How to Throw a Low Stress 1st Birthday Party

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Tucked into a picture frame on our mantle is a photo of me on my 1st birthday. I am looking in wonder at a homemade cupcake. A teddy bear sits on top of a wooden block embossed with the number 1. He wears a candle like a hat. Of course, the candle is lit. It’s 1983 and such things as child safety aren’t going to ruin anyone’s fun.

I assume my family members are sitting across from me in the champagne gold tapestry chairs. Between us is the white laminate table with the gold scrollwork that eventually made its way to my playroom when I was older.

1st Birthday of Author

I can’t see any special birthday decorations in the picture. There may have been a few streamers or balloons, but I know for sure there definitely was not a theme. The theme was “Birthday Party”. And there most certainly weren’t any pinatas, whimsical teepees, cake pops, or photo booths.

If only we still lived in the ‘80s, with its middle class moms making birthday cupcakes from a box they bought the night before, slathering them with canned frosting laden with chemicals and preservatives. I would fit right in.


Not an ’80s Mom, but Not a Pinterest Mom Either

Planning for my daughter’s 1st birthday began approximately three weeks before the party, a fact that shows that while I am not as last minute as the ‘80s mom I have envisioned in my head, I am super last minute in comparison to today’s ideal Pinterest mom.

Oh, Pinterest. How I love and loathe you.

I made the mistake of visiting Pinterest first for ideas. I dare you to search “1st birthday party” on Pinterest. The results make you wonder if you’re planning a party for a baby or a bride. In fact, a lot of those jaw droppingly gorgeous events pinned on the site are created by event planners. People pay the same people who plan fancy weddings and black-tie benefit dinners to plan a party for a person who won’t even remember it.

Of course, once I saw those beautiful images, I couldn’t be ‘80s mom. I am unable to ignore the siren call of beautiful things, and so I needed to make my daughter’s party have at least a touch of pretty. But only a touch, because let’s be honest, I didn’t have the time, energy, or resolve to fashion a perfect Pinterest event. I wanted it to be nice, but I didn’t want to kill myself to make that happen. (Sorry, baby girl!)

How do you create a low stress, last minute, un-’80s mom birthday party? These are the steps I took.


Planning a 1st Birthday Party


How to Throw a Low Stress 1st Birthday Party


No. 1: Decide who you're invitingDuh. This one seems like a no-brainer, but my husband and I went back and forth between inviting just family or inviting both family and friends.

We decided that to make it as stress-free as possible for both us and our daughter, we would just stick with family. This reduced the size of the guest list and ensured the party wouldn’t be too overwhelming for her. Not including our daughter, we had 11 family members in attendance.


No. 2: Decide on a date and time By now, you’re probably thinking I think you’re a moron. Of course you can’t have a party without a date and time. This is Party 101 information here.

Yet again, I struggled with this. The date was easy. I chose the Saturday closest to her birthday. Double duh. What I wasn’t sure about was what time to throw the party. Her sleep schedule depends on when she wakes up and, let’s be real, how cooperative she is when being put down for a nap.

I didn’t want to set the time for 1:00 or 2:00 pm only to have her take a nap through the whole party. So I poked around on the Internet a bit to see what other moms had done. I came across a message room thread in which a woman said she had a brunch birthday party between her kid’s nap times. Problem solved! We set our time for 11:00 a.m.


No. 3: Invite your guestsSince I started planning late, I texted everyone the date and time because I’m classy like that. Next, I made a real invitation on Shutterfly because a) I wanted to have a keepsake for when I get around to finishing my daughter’s baby book when she’s in college; and b) I wanted to look at least a little more put together.

I received the cards a few days before the party and sent them out. I’m pretty sure everyone got them the day before the party. Oh, well. It was one of those shrug your shoulders and move on moments.


No. 4: Plan your decorI pinned a bunch of ideas and spent hours drooling over the dreamy images, but I had the hardest time coming up with an idea for a theme. I don’t like the obligations that a theme requires, because I’m a little Type A and will really commit to it. Boatloads of time and money will be spent making every aspect of the party fit that theme. It’s too stressful.

So I did the same thing for my daughter’s party as I did for my wedding: a chose a color theme. But not a specific color theme, like aqua with scarlet or lemon with cloud grey. For my wedding, my theme was purples. Every purple color was fair game. That way, if I liked an item but its purple didn’t match the exact shade of lavender or plum that was in my theme, I didn’t have to forego using it. And I think our wedding turned out quite nicely, thank you very much.

For the birthday party, I chose pink and gold for the color scheme. Any shade of pink and any rendition of gold was fair game. I found some cute plates, cups, and napkins on Amazon that had “Fun to Be One” printed on them. I also found a decorations package that had “Happy Birthday” bunting, balloons, and tissue flowers that fit the theme. The reviews all complained about how time consuming the tissue flowers were to make, and they were right. But the end product turned out lovely.


