How to effortlessly plan a themed birthday party

I love planning parties and events! I DIY’d my entire wedding, styled/planned my own bridal shower and baby shower themes, and have hosted several parties like Christmas Cookie Exchanges and Girls’ Nights. So you better believe I couldn’t wait to plan a fun first birthday party for my daughter! The theme I went with was “A Swan Soiree” with touches of light pink, yellow,  and mint. I had a plan on how I wanted her party to look, but I also wanted to make sure we stayed within a budget for decor and food.

So if you’re wanting to throw together a fun and memorable birthday party for your own little one, follow these helpful tips below for a thoughtful and well executed birthday bash.

Make sure you scroll to the bottom of this post because I linked almost all of the party decor and Izzy’s cute outfit + accessories! ❤

how to effortlessly plan A themed First Birthday Party

make a realistic budget and stick to it

Just like wedding planning, you’ll want to make a budget sheet with where your expenses will be going. I would recommend a higher budget for food — especially if the party is during regular eating hours — and a lower budget for party decor. Remember to keep it simple/minimal — first birthdays are very special, but they are mostly for the adults to enjoy. Your little one can get overwhelmed very easily with the crowd and attention, so keep it short and sweet. Planning bigger and more “elaborate” parties can be saved for when your little one is older and can remember the experience. 🙂

pick a unique theme that isn’t overdone

I’m always looking for ways to stand out from current trends (mostly because they tend to be overdone). So when I decided on swans as the theme, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there isn’t a lot of swan decor or party ideas out there right now!! While I was at Paper Source looking for party decor, a sales woman told me “well swans aren’t IN right now…flamingos and unicorns are.” Which made me even more excited to do a Swan Soiree, because apparently no one else is throwing swan parties 🙂 Which meant my party would be unique and not super trendy! When planning your little’s birthday party theme, pick a theme that isn’t too overdone or trendy. And if they want something Disney or character themed, think about putting a fun and unique twist on the decor (ex: going for decorating based on the theme color rather than characters! Such as icy blues, whites, and lavender with a snow cone machine for a Frozen themed party).

diy (most of) your decor

And don’t forget to price shop + bargain hunt! I found the gold number 1 balloon for $4.99 at Hobby Lobby, but the same thing sells on Etsy and elsewhere for $10+. Balloon garland and tassels can get really pricey, so I made my own with fun printed tissue paper.

I grabbed the plates and napkins on Etsy and Target, and used some cute platters and dishes that I purchased at Home Goods over the holidays last year for all the food. Initially, I wanted to have a giant inflatable swan and real flowers as part of the decor, but realistically…the swan would’ve taken forever to inflate and I wouldn’t have used it after the party or even have had the patience to deflate it (haha). Plus it was so hot that day that real flowers would’ve most likely wilted quickly. So I skipped the giant swan, and opted for a couple of fake flower garlands that were 80% off at Michael’s instead!

I printed 5×5″ photos of Izzy months 0-12 at Costco and clothes-pinned them to the garlands that were on each table. This created a lovely centerpiece that acted as a conversation starter (hello, look at how cute!) and brightened up the muted pink and mint tablecloths. I also hung paper geometric shapes which added cheerful vibrancy and texture to an otherwise bland park gazebo.

I also made my own table signs and menus on photoshop 🙂

decide on food menu and quantities

Always use this rule of thumb when party planning: if it’s during breakfast, lunch, or dinner hours make sure you have one to two main entree foods to serve in addition to your finger foods. Main entree items could be a bagel or yogurt bar for breakfast hours, sandwiches and salad for lunch hours, and a pizza or taco bar for dinner hours. Buffet style is always best, that way guests can graze and fill their plate as they please. Instead of getting it catered, we came up with our own “summer picnic style” menu with lots of grazing options.

Since Izzy’s birthday party started at 11:30 am (right as lunchtime is starting) we knew we had to have enough food for everyone to eat as lunch. Here’s a sample of what our menu looked like:

Sandwich Wraps from Costco
Mandarin Chicken Wings

Kale Salad
Veggie + Fruit/Charcuterie Plate
Chili Glazed Appetizer Meatballs
Antipasta Kebabs

Birthday Cake
Lemon Bars
Mini Key Lime Cheesecakes
Zucchini Sheet Cake
Cream Cheese Pie

La Croix
Belvoir Elderflower Rose Lemonade (we had this lemonade in Cucumber Mint too!)
Water (it was a flippin’ hot day)
Honest Kids Juice Pouches

Pick a location that is fun for everyone

Especially if you’re inviting adults to hangout during the party, too! Whether it be your backyard, a park gazebo, or elsewhere, make sure that the area can easily accommodate all your guests without spending an arm and a leg. I chose to rent out a park gazebo (only cost me $50 bucks to reserve it) with open grass and a giant play structure nearby, because I knew the majority of kids coming were toddler age. Having some shade was a must since it was H O T that day! Make sure there’s plenty of seating, mingling areas, easy parking, and a bathroom nearby.

(hire someone to) take all the photos!

I did not want to miss a single moment of my baby’s first birthday, and wanted to be present the whole time instead of snapping photos on my phone. I also knew I wanted to turn her birthday photos into an album on Shutterfly, so I found Kelsey Swann, a local photographer, who I hired to take photos for one hour during her party. Being a photographer myself, I asked if she would let me edit them instead which allowed her less work and me less of a cost for photos. It was so nice to know that quality pictures were being taken of all the details and important moments, so that I could focus on mingling and hosting.

know that not everything will go as planned (and that’s OK)

There were a few things I would’ve done differently for her party, had I known what was actually going to happen! I was disappointed at the time that several things didn’t turn out how I had planned or hoped they would, but all that matters in the end is that everyone had fun and that the birthday girl felt loved. It’s all about keeping the right perspective.

izzy’s styled cake smash photo session

I ended up having to redo Izzy’s cake smash and I  actually ended up loving how the new photos turned out even more than her cake smash on her actual birthday! I wanted to be able to print and frame them, as well as make them into an album. Having a styled photo session just for cake smash photos is a must!

Izzy wasn’t a fan of trying her cake (or smashing it, for that matter) during her birthday party, so a few days later I decided to grab a $5 confetti cake from Vons bakery and head to the beach to style a mini first birthday photo session.

I used my own cake stand, dressed her in her birthday outfit and used her birthday party decor as styling props to capture all the round-two moments of Izzy trying and playing with her birthday cake!

where to shop:

Number 1 balloon | Hobby Lobby
Cake Topper | Lule Bloom
Swan napkins/plates | Stesha Party
Izzy’s Party Dress | StylinSophie
Izzy’s Glitter Bow | Cat & Jack
Izzy’s Star Headband | Pigment, sold out – Similar here
Swan Soiree Invitations, ONE triangle banner, HBD Banner | Lovely Little Party
Gold Swans | Hobby Lobby
Flower Garland | Michaels – seasonally sold out
Mini Party Hats | Paper Source

5 thoughts on “How to effortlessly plan a themed birthday party

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