Disclaimer: All smash cake images shown were courtesy of a smash cake photo shoot with Jessica Vaughn. Jessica is a local Houston area wife and mom of two boys, ages 2 and 1. Jessica has a growing photography business that offers all inclusive photo packages with 30+ photos promised from each session (included in the session fee)! You can follow her on Instagram at @vaughnboysmom or visit her website here to see some of her work. She is offering $25 discount for anyone using “OwenTurnsOne” when booking!
From my child’s first birthday to someday their last, I want them to freely enjoy every bit of it. Their first birthday smash cake is no exception.
My choice in what to offer my own children for their first birthdays was a personal decision. While not much of a baker (nor a great one at that!), I still wanted to bake a cake for each of my children’s first birthdays from scratch. This was part of the party that I felt was “my thing,” but it is okay if it isn’t, wasn’t, or never will be your thing. Do your thing. You are your baby’s biggest fan and no one knows how to celebrate them better than you do. There is no shame in any birthday cake you have offered or may choose to offer in the future.
The purpose of this post is to reiterate how food is about more than just the nutritional value it offers (or doesn’t). Food has a way of creating special moments and fond memories, passing down family traditions, and being used in celebration, including as early on as a baby’s first birthday. It also makes for some adorable pictures of kids eating that kills me every time, including here my birthday boy covered in his smash cake.
This said, what I have chosen historically is not necessarily my overarching, best practice advice professionally nor is it what I am suggesting you should do when deciding on your baby’s first birthday cake. Instead, I felt it was about time that I had a small space on my site to house healthy first birthday smash cake ideas for those interested in low-sugar alternatives to traditional birthday cakes for a baby’s first (or second, or third!) birthday! So here it is...
What is a smash cake?
A smash cake is the term used to describe the small cake a baby is given, usually on their first birthday. Made up of anything from a store-bought cake with frosting that looks like Cookie Monster to stacked pancakes layered with an alternative to icing, smash cakes are a baby-sized birthday cake exclusively for eating without the formality of a plate and fork.
Why is it called a smash cake?
Smash cakes get their name as a birthday cake that babies are given to smash with their hands, fists, and sometimes feet, as part of the celebration for their first birthday party. Due to how messy this can get, smash cake photo sessions are now commonly being done separately from a baby’s first birthday party in order to capture the cuteness and contