For nine months, you were in countdown mode, meticulously tracking the baby’s size as she grew into a progressively larger fruit or vegetable equivalent, taking your prenatal vitamins, growing out of your regular clothes and into those with stretchy waistbands, and so much more. And then all of a sudden, you’re no longer pregnant and, somewhere about halfway through the first year, you find yourself beginning another countdown, this one to your little one’s first birthday. This first bash is a big deal for nearly all parents – it means you’ve survived one year as parents, after all! – and amidst all of you own emotions, questions from friends, and pressure from grandparents, it can begin to feel like an overwhelming event to plan. Read on for our guaranteed tips for making the big day easy, fun, and relaxing – even for you!

Photo: jeffreyw via Flickr

Party at Breakfast
Making the meal served breakfast is the secret weapon of moms who’ve been there, done that. It’s among the easiest and least-expensive meals to prepare, your guests (big and little) arrive fresh and rested, you minimize the odds of anyone having a meltdown due to a missed nap and it’s really easy (truly!) to prepare an impressive-looking spread, even if you’re not Martha Stewart. The knowledgeable folks at Epicurious have a tried-and-true scrambled egg recipe, Ina Garten makes bacon in the oven with virtually zero mess, surely you can prep a solid fruit salad, and most of the work for these cinnamon rolls can be done the day before. Set a pretty table with flowers and candles, make a big pot of coffee (always coffee!) and pour a pitcher of OJ, and voila – a meal sure to please everyone while helping you keep your cool.

Photo: Things for Boys

Keep the Cake Simple
If breakfast isn’t your thing, consider outsourcing the food (think Whole Foods or other local grocer) and focusing on what really matters: dessert! Our favorite easy tip is to make Baby a small smash cake of his own for photos and then serve cupcakes to everyone else. This saves time on plating/serving and means you don’t have to worry about making a big cake look fancy. Don’t let making a cake intimidate you – buy a small, round cake pan and find a recipe that suits you. We like this low-sugar recipe or this whole wheat banana version if you prefer to err on the healthy side or, if decadence is more your style, go for this classic vanilla or chocolate cake.

Photo: Paper Trail by Laura B

Find a One Stop Shop for Decor
We’ve all gotten lost in web searches as we try to find the perfect stroller, sleep sack, or baby food recipe. To keep things simple, just say “no!” to this frustrating web wandering and find a vendor who can do most of your décor needs. Paper Trail by Laura B offers cupcake toppers, banners, straws, and more while Pretty Party Sprinkles sells plates, balloons, and candles. You can, of course, go all-out on a theme and decorations but realize this will take time. You can opt for a simpler route and pick a color or two you like and then order plates, utensils, balloons, a banner, some candles, and call it a day. Simple really can be elegant, especially when the color palate is muted and you avoid too much going on at once.

Photo: Oh Joy!

Get Outside
Life is so much easier outside. Kids don’t seem as noisy, messes aren’t such a big deal, everyone has space to run and jump and even the adults seem more relaxed. Consider hosting your gathering in a local park and take some inspiration from folks like Oh Joy! who captured summer with a cooler full of popsicles or put up a giant canvas to keep budding Picasso’s busy. Of course, you can’t go wrong with a water table, bubbles and chalk, either. It doesn’t take much to entertain a crew of toddlers.

Photo: Laura LaRose via Flickr

Get Charitable
It’s not just newlyweds who are forgoing gifts in lieu of their favorite charities. More moms are choosing to do the same as they battle toy overload and the guilt that comes from knowing you should write thank you notes but just not getting it done. Instead of gifts, consider encouraging guests to make a donation to a favorite charity that works with kids like the Smile Train or Share our Strength. If you can’t quite forgo the gifts, just say “no” to stuffing goody bags and make a small donation in honor of each guests instead. Sounds like a win-win to us! Hand out simple notes that say, “Thanks for your friendship. We’ve made $5 gift in your honor to help care for others who are in need.” The folks at Savvy Sassy Moms have a few other tips on how to do this well.

Photo: .alicia.kowalski. via Flickr

Plan Ahead for Better Photos
Amidst the hustle and bustle, it’s easy to forget to take pictures but you’ll be glad to document this special day. Depending on your definition of simple, you might opt to do a smash cake photo shoot the day before the party when your house is empty and the birthday guy or gal isn’t over-stimulated. The Photography Mommy has some great tips for setting up a DIY photo shoot and It’s Simply Lindsay shares her experience with her daughter’s photo shoot, proving you, too, can get beautiful photos to capture the day. Don’t forget to cover the floor for easy clean up and dress your little one in something that can get messy (or maybe just a diaper!).

Photo: karon campbell-trader via Flickr

Keep It Intimate
This might go without saying but the more people, the more chaos. As the first birthday celebration is really more about the parents than the baby (if we’re honest), it’s tempting to invite everyone you know, but odds are you’ll feel happier – and your baby will be calmer – if you limit the guest list to close friends and family. You could always do a celebration at daycare, if your little one is enrolled, or encourage your nanny to have a separate pizza-and-juice gathering for the kids she sees often while watching your child as a way to include more people.

Photo: Beatrice Murch via Flickr

Celebrate You, Too
The first year often stretches parents as they settle into their new roles. Parenting is not without challenges so after the party, take time to celebrate you and your spouse for surviving sleep deprivation, adapting to the new demands on your time and for (hopefully) finding a new rhythm as husband and wife and as parents. It’s not easy, but you made it to an important milestone that deserves to be recognized. Maybe you watch your favorite romantic comedy over champagne and pizza or get Grandma to watch the birthday gal while you head out for a night on the town. Maybe you take some time to jot down a few reflections on Year One in your journal or baby book, or make a list of your top ten parenting highs and lows to reflect on in the years to come. Whatever you choose, we say “well done, mama and dada!”

What tips can you share for keeping first birthday celebrations simple? Tell us below.

–Elizabeth Carr