Ice Cream or Cake: A Guide to a Birthday Party


    Have you ever wished the birthday party planning was manageable?

    I just wrapped up the birthday party, and here is my guide to making it fun and not overwhelm yourself in the process.

    Ice cream or cake: a guide to a birthday party
    Ice cream or cake: a guide to a birthday party

    Strong opinions vs. storage space

    My kid just turned four and wanted everything for her birthday party with friends.

    I don’t know about you, but my child constantly changes her mind on what she wants to be/do/have, which makes my job of delivering a tad harder.

    For example, for Halloween last year, she was switched from Batman to Fireman to Doctor to the Cat in hours. Her grandma was extremely worried about how many costumes we needed to appease the little star. 

    I was particular about making the child’s “executive decision” and having only ONE costume. My space for junk, which will be used once a year, is limited, as is my desire to store stuff in our one-bedroom SF apartment.

    That dilemma was solved with a two-sided cape that my little actor/singer/dancer uses in her weekly family shows.

    A reminder from your favorite Rest Coach:

    No matter what your child says they want, I want you to remember that You are the final decision maker because you are the PARENT! 

    For now you do know better.

    After listening to the input from your kids, obviously 🙂!

    As a Rest Coach, I ensure my clients, who are also parents like you, remember they are not here to be only the wallet and party organizer.  Every celebration is unique and will never be replicated and you want your child to create wonderful memories. But that does not mean you must jump through every hoop your child(ren) throws at you as they envision floating diving castles with real unicorns unless you have one of those in your backyard. If so – can I be your friend?

    Set a plan first and then look for what’s available.

    Maybe this year you can throw a party for everyone at the preschool, or perhaps you want to opt for a lower-key celebration that can be just as meaningful but less stressful for you.

    Be confident in your decision and, if needed, explain to your kids why you made it because they understand logic as long as you use the words and reasons they can relate to.

    Make sure your boundaries on how much money/effort/time you are willing to invest into each party are clear to you and anyone involved in the planning. 

    There will be many more celebrations to come! 

    And if someone tells you to “do a better job,” – let them do it instead!

    The big 4

    For her birthday, this Memorial day, my child was adamant to have a bouncy house and cupcakes, cake or donuts. Or better all of those combined and many friends to share the delights with.

    There are so many options that might make your head spin. 

    Here is a short guide I created to make your life easier.

    The bouncy house

    The venue: indoors or outdoors?

    First I advise you to book the location and the date you need for your event. 

    Especially if it’s on or around a holiday weekend at least a couple of months before the big day.

    Start with deciding if you want to host indoors or outdoors. 

    Our semi-post-kinda-done covid pandemic days are a huge bonus for many families plus there is no limit on who can come.

    We’ve explored several inside options in San Francisco with bouncing opportunities (like LittleOceanauts or AcroSports). They all had some version of the “no more than 20 kids” or “show up with just one caregiver per kid” rule that we wanted to avoid as it adds on extra hussle. 

    Thankfully booking a bouncy house outside is relatively accessible through SF Parks and Recs. After we selected a playground near our home, they provide you with a list of approved bouncy vendors.

    The fun: get all the help you can!

    Second step is choosing the vendor. There are too many to choose from and not enough reviews that are published to rely on. Especially the negative ones: are they getting deleted or no one takes the time to post? We need those to be safe.

    I’ll be honest, as a Rest Coach myself, who is constantly looking for ways to make my life easier, I inquired with a friend who had a party in the same playground we selected earlier this year. She shared all the horrors about some of the vendors…they can screw you and not feel bad about it. Thankfully, she gave me a few names to stay away from.

    Make the decision yourself.

    When I saw the selection of options, my first thought was to give my kid a choice of bouncy houses based on pictures. However, I advise against it as the perception and reality clash in their little heads, leading to tantrums instead of positive emotions on the big day..

    We booked a bouncy house combo with a slide and a basketball hoop inside.

    It was a HIT! 

    It was outside!

    And all the kids and adults loved it!

    And if you get to see it blown up or down – it’s a bonus for the little humans as they love to observe the prep work. It looks like magic to them.

    The party favors

    What I don’t do

    I am a big advocate for not packing party bags. 

    In my book, it adds on extra work at the planning stage of thinking about how many kids, what to pack etc. 

    I also try to avoid the extra layer of chores during the event making sure everyone grabs their bag. Usually parents share that these bags are added to a pile of things that “might never be used” in the home.

    Note: if you enjoy the process, don’t let my point of view derail you from having fun. You do you! That’s my motto to myself, my kid and my Rest coaching clients. Your joy is more important than anyone else’s perspective.

