Themed Birthday Party On a Budget: Top Chef Birthday Party

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Tara Odebrecht is a birthday party planning genius in my book. She has creative ideas for themed parties that are very reasonably priced. She put together this idea for a Top Chef Birthday Party and I (Carrie) tried out many of the suggestions for my daughter’s second birthday party. The kids loved it and the parents thought it was so creative, yet it was easy for me to pull off.

Enjoy this guest post by Tara Odebrecht of Shindig Diva sharing one of her party ideas. (If you have a money-saving idea or interest and would like to write a guest blog post for Pocket Your Dollars, please email me your idea and we can talk!)


For some reason, I love, love birthdays! I think it’s because for one day during the whole year, we are each celebrated. It’s especially fun to celebrate those special little kids in our lives. However, it can be frustrating because birthday parties can cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars. I was inspired by Carrie’s amazing frugal tips and thought it would be a ton of fun to take the challenge to create a fun and outrageous birthday party on a budget.

“Top Chef” seemed like the perfect theme. What better theme to keep costs down than one in which the food is the entertainment? Besides, kiddos always have a ton of fun with cooking. I don’t know any kid that doesn’t love to get in the kitchen and help bake cookies.

Here’s my plan for an action-packed “Top Chef” birthday party.

Mission: Create a bright, fun and fantastic kid birthday party for less than $10 per kiddo. (I’ll let you decide if we accomplished that mission.)

Setting the Scene

The first part of any birthday party is the decorations. They’re what set the tone for the entire event. For this party, we used inexpensive wrapping paper to do just that. We chose a bright polka dot paper from Target for $3 and used it in several places. It gave us a lot of bang for only three bucks.

The Little Chef Table

  • Choose a plastic tablecloth that coordinates with the paper. For this event, we chose a bright lime green tablecloth to coordinate with our inspiration paper.
  • Cut a strip of wrapping paper the length of the table and then in half. This is a great runner for any party and can be used to personalize tables for any theme.
  • You can utilize any kitchen items for centerpieces.  We put green foam into a container from the dollar store and added some pot holders on top of skewers. Add tissue paper and you’ve got a centerpiece. We also put a small pail with bright colored candy (in this case, Pixy Stix) in it to finish off the tables.

Treat & Favor Table

This is a must-have for any fabulous party. It can really be a feature at your party and the best thing is, you stock it with things you are going to serve, anyway.

  • Wrap a shoe box with the gift wrap and place the cupcakes frosted in white on top for decorating later. Add a 6-muffin tin in front of the box to highlight the fun goodies that will be used later to decorate the cupcakes.
  • Cut a piece of the gift wrap to wrap around the top of a juice or milk box, leaving the top and bottom open.
  • We added popcorn in fun cupcake liners for the little chefs (or parents) to munch on. This is a great and inexpensive way to display some goodies for the party.
  • For this particular party, favors were our big splurge. I found these great chef hats and aprons at Michaels for $3. They were really cute and a must-have for any chef party, so the $3 spent was well worth it. We also included a cookie cutter ($0.29 each) along with a recipe for one of the guest of honor’s favorite sugar cookies. We printed the recipes on cardstock and glued a fun coordinating paper on the back. We then put both into a cellophane bag and tied with a ribbon – a simple and inexpensive way to send a small favor in addition to the apron/hat set.


Upon arrival, each child should take one apron and hat from the table and put it on.


Since the theme of this party is “Top Chef,” we have incorporated individual and team food challenges.

Salad on a Stick (Individual Activity)

Time: 10 Minutes

Object: For each child to stack yummy salad ingredients on a stick to make a unique healthy creation.

Materials: Any variety of salad ingredients cut into bite-sized 1″ chunks. Here’s what we used:
– ¼ Head of Lettuce
– Cucumbers
– Tomatoes
– Green Peppers
– Croutons
– Salad Dressing for Dipping
– Toothpicks

How To:
1. Place the ingredients in the center of the table.
2. Give each child a small plate with a number on it and 2 toothpicks. Instruct them to make 2 identical salads on a stick: one for them and one for the judge.
3. Set a timer for 2 minutes and say, “Go!”
4. Let them create!
5. When time is up, they should give their plate with their creation to the judge who will pick a winner based on creativity and flavor.

Smoothies (Team Activity)

Time: 15 Minutes

Object: To create a yummy fruit smoothie as a team.

– Milk
– Yogurt
– Mixed Frozen Fruit (slightly thawed and divided into bowls by type of fruit)
– Variety of Fresh Fruit (bananas are great for this and inexpensive)
– Blender
– 2 Bowls or Pitchers

How To:
1. Place all of the possible ingredient choices on the table.
2. Divide the little chefs into two teams (we purchased two colors of aprons to make that easy) and assign a Sous Chef (adult) to each.
3. Set the timer for 4 minutes and say, “Go!”
4. Let the little chefs work together to create the perfect smoothie.
5. When time is up, the adult from the team blends up the concoction.
6. Each team serves their creation to the judge and each team member.

