“Over the last few years we have gotten some great neighbors with kids, and we’ve become very close with them,” the Saved by the Bell icon and mom of two tells PEOPLE in the new special Summer Grilling issue, on stands Friday. “We’ve got children of all different ages, so I love throwing big barbecues outside for everyone. It’s really fun.”
But Thiessen knows putting together any bash when kids are involved can feel a bit overwhelming. That’s why the actress, who describes herself as “type A all the way,” has a foolproof process for entertaining success.
“If you feel like you can’t throw a party, just put a timeline together,” she says. “There are always little things you can do ahead of time—like washing and pressing linens and bringing out your tableware. Check them off as you complete them. It makes it so much easier, so you’re not worrying, ‘Oh, what do I do next?’ and rushing to do everything at the last minute.”
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At a recent party at her L.A. home with husband, actor-artist Brady Smith, and their two children, Harper, 6, and Holt, 22 months, Thiessen made sure to give the kids something to do “so they’re not getting into trouble,” she says. “Whether it’s coloring books or a craft, it’s always fun to have something laid out and ready.”
Thiessen also suggests putting together a little twist on the typical kids’ table. “Lay blankets out on the grass,” she says, “and let them go to town and be as messy and loud as they want in their space.”
The Beverly Hills, 90210 star prefers to use bamboo plates over paper ones because they’re sturdier for little hands and she’s not afraid to set an early start time. “If you have young kids, around 3 o’clock is a good time for a party because naps are over and little ones can eat an early dinner,” she says.
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Mainly, though, creating a relaxed vibe is top of mind for Thiessen. “My husband and I have very similar desires when we’re entertaining,” she says. “We want everybody to feel comfortable and welcome, to know they can kick off their shoes and be able to come right in.”
For more on Thiessen, including her recipes for a delicious backyard bash, pick up the Summer Grilling issue, on newsstands Friday.