Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What I Learned: The 1st Birthday Party

My daughter's learning to use a sippy cup. She's cruising, says "hi" and generally freaks me out with how fast she's growing.

Baby's first birthday coming up? If you're like me, you're stressing 6 months before the party. Really.

But really really, your first child's first birthday party feels like as big a deal as your wedding. By the time that birthday rolls around, you may be a little (or a lot) more budget-conscious than you were at your wedding, which means you might want to take the easiest cost-saving measure of having it in your (or a family member's) home. If we could have 25 adults and 7 children in our 1300 square-foot ranch, you can do it, too. You don't need a big house.

Just make sure there's plenty of food, drinks, cake and birthday-baby fun. Here's what I learned. Hope it helps you as you plan!

#1: Have a lunch party. 
While you may end up providing enough food for a dinner, you'll likely stress a little less knowing it's not the end of the world if people don't leave up a pants size or two.

Besides worrying less about copious amounts of food, lunchtime works well for a couple of reasons: You can pick a time that works with baby's current nap schedule (if baby has one) and won't feel like you need to rush people out of the house to start the bedtime routine by 6:30.

It also means you can do a menu like mine, which consisted of snacks brought by great-grandmas, salad, pork in a slow cooker for sandwiches, deli meat for cold sandwiches, Split Pea Soup (from Taste of Home) and bread (also Taste of Home). Desssert, of course, is cake. Or cupcakes. Or whatever you choose to have your baby shove his or her face in after lunch. For all I know, you could choose a gluten-free quinoa muffin (because that's a thing).

#2: Save money on decor.
Here's what I spent:
Baby's breath—2 bunches at $1.99 ea
Spider mums—1 bunch at $3.99
Chalk banner—$4
Assorted disposable plates and cutlery—$10
I'm no math whiz, but that's not too shabby. You can feel good about not blowing cash on stupid decorations you're going to throw away. Also the flowers lasted until today. A week and a half later.

This is a good time to dust off (literally, mine were pretty dusty) your favorite platters because the food—and what it's served on—will end up in pictures. You want it to look good! I found the mason jars, bread basket and cake platters you see below in storage in my house. Can't find it in your house? Head to the thrift store...or even a dollar store. You'll be amazed at how easy it is to dress that cheap stuff up. Trust me. I am not crafty.

#3: What not to worry about:
Don't worry about games or activities. Your guests will be happy just to eat, drink, eat cake, watch your baby make a mess of cake, maybe watch the gift-opening and be on their way. It's probably all baby can handle anyway.

Don't worry about making your house completely spotless. I cleaned for, actually, months before the party because we were having houseguests arrive days before the party. But people are going to make a mess. If you're worrying about every little thing, you're not going to enjoy the day. Just do what you can, de-clutter and pretty things up as much as possible, but don't get finicky about it. This day is too short.

#4: Shop around for cake.
I got a bazillion and one compliments on the look and taste of the cakes I'd ordered, and they were made by my grocery store. Another local bakery had quoted me almost twice what I paid. Keep an eye out for cute cakes next time you're picking up donuts or a loaf of bread at the bakery. You might like what you see (and eat)!

Consider that the cake itself ends up part of the decor, so choose a cake that fits with your vision. Obviously at this party, your baby doesn't really get to choose. Take advantage of this. Cakes in years to come will feature neon characters and edible cars.

#5: An oversized cupcake is perfect for the Olympic birthday sport of cake-diving.
And it doesn't have to be matchy-matchy with your cakes, either. I didn't custom-order my daughter's cupcake. I just picked a pretty one when I went to pick up the cakes.

Oh, and the more icing, the better. Clearly.

#4: Take baby's clothes off before the cake eating, or else cover them with a damn good bib. A HUGE bib. It's gonna get messy.

#5: Hire a photographer. 
Hopefully, you have a good relationship with your wedding or newborn photographer, but if you don't, look into finding one. Saving money on decor, food and cake can help allocate a little more for this expense, but really, it shouldn't break the bank because you're hiring them for such a short time.

While my daughter was jumping mouth-first into her heavily frosted first piece of cake ever, the last thing I wanted to do was worry about whether the photos on my phone were turning out blurry. I'm lucky to have my talented sister (Melanie of Melanie Grady Photography) in the family, and she took all of the amazing photos you see here. She really made the day look much more put-together than it was, and she even got me in some of the pictures. How many families do you know where mom never appears in the albums? (That's by design, you might say, but I don't care what I looked like in these pictures, I'm just happy I'm in them.)

Check out my sister's full blog post on the party and her beautiful photos of more party details and adorable babies here.

#6: Take all the help you can get.
I'm not saying you should hit up all your friends for food and drinks and professional services, but when someone offers to help you, for the love of your child, take the help.

The other night, I tried giving my daughter her first sippy cup. I told my sister, "This is definitely my kid. She will not let me help her. She's all about figuring it out on her own." My point? I fought and resisted my mother and mother-in-law and grandma-in-law's attempts at helping. I took a break from breaking down boxes in my basement at 9 p.m. to tell my husband's grandmother, "No, we don't need you to bring anything. No, I don't need you to pick anything up from the grocery store tomorrow."


Not everyone's going to offer to help. Take the offers you get. You'll feel no less accomplished at the end of the party than if you'd done every little thing alone. In fact, you'll feel better. If you're lucky enough to have family to help, don't be a jerk like me and wait until the last possible minute to say, "OK. I need you."

She'll learn to use that sippy cup. I'll learn, too.

Are you planning your baby's first birthday party? How many months in advance? How do you keep a cool head about the whole thing?


  1. aah such gorgeous photos!

    from helen at

  2. These are wonderful tips and lovely suggestions.

    We did a lot of these for our girls' 1st birthdays too.

    I opted for flowers and simple finger foods at lunch time. It was perfect.

    Thanks for sharing and for linking up to the #SHINEbloghop.

    Wishing you a lovely weekend.

    1. ...Now it's time to get ready for next year's party. :)

      Thank you! Always happy to link up. Thanks for hosting!