    My alternative

    I prep things the kiddos can use during the party (think chalk, bubbles, whatever your kid is into). I aim to bring items that could turn into art supplies to be brought home but only if other kids want to. 

    Last year we bought a box of bubble wands and had a couple left that we brought with us this year. We also have a jar of bubble liquid in case someone needs a refill.

    This year I found fun stamps in the theme of the event (mermaids and whimsical underwater creatures) that I bought directly from Tiny Mills. They created diversity friendly characters at reasonable prices with great delivery! We still have a bunch left and I know they will definitely be used during the next couple of months.

    The food

    Snacks: how much to plan

    Because space and food waste are not my favorite things, I always observe how much food is too much when planning or attending other events.

    Here is what we learned:

    1. Bagels: 3 bags are too many for a party of 15+ adults (hot tip: you can freeze leftover bagels for up to 6 months).
    2. Cream cheese and coffee (1 cartoon is plenty!) are a great addition. I also insisted on hot water as I don’t drink coffee and want to be comfortable.
    3. Fruit and veggie plate – find the smallest one or be ready to take home most of it.
    4. Juices and milk in individual containers – wonderful idea. Get one box each maximum. If you by some miracle manage to run out – good for you!
    5. Regular water and paper towels are nice and less hassle than napkins because those fly away too easily outside.
    6. Sweets: last year we found mini-donuts that are soooo cute that we could not resist getting a set this year as well. They were a hit with all three packs gone by the end of the party.

    The star of the show

    This year I decided to serve ice cream instead of cake.

    Why? Why not!

    We as a family love ice cream and one cake seemed too boring.

    I initially thought of renting a fancy cart from one of the many local vendors like HumphreySlocomb, Hometown Creamery or Philmore Creamery

    However I decided that store-bought Rainbow, Vanilla and Strawberry ice creams with extra sprinkles are just as awesome. I made that decision after seeing the prices, which clashed with a $$ number I had in mind – remember your plan and boundaries? Use those!

    Everyone agreed that ice cream is the ultimate version of childhood fun!

    The adults made affogato with vanilla ice cream in their coffee.

    The kids were very specific about whether sprinkles are accepted or deserve a tantrum.

    I smelled like rainbows and loved every minute of it.

    And I over planned how much ice cream can be consumed. Because – FIRST time.

    Did I beat myself up? NO WAY!

    It was a joke during the party that my party favors will consist of full jars of ice creams for parents to take home.

    They didn’t. I returned all of the unopened and unused ice cream back to the store.

    Magic! And money and freezer space saved!

    Final thoughts

    Planning any event is stressful. Give yourself a kind and gentle reminder that you are doing the best you can with the resources you have available.

    Don’t do everything by yourself. Ask for the help from your friends and those you invite to the event. 

    Remember: not every party needs to be elaborate. Kids will remember the feelings, not how perfectly the decorations were hanging.

    Create something you would enjoy as a kid – my husband added an extra oomph to the party by masterminding a Treasure hunt. I insisted on using the leftover easter eggs that I needed out of the house. A win-win and all the participants were having a blast finding gold coins spread out in the trees using the hand-drawn map.

    As a gift for reading this far – I would love to offer you 15-minute FREE consultation with me as your Rest Coach. 

    Who is this for: A parent who is looking for guidance, support, and accountability in working with your boundaries or wants to get through the panic attacks or unworthiness of asking for help. 15 minutes is an easily-scheduled session that we can do over the phone when you need an extra set of eyes on a challenge you’ve been procrastinating about or a decision that needs to be made this summer!

    Email me at AR@Rest.Coach with the code word “Ice cream” in the subject to claim your gift. Limited to the first 10 people who take action!

    Note: This is not paid advertising of any of the mentioned vendors. All the opinions are those expressed by the author.


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    Anastasiya (a.k.a. Stacey), a native Ukrainian who has called San Francisco her home since 2014, is a strong advocate for women’s rights in business and in play, and loves to promote self-care and me-time. Becoming a mom two years ago allowed her to reevaluate what self-care means and put her on a path towards freedom from the corporate world. Anastasiya is an avid traveler, speaks 5 languages, loves good food, good books and chilling on Ocean Beach after getting a much needed manicure! She has lived in Greece, traveled to 5 continents including Antarctica (the one near South Pole), visited 25 states in the continental US, and was on track to hit 30 countries when COVID hit. She has turned her passion into the profession of Travel Designer, saving clients countless hours and energy spent in front of search engines and transforming the way people think about planning for getaways.


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