Everything I know about planning a good party I learned in the Barbie Party Cookbook
Imagine the perfect brunch party: You wake up, perhaps at your friend’s house from a kitschy sleepover the night before. You put on your frothy pink dressing gown and walk into the kitchen, where friends are already chatting and making all your favorites, like Orange Berry Cups, Chocolate Dipped Strawberries, and beautifully golden French Toast Raspberry-Jelly Sandwiches. There’s already homemade hot chocolate on the stove. This party is like something out of a fairy tale, almost too perfect.
It is a Barbie party.
In 1991, Price Stern Sloan published the Barbie Party Cookbook, in which Barbie shared “her” ten menus (actually credited to food writer Helene Siegel) for themed parties for kids. Each menu was accompanied by a vignette of Barbie and her friends in matching outfits, cheerfully illustrated recipes, and notes from Barbie herself about how each party went. “This occasion is bound to be a splash—when you taste my Chickabobs and Pacific Salad you’ll feel as if you’re on a South Sea island!”
I would have been five when the book came out, which makes sense because I can’t remember not having it. Its pages are now stained and warped with decades-old tomato sauce and chocolate, and Barbie’s outfits are the sort of dated where you realize she’s doing straight '90s instead of '90s revival. The book has been loved, though, and basically everything I know about planning a good party I learned in the Barbie Party Cookbook first.
Here are some things Barbie suggests you do before any party: Choose a day that is free for your parents (you will need an Adult Helper in the kitchen, as nearly every recipe specifies) and most of your friends, but don’t be discouraged if some people can’t come. Give friends time between school and your party so they can change their outfits to match the theme. Invite your closest friends, but also a few acquaintances, so you can get to know each other better. And always make a little extra food so you don’t run out.
I regularly find myself coming back to this basic counsel. We tend to get two strains of advice when it comes to party planning: meticulously plan every detail, or say screw it. The first requires work, which no one wants to do. What’s the point of having a fun brunch party if you’re going to spend the entire time flipping pancakes in the kitchen or frantically whipping up a new batch of eggs because someone decided to bring their new girlfriend? The second, though, tends to lead to bad parties. Of course we all want good times to just happen, but we know they rarely do.
Flipping through the thick, child-proof pages of the Barbie Party Cookbook, Barbie told me a middle ground was possible. I could make ice cream sandwiches, and then enjoy them in front of a roaring fire with my Ken. I could prep some simple tea sandwiches and not have to worry about another thing when my friends arrive. Assembling tacos could be the point of an entire gathering. In Barbie’s life, party planning is never a burden. There are always friends and adults ready to help, always decorations to put up together, and guests are full of love and not judgment.
Hosting can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be awful. The core of what I know still comes from Barbie: Don’t sweat it if some people can’t come, cherish your closest friends while still warmly welcoming new ones, and always make a little extra. And French Toast Raspberry-Jelly Sandwiches are good any time of day.