5 No-Fail First Birthday Party Ideas

Updated 07/26/19
First Birthday Party Ideas
Julie Cahill Photography ; STYLING: Charmed Events Planning

Danielle WalkerNew York Times best-selling author of Against All Grain, was admittedly not that stressed when it came to celebrating her daughter’s first birthday recently. There were things to do, of course, but she had two reasons to stay calm. One, her daughter Keiza is the youngest of three, so Walker had been through this experience before. Secondly, she decided to hire Be Inspired Public Relations to handle the details.

"I did keep the food planning on my plate, though, because I wanted to use my own recipes for my family and friends to enjoy," she says.

Walker and the Be Inspired team went through a few ideas before landing on the theme for the event—"A One-Derful Summer Birthday"—and used bright colors and warm-weather treats to bring it all together. It sounds easy when described in a few sentences, but Walker knows that an event as memorable as a first birthday party can come with its share of challenging details and overwhelming possibilities. To keep you informed, we asked her for her best first birthday party ideas that everyone will enjoy, and what not to do for the occasion if you’re planning on keeping your sanity.

"Remember to relax," she notes. "It's a party and it should be enjoyed. Try to have everything done in advance so you can enjoy your guests and see your little one enjoy their special day, too." What should parents do to prepare for a first birthday party? Read on for this mom's best first birthday party ideas.

Host parties in the middle of the afternoon

First Birthday Party Tips
Julie Cahill Photography ; STYLING: Charmed Events Planning

"With younger kids, the parents often accompany their child to the party, so that ends up being a lot of mouths to feed," Walker says. "That can add up quickly and be really time-consuming. I like to host birthday parties in the afternoon, after lunch and before dinner, so guests don't expect to be fed a full meal. I think between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. is a great time for a party. That's also usually a good time to catch little ones after their nap."

Start shopping for supplies early

First Birthday Party Advice
Julie Cahill Photography ; STYLING: Charmed Events Planning

Shopping for supplies early gives you time to shop around for good prices and start creating a little stockpile of goods, perhaps over the course of a month, she notes. "Keep your receipts, and you can always return things you don't end up using."

Make use of Amazon and discount bins

Best First Birthday Party Ideas
Julie Cahill Photography ; STYLING: Charmed Events Planning

"We used Amazon for ordering a lot of the party goods to save me time from having to run out to multiple party stores," Walker says. "Shopping the Target $1 bins was also a big success for some of the paper goods. That gave us more room in our budget for rentals and food."

Prep food and drinks in advance

Best First Birthday Party Tips
Julie Cahill Photography ; STYLING: Charmed Events Planning

"I pre-mixed drinks and kept them chilled in the refrigerator the night before to save time," she says. "When the guests arrived, I just added ice and brought the pitchers out to the beverage cart. In the same vein, I prepped a lot of the food one to two days in advance and stored it on their serving platters, covered in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator. It's really difficult to get food ready when you’re trying to get your baby and yourself dressed, so this alleviates a lot of the stress."

Read through recipes

Best First Birthday Party Advice
Julie Cahill Photography ; STYLING: Charmed Events Planning

"If you're planning on making food yourself, read through the recipes you intend to make a week before the event," Walker explains. "Make a grocery list and check to see what you have on hand and which items will be used multiple times."

Don't have too many expectations

Kids Birthday Party
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If there is one thing that parents should always remember on the big day, it's to keep expectations at bay. "There are always a few things that go wrong and a few things that are unexpected," she says. While it's normal to want to have everything run smoothly, mentally prepping for hiccups will ensure you keep your cool throughout the day.

Don't open gifts at the party

Kids Birthday Party Tips
Julie Cahill Photography ; STYLING: Charmed Events Planning

"First off, the party time is limited, and opening all of the gifts can take up quite a big chunk of it," she notes. "Secondly, with young kids, one of two things usually happens. One, they get a gift that they are so excited about that they don't want to open the rest of them, which can be disappointing for the other guests. Or two, they can have a negative reaction to a gift. We've experienced, 'I already have this!' and 'Mom, I don't want this!' While we correct the behavior and have them try again with their words, I find it's just easier to open presents privately and send thank you cards."

Don't get stressed if your 1-year-old doesn’t seem to enjoy the party

Kids Birthday Party Advice
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"Sometimes it can be overwhelming for the child to have that much attention and stimulation," Walker says. "If you need to, escape into another room for a bit so they have some quiet time. Pressuring them to have a good time can backfire. Your guests can mingle and eat, and they will understand."

Don't go overboard on the food

Best Kids Birthday Party
Julie Cahill Photography ; STYLING: Charmed Events Planning

"If your guests are mostly children, then they’ll likely graze a tiny bit with the ultimate end goal being the cake," she adds. "Most of the time, the parents are busy chatting or running after their kids, so they likely won’t eat much, either. Just make sure you have enough of whatever you put out for each person, but don’t worry about having a ton of variety."

Don't forget to get a photographer

Best Kids Birthday Party Tips
Julie Cahill Photography ; STYLING: Charmed Events Planning

"This is especially needed for the first birthday," she says. "Whether it's a family friend who knows a thing or two about a camera, a teenager in charge of snapping a bunch of iPhone photos, or a professional, you will not regret having those memories. You will be too busy during the party to snap your own."

Next up, a mom shares the seven best parenting podcasts to listen to for advice.

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