touches, though, such as red-and-white checkered tablecloths and balloons.

Want to take it a little further? Check out this charming farmhouse picnic from Country Living magazine for inspiration.

Games and Activities

Marie's ideas to hold potato-sack races and do face paintings are perfect. Check out About.com's Guide to Grandparents' list of old-fashioned outdoor games for more ideas (and don't miss the games her readers contributed, too). Some of my favorite classic games are kick the can and wheelbarrow relays.

Over e-mail, Marie and I came up with another idea: an apple tree bean bag toss. First, make bean bags shaped like apples (or just make red squares and call them apples--the kids won't care). Then, cut a tree shape from plywood or another sturdy material. Cut round holes in the tree. Lean it against your house or build support legs behind it. Have the kids take turns seeing how many "apples" they can throw through the holes.

The bean bag toss and other activities could all be part of a backyard carnival (sometimes called a penny carnival). The guests could go from booth to booth participating in the face painting, bean-bag toss, bouncy castle and other activities. Give them a strip of tickets so they can "pay" their way at the various booths.

A classic penny carnival booth involves building a simple shelter and giving kids outside the shelter a fishing pole (a tree branch with a string and a clothespin attached will do). Decorate the shelter to look like water, then have an adult or older child hide behind the shelter and attach small candies or other prizes to the clothespin while the younger children fish from the other side.

What's more traditional than having the kids take a few whacks at a pinata? Since this is a picnic party, try to make your own ant-shaped pinata following these basic directions, but using three balloons instead of one and covering it in black tissue paper instead of brighter colors. The legs could be made from pipe cleaners.

A fun activity for the adults and kids to do together is to play a game of Bingo. Have your spouse dress up like a bingo caller (think tacky vest and matching visor) and award prizes for the winners of each round.

Prizes and Favors

For favors, you could give each child a miniature picnic basket box (compare prices) filled with treasures, such as temporary tattoos and cherry-shaped gummy candies.

Prizes for games could be boxes of Cracker Jacks, jump ropes, a set of Jacks or sidewalk chalk.

Anything simple, timeless and useful during the lazy days of summer should be much appreciated by the guests at your picnic party.

Best of luck with it, Marie, and please submit photos to our readers' birthdays section when it's all said and done.

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