Pizzas (Individual Activity)

Time: 10 Minutes

Object: Create a yummy pizza that will be tasty for the little chef. This round is not judged by anyone except the little chef themselves.

– 8 English Muffins
– 4 Cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
– 1 Jar of Pizza Sauce
– Pepperoni
– ½ Chopped Green Pepper
– Canadian Bacon
– Small Can of Pineapple

How To:
1. Split all of the ingredients into 2 sets of bowls and place a set at each end of the table.
2. Give each little chef a plate with an English muffin (or other crust option).
3. Let them go to work creating a little pizza.
4. Bake until done (until the cheese is lightly browned).
5. Enjoy!

Blindfolded Taste Test (Team Activity)

Object: Each little chef should identify three mystery foods while blindfolded. I have seen this one on the “Top Chef” show and it’s always entertaining!

– 2 Blindfolds
– 24 “Mystery Bites” (This can be anything you have on hand. I recommend using the ingredients that you already have for the party. Examples: Pineapple, pepperoni, marshmallows, cheese, strawberries, yogurt.)

How To:
1. Divide into teams.
2. Blindfold the first little chef on each team.
3. One at a time, give each little chef a mystery food and let them guess what it is.
4. Each food identified correctly earn the chef a point for his/her team.
5. Repeat this round three times and then move to the next round of little chefs.
6. The team with the most points wins!

Cupcake Decorating (Individual Activity)

Time: 10 Minutes

Object: Turn a cupcake into a masterpiece.

– Cupcakes with White Frosting (homemade or store bought)
– Sprinkles
– Any Other Toppings (marshmallows, crushed cookies, candies, etc.)

How To:
1. Place a cupcake in front of each little chef and let them decorate until their masterpieces are complete.
2. Eat and enjoy!

Tara Odebrecht is the brains behind Shindig Diva, a boutique event planning business serving the Twin Cities area. Her specialties include outrageous kid parties and signature sweet stations.

Your turn: What are some of your favorite, low-cost and easy themes for birthday parties? How do you pull them off?


  1. Lindsey says

    What a great post! I love the pictures and all of the details to make a simple party LOOK like it cost a fortune and took you a week to get ready. I love throwing parties and I think it is woven into our human nature to WANT to be hospitable, but people just get too stressed and overwhelmed and say "forget it." Please keep more party posts coming for all kinds of parties. I might not be using them NOW, but I'd be sure to come back and search through the website when I am throwing a party.

  2. Melissa says

    I love this post! We always have a big party for our boys, but it gets expensive fast and is stressful and overwhelming, and we have 3 boys! Keep the ideas coming!

  3. Dawn says

    A great at-home party I've done on a budget was Backwards Party. The invitation was done on computer and spelled backwards. Typically parties are morning or afternoon, ours was on a Saturday night. Guests were told to arrive in their PJs. When they arrived, they were immediately told "thanks for coming!" and given their treat bag. We did everything backwards…gifts first, then ice cream with cake on top, then breakfast (instead of dinner) that was yogurt, fruit, french toast & juice eaten on the floor (on a plastic tablecloth), then we ended with games. When the kids were picked up at 8pm by their parents, they were all ready for bed! This was done for an 8 yr old girl's party and they LOVED it.

  4. Marie says

    In a former life I should of been a party planner. It's a passion of mine. But I love to do it on a dime budget!!! I have twins that will be 4 soon.

    For their second birthday I had an Elmo themed party. For games I took a picture of cookie monster and a picture of oscar the grouch and had them blown up at a copy store. Then we opened up a large cardboard box and traced and cut out the cookie monster and oscar. For the cookie monster game I bought felt and beans and hot glue and made choc. chip cookie bean bags. The game was simple. The kids just had to toss the bean bag cookies into his mouth. Then for Oscar the Grouch we got a clean trash can and stuck Oscar's head in the top of the trash can. Then we had crumpled up newspaper for the kids toss in on oscar. Then I also set up a coloring station and got Elmo coloring books at the Dollar Tree and had the pages torn out so they could color.

    Food we kept simple and bought Little Caesaer's pizza's for $5. I made an Elmo cake purchasing the pan on Craigslist for a few dollars instead of new at Michael's. For decorations the Dollar Tree had Elmo and character plates, napkins and cups. Or for your theme try to hit Party City when there paper products are 1/2 price and only buy some themed and then supplement with solid colors!!! Huge money saver. For decorations I found some easy crafts using toilet paper rolls to make some of the characters. I also used my kids Elmo toys. The kids had a blast and the parents were impressed. For goody bags I got red gift bags and put Elmo's face on them. And then I found Elmo themed items at Dollar Tree and the Dollar Spot at Target!!!! Score!!