1st Birthday Party Plates and Napkins


1st Birthday Party Decorations


No. 5: Plan your kid's outfitSince I have a daughter, I can only speak to dressing up a girl. I’m sure there are a lot of adorable 1st birthday outfits for boys, but I can personally attest to the innumerable amounts of outfits there are for girls. If you like seeing your money stay in your bank account, don’t, I repeat, DON’T browse Etsy. It’s a black hole of 1st birthday madness and you and your wallet will not come out the other end fully intact.

Luckily, since I started planning my daughter’s outfit about a week and a half before her party, I knew I didn’t have time to order any custom items from Etsy. So I turned to good ol’ Amazon, where I found an adorable long-sleeved onesie with a gold glitter heart on the center and “one” written in italicized font. I also bought a precious pink tutu and thick, white tights with gold ballet slippers printed on the feet. The birthday girl looked beyond cute.


1st Birthday Party Outfit



No. 6: Plan the food Cooking brunch food quite possibly may be one of the easiest meals you can serve at a party. We made a huge pan of scrambled eggs, a large batch of Belgian waffles, and a whole pack of bacon.

While cooking these items is pretty easy, my husband took it one step farther and baked the bacon in the oven. That way he didn’t have to keep an eye on them and do any flipping. To make the strips deliciously crispy, he laid them on cooling racks on top of a cookie sheet. This way the grease dripped off the bacon and onto the pan.

In addition to the scrambled eggs, waffles, and bacon, our family brought orange juice, fresh fruit (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and grapes), pumpkin bread, maple syrup from Vermont, cinnamon rolls, and orange rolls. We provided some whipped cream for the waffles.

We spread everything out buffet style on our kitchen counter. Everyone served themselves and were very, very happy with the menu. My 17 year-old niece even commented that she could go for more family parties with a brunch menu.


1st Birthday Party Brunch Buffet


No. 7: Plan the cakeI admit, I almost went half ‘80s mom on this one. I tried to order a cake from a local baker, but alas, she was already booked for the weekend of our party. I considered going to the grocery store to order one, but ultimately I decided to go full on Pinterest. I first found the idea for Fiona’s cake here. This is how I came up with the pink and gold theme in the first place. I ordered a gold glitter candle from Amazon to copy the look.

At first, I didn’t know if I wanted to make a smash cake. It seemed impractical to make a special cake that would be impossible for my daughter to eat all by herself. But, as always, the cuteness overload of Pinterest baby smash cake photos won me over.

The next decision was whether I was going to make a cake and a smash cake or cupcakes and a smash cake. On a whim, I decided on cupcakes for the family. I discovered this smash cake tutorial and did a test run the weekend before the party. I didn’t really like the recipe, so I changed it to this one. I used this recipe for the vanilla frosting and used this food coloring gel.

To decorate the smash cake, I made rosettes with my Wilton Dessert Decorator Plus. The top was very easy to decorate, but the sides showed my amateur status. I thought it would be fun to put gold glitter sprinkles on top to keep with the theme. I’m not sure they made the rosettes look better, and I don’t think I would use them again on a textured frosting. They would probably look better on a smoother surface.


1st Birthday Party Smash Cake



For the cupcakes, I did large rosettes on half of them and mini stars on the other half. Decorating cakes like this uses a lot of frosting. I made three batches of frosting to cover the smash cake and twelve cupcakes.



1st Birthday Party Cupcakes and Smash Cake


When it was time to sing “Happy Birthday”, I put the gold glitter 1 candle on the smash cake. My seven year-old niece told me not to light it, because my daughter could hurt herself. (Where was she when I had my first birthday party?) We put the smash cake in front of the birthday girl and…she just sat there. I went over and gave her a taste of the cake. Her eyes lit up and she (daintily) dug in, as did the rest of us.

My father-in-law said he is not a cake person, but he really liked the cupcakes. Other family members thought I had bought the cake and cupcakes from a bakery. Score! Maybe not as amateur as I thought.

In hindsight, I don’t know how necessary a smash cake is. A cupcake would have done the job just as well, but it sure wouldn’t have looked as good. I must say, though, from here on out, it’s sheet cakes for every birthday.


What Kind of Mom Are You?

I hope you found the steps we took to plan our daughter’s first birthday helpful in reducing your stress. What kind of mom are you? An ‘80s mom or a Pinterest mom? Or maybe the real question should be which one you wish you were!

2 thoughts on “How to Throw a Low Stress 1st Birthday Party”

  • It was a really nice gathering, and a great reason to celebrate together. The little girl was so very cute in her outfit and you understated the deliciousness of those cupcakes, I think they are the best I have ever had in my 58 years. That you went to the lengths of color coordination gave the party a cohesiveness that has been somewhat lacking in family parties, especially when you and your cousins were growing up. Nicely done – and I am glad there are photos to be able to share through the years to come. Hugs.

    • When we were growing up, nobody cared about color coordination! Are there streamers? Are there balloons? Are there goody bags? Is there cake? Check, check, check, check. Good to go.

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