Easy Forties-Themed Birthday Dinner for Teens

Cooking and Recipes DIY Printable Fun
An Agent Peggy Carter cake was a geeky fun way to celebrate a Forties-style birthday dinner. All images: Lisa Kay Tate

Like many teenagers, my daughter likes the current movie and music trends, but most of the time she time travels to another time: “The Forties.”

She loves the music, the fashion, the movies, cars, and the way people joined together in a time of war from the hard-working spirit of Rosie the Riveter to self-reliance of the Victory Gardens. She also loves to watch current movies set in the past, especially from the 1920s to the 1950s.

This gave me an interesting idea for her 16th birthday dinner this year: Forties-style with a geeky edge. The weekend before her birthday, she got to have a special outing with a couple of friends, but on the day of her birthday, which was in the middle of the week with school the next day, we planned a more low-key celebration.

The challenge for her dinner was to make it “Forties” style, make it easy, and give it a geeky edge, all while making her 16th memorable.

Forties Hangings
Historic WWII propaganda postcards and Howling Commandos fit together well for Forties-themed decorations.

The Setting

This couldn’t have been easier. We set up a meal like a 1940s picnic, complete with paper straws and checkered picnic tablecloths and napkins.

For the main meal, we made some Spam sandwiches, with simple potato chips, and “victory garden” raw fruits and veggies. We had this with a pitcher of plain lemonade with a few slices of lemon for looks.

Overhead, I strung some WWII era postcards, taped back to back on yarn, and printed out some postcard images of Agent Carter (one our favorite characters), Captain America, and the Howling Commandos.

40s meal
Spam sandwiches, with veggies from the “victory garden,” and a chocolate cake make up a simple picnic-like meal.

The Cake

We went with a very basic cake: plain yellow mix with chocolate frosting. I used a star-shaped cookie cutter as a stencil, which I filled with some red, white, and blue cake sprinkles. I found some printable buntings small enough for the cake edges (several party sites have something similar) and taped a printed-out image of Peggy Carter on a paper straw to set down in the back of the cake.

I finished it off with old-timey “sugar letters” for her name—I don’t know if they had these in the ’40s or not, but they seemed appropriate—and found some sparkler-style candles.

I did have an old easy recipe that my mom had in her recipe box (I have no idea where she got it) for a WWII cake, using no eggs, milk, or butter:

WWII Cake Recipe

This is fine to serve with the meal, but not as the main cake. It can be very dry and works best in thin slices or as mini muffins. I sprinkled the slices with powdered sugar to make it sweeter.

Forties Presents
Forties-era snacks and swing music are fun gift choices.

The Presents

This was the best part. I might have the only 16-year-old in the world to get excited about this, but her big gift for the evening was a set of tickets to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra, who came to our city that next month. In addition to the American orchestra, there are “official” Glenn Miller Orchestras carrying on Miller’s big band traditions throughout Europe, including ones based in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. The tours seem to come through most big markets every couple of years.

We packaged these by placing them in an envelope decorated by an old Glenn Miller concert poster we printed off the internet.

Instead of tickets, you can pick up some great ’40s sounds on CD or vinyl (Miller, Andrews Sisters, Louis Prima), as well as many of the “swing” bands that hit the area in the late 1990s early 2000s (Brian Setzer Orchestra, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy). Find these used at a vinyl dealer to save some money.

For newer sounds, my daughter has also embraced “Electro Swing.” There are several compilation CDs for this style available. I also recommended checking out Caravan Palace, particularly in some of their retro-future robot-centric videos:

In addition to the music, we gave her a box of some retro candy. Candycrate has a good list of popular candies by decade, but anyone near a place like Cracker Barrel, World Market, or a similar supermarket can likely put together their own set easily and less expensively. Add a couple of bottles of nostalgic colas. I placed these in a plain cardboard box lined with a red-checkered napkin, and decorated it with a “Howling Commandos” sticker. There are several designs found for $3 or less on the usual sites for geeky stickers like TeePublic or Red Bubble.

All her presents, ’40s-themed or not, were wrapped in simple brown paper tied with some patriotic ribbon.

In the end, it was a simple and inexpensive gathering, and my daughter was pretty surprised with it. It wasn’t a big “Sweet Sixteen” bash in any way, but she didn’t need an expensive to-do.

One thing she has in common with Agent Carter is she “knows her value,” and to her family, it is priceless.

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