    For their 3rd birthday we did a Dora and Diego theme. Now I should mention that we start planning the party about 6months in advance. I did a simple "adventure". Instead of making individual maps for the kids I used a poster board and made a map. I took a blow up kiddie pool and put Dollar Tree alligators in it with 3 large stepping rocks (borrowed from my neighbors landscaping) This was crocodile lake. Then I bought dum-dum lollipops and make two rows in the lawn and that was Lollipop path. The kids had to find the path and pick up the lollipops. Then our swingset we turned into Macaw island. I found blow up parrots and palm trees etc. at the Dollar Tree. Also, I bought a white mask and painted it blue and then found blue stretch gloves for $1 and had one of the kids dad's play Swiper!! It was perfect the kids would yell, "Swiper no swiping." I also got the kids binoculars at Michaels in the $1 bin section. Each kid got a gift backpack. I purchased white canvas ones on Oriental Trading and then my husband dyed them orange for Diego and purple for Dora. I used craft foam and hot glue to make the faces on them. Everything in them came from the Dollar Tree. We had stickers, tattoo's, Dora/ Diego bubbles and jumping ropes. Also buckets/shovels and frisbie's. Then I made a Dora cake and a Diego cake, with pans bought on Craigslist. The food was simple. I took lunchmeat and cheese and cut them into animal shapes. I made a Diego trailmix and served it in Diego cupcake papers (clearance item), and I made a simple punch. Oh, we also did some crafts. I downloaded Diego Watches from the Nickolodean website and the boys did that. The girls made Dora bracelets with beads I got at Michaels. We also made baby jaguar masks(again printed from the Nickolodean website.)

    Now I also check out the website
    They have tons of ideas and I get ideas there and then see how I can do it cheap.

    We are already working on our Captain Hook and Princess party for this year. By planning ahead I have already purchased most of the items. For the boys I picked up a set of eyepatches, sword, and hook for $1 a set. For the girls Target had tierra's and princess stickers in their Dollar section. I found the girls paper products on clearance at Target.

    Now invitations I made the Elmo ones out of craft foam. I made Elmo's face and then typed up the info and glued it on the back. For Dora/Diego I lucked out and found clearance ones(cheaper then I could make them) For this year I found princess one's clearanced and will be making the ones for the boys.

    Definitely, check the Dollar Tree and Target. Don't go over themed!! Incorporate solid colors to stretch paper products. Check websites for downloadable crafts.

    I just helped a random stranger with her pirate party with some of these ideas.

    okay, sorry this post got long

  5. says

    love this idea, my granddaughter will turn 2 in February,this would be perfect but this still is mostly parents at her parties,and all our houses are not big enough to accommodate so we end up at perkin's last year, any ideas please send my way…

  6. Christin says

    Love Love Love it! So fantastic to have the activities laid out for us, and the fact that it works out to only $10 per child AND it's creative and fresh? Fantastic. On my way to Michael's to pick up those aprons…

  7. says

    Great ideas for the kids! I'm a big of smoothies and thought I'd another recipe with you that the kid's can also make. Mangos are a new taste that they can enjoy.

    Mondo Mango Smoothie

    2 cups chopped mango (about 1 large)

    1/2 cup cold water

    2 tablespoons lemon juice

    1 (8-ounce) container vanilla yogurt

    1/4 cup sugar

    1 cup crushed ice

    Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Cover and chill 2 hours. Stir in crushed ice and serve in a chilled glass.

  8. Linda says

    I love this idea! My kids birthdays are coming up soon and I've NEVER done a kids party for them. This sounds do-able and fun. Thank you

  9. Katelyn MacPherson says

    For my daughters 7th b day over christmas break, I made home made sugar cookies, cut out all the usual christmas shapes, baked them the day before, and had the kids decorate them with home made icing with powdered sugar and food coloring! They had a blast!!!

  10. kim says

    What great timing as my 7 yr old wants a cooking party in March. Fabulous colors as most I have seen are red & white (pizzeria idea). I wondered about the colorful hats and aprons. Where can those purchased? It beats the white one, hands down.

  11. Sam says

    I need to be more creative like that. I just threw my daughter a 5th birthday party. All together, we spent around $50. Didn't do any fun games, but will plan better next time. Had a total of 7 kids and their parents. So, I guess that wasn't bad. We served $5 pizzas from Papa John's, bought two types of chips, had soda, juice, water and I made cupcakes. The kids even got little goody bags to take home. I will plan better in the future and hope for creativity.

  12. heny says

    I really love the pictures you posted.As much as i want to do the same thing.But i was thinking if my son would appreciate those baking and cooking sessions he's turning two only.Can you help find an idea on how to celebrate his Chef theme party without baking or cooking i just want to use the custome of a chef and the theme but not exactly the things they are doing.Hope you could help guys thanks!

    • says

      We did this party for my two year old. I pre-made the cupcakes myself, without kids helping and we still frosted them together – parents helping, of course. I also had a variety of snacks that the kids scooped with measuring cups into their bowl and mixed together to make their own "trail mix" (pretzels, popcorn, raisins, sunflower seeds, etc.).

  13. Ros says

    I went to Michael's looking for the chef aprons and hats in your selected colors. I did not see them and they stated that they only sell white hats. Did you dye your aprons and hats to match your theme colors. If so, what type of dye did you use. If you purchased them in the color shown please advise the store location you purchased them.

  14. Aparajita says

    Fantastic idea. But I live in India. Is there any way that I can get those aprons and chef hats from michael. What would they cost me. Please help


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