Let me start by saying – I have hosted exactly two parties in my life. First was a bridal shower for my sister (with LOTS of help) and this past weekend, a first birthday for my son. Some people were born to be party planners and love combing Pinterest for themed food and decor, but I seem to lack that gene. That said, I have to say that my boy’s birthday weekend went off without a hitch. I believe part of the secret to the party’s success was my scouting and taking mental notes on what did and didn’t work at other first birthdays we attended. So buckle your seatbelts, here’s your guide to hosting a fantastic, hassle-free first birthday.
Your Guests Will Love
•Labeled Food. For guests with diet restrictions or allergies, they will really appreciate knowing what main ingredients are in what dishes (and it might encourage them to try dishes that aren’t easily identifiable)
•A Baby Buffet. A separate food area with snacks specifically for little ones – puffs, food pouches, small crackers, yogurt drops, teething biscuits, fruit pre-cut into small pieces, etc. I borrowed this idea from my little cousin’s first birthday, and it was a huge hit at my son’s party. No more guests trying to shred grapes into bite-size pieces with their fingers so that their baby can eat!
•Baby Containment Area. A baby-safe contained/sectioned-off area will allow party-goers to actually relax and mingle. Some families will only have one parent attending the party, as was my case a few times, and parties with nowhere to quarantine the little ones left me exhausted after chasing my son for several hours trying to keep him out of flower beds and away from live BBQs (plus I didn’t get a moments break to talk or eat anything). As far as entertainment inside the baby corral, a bunch of blown-up balloons and plastic balls will keep them occupied for quite some time.
•Taped-up signs directing your guests to trash, washrooms, diaper changing areas, purse drop-offs, beverages – anything not immediately visible. This will cut-out guess work and keep guests from having to track you down to find things they need (plus, if you’re theming your party, you can have a lot of fun coming up with creative signs).
You Don’t Really Need…
•Party favors. Most guests won’t remember to grab them on the way out and you’ll wind up with a dozen bubbles or stuffed animals.
•A fancy cake. Make or buy a fun smash cake for your baby, but serve a sheet cake already cut-up for the guests. If tastes good everyone will be happy.
•Themed food requiring a lot of prep. Spending an hour making an exact replica of a character out of fruit will look adorable for a few minutes until the first guest digs in and it becomes immediately unidentifiable (or – in the case of another party I attended – nobody wanted to touch the carefully-crafted themed food for fear of ruining the host’s hard work). Make it easy on yourself – stick with simple, uniformly liked foods like chips with various dips, candy dishes, cheese and crackers, and fruit.
•A ton of food. Parents with little ones seem to eat minimal amounts of food, picking at a few stray chips and carrots while keeping a sharp eye on their playing child, ready to dump their plate and dash in to intervene at a moment’s notice. Also, be prepared to have a lot of food left-over, so buy things that will keep well and that your family will be willing to eat afterwards (or send to-go plates with guests, there’s always a few who will be more than excited to take some extra food off your hands).
•Expensive decorations. Before you buy anything, check out a Dollar Store. You can get most basic party supplies here – plastic tablecloths, plates and bowls, cutlery, simple decorations, even mylar balloons (usually $3-8 at party supply shops). It may not be the exact shade of aquamarine that you wanted, but from what I saw after buying products both from a dollar store and a party supply retail store, there was almost no difference in quality.
It’s Nice to Have…
•Food in a central location, easily accessible from several vantage points. A long bar or table placed in the middle of the room and accessible from all sides is great. A card table pushed into a nook or a corner will only allow a small few to get food at a time.
•A friend or family member available to run last-minute errands or help with food pick-up the day of the party.
•Large bowls in addition to plates. It is much easier to contain food in a bowl if you’re having to hold it in one hand and keep your toddler from climbing on a chair with the other.
•A Baby-Friendly Location: Parks are popular birthday sites, but look over your guest list before deciding on a spot – are many of the children mobile but not old enough to sit and play a game or follow directions to stay in one area? Then you might want to forgo a park or otherwise risk that your guests are going to be chasing their toddling babies around the whole time as they gleefully scatter in all directions to explore, and will be unable to really participate in any party fun. If a park is your ideal spot, consider bringing or borrowing a “baby corral” (available for purchase at most baby retail stores) that can be used for a parent to leave their child in to get a small break or grab a bite to eat (see “Baby Containment Area” above)
Yes, we know that our child won’t remember their first birthday, but that party is just as much a celebration of the parents making it through the year. So raise a glass, eat some cake, and remember to have a good time!
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