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First birthdays: The superbowl of all birthdays?

Show that you can throw a fantastic birthday party

For me, the first birthday party felt like it was an event that was a year in the making. One could say it’s the Super Bowl of little people parties. Well, you don't want to throw the perfect season by having an unplanned party do you? All it takes is a little bit of prep and people will think that you are the ultimate party planner (and a pretty cool mom, too).

Understand that your sweet little baby is merely the reason to have a party. The party is not necessarily about the baby. Your one-year-old would be perfectly happy with an ordinary meal prepared with love on any ordinary day. Although he will be delighted with the attention a party draws, he could care less if the birthday was celebrated with just Mom & Dad or one hundred of his nearest and dearest friends and family. The party is for everyone else.

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It is almost nine months since I planned a huge first birthday party for my son Joseph. Since I felt that turning one is a momentous occasion in our family’s life, a party was an essential event.

Everyone looks forward to it and everyone wants an invitation. That can be a lot of stress for many moms. Based on my experience, I created a list of tips to make this first party event fun and less stressful.

  • Plan ahead. Give yourself plenty of time to plan the party. And start by picking a date for the first birthday party at least two months in advance. This will give you plenty of time to plan a menu and shop for sales. Planning ahead will save your sanity in the long run, as you can make preparations around your baby, other children, work, family obligations, play dates, appointments…and basically, life as you know it!    
  • Pick a theme. Be creative, and have fun with it. This may be the only time in your child’s life where you'll have full creative control of the party! That said, choose a manageable theme. I am a big fan of seasonal themes. My daughter, Julia had a daisy and butterfly theme for her April birthday, and Joseph had a farm theme for his October birthday. 
  • Be budget conscious. Decide what you can afford ahead of time. When budget is a concern, I am a fan of backyard parties. I like the comforts of my own home. In the winter, this may not be possible. Sometimes, local churches have halls available at low costs. Ask party guests what local venues they know of, because an American Legion member, firefighter, or condo-dweller may be able to secure an inexpensive hall for you.
    • Food and beverages will be the most expensive part of your budget. Skip the alcohol. People can get through a child’s party without a cocktail. You wouldn’t serve alcohol at a child’s party at the Little Gym, would you?
    • Decide if you will cook or cater the party. Consider cooking half the food and catering the other half. Budgets and food lead me to my next two tips. 
  • Keep the menu simple. As the mother of the one year old and the hostess, everyone will want a piece of you that day. You will be greeting guests, taking gifts and making small talk with family and friends. You cannot afford to spend time in the kitchen for long periods of time. Plan a menu with food that keeps well over a period of time and that can be prepared ahead. Keep it simple with crowd pleasers such as sausage & peppers, meatballs, pasta, pulled pork, meatloaf, macaroni & cheese, mashed potatoes, chili, or stews.
    • Keep in mind that your menu should reflect the season. In warm weather, you don’t want to serve heavy foods. A barbecue is easy, and you can get a husband, brother, or other grill master to fire up the grill.
  • Have Fun with it. I love to cook, so I delight in preparing the food for my parties. I call in backup when it’s necessary. A phone call to mom or one of my aunts instantly produces extra dishes for the party.

For Julia’s first birthday, I was newly pregnant with Joseph and sick at the thought of cooking. I had the main meal catered and prepared the appetizers myself. This was a good financial compromise and a real lifesaver for me.

Consider ordering submarine sandwiches which are very filling and gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Pair it with a hot dish and you have a very filling meal on a budget. Offer a variety of beverages such as water, juice and soda. Hot cocoa is a hit in cold months, while hot apple cider is delicious in the autumn. The warm months lend themselves to fresh-squeezed lemonade or fun punches.

  • Decorate on a dime. Opt for a few key decorations. You should have a “Happy 1st Birthday” banner. This can be purchased for about five dollars. If you are crafty, you can make your own banner on the computer or with good old construction paper. I love balloons! I buy mine at the dollar store, where they are a bargain…as you guessed, a dollar each. Four to six balloons are perfect. I split them between the gift table and the cake table. Balloons offer a visually pleasing centerpiece, and take up minimal table space. 
    Decorations that do double duty are great. For Joseph’s farm party, I bought small scarecrows and gourds, which worked for Halloween too. Instead of a paper decorations, opt for stuffed toys. They look cute on a table and can be given to your child after the party.

Goody bags are a must as a token of thanks for younger guests. They can be filled inexpensively at the dollar store or by shopping the sales at your local party supplier. Thematic tableware is pricey. The plates are waxy and the napkins are papery.

Opt for basic tableware found in your grocery or bulk store. You can buy a package of five hundred napkins for two or three dollars as compared to four dollars for sixteen small printed napkins. If you love the look of cute tableware, go for the cups, which are not obscured by heaping piles of food or for the cake plates, which sit prominently on display as everyone gathers around the cake to sing “Happy Birthday.”

I choose a color to match my cutlery and tablecloths. I buy the tablecloths at the dollar store, and purchase only one thematic table cloth at a higher price point. I cut it in half and use it as a runner on the cake table and gift table. Skip the party hats, as nobody will miss them.

Keep the party moving. We’ve all been to the party where guests leave before the cake is served. Write out a schedule ahead of time and keep to that schedule by watching clock. 

Plan activities that entertain kids. Keep them simple with no mess. Crafts and games are a lot of fun. Sticker crafts, stamping, or cookie decorating are great for indoor parties. Scavenger hunts, piñatas, or physical games are great for outdoor parties.

Jennifer Wiegert lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband and two toddlers. She is a teacher in the Washingtonville School District. She feels her greatest achievement is being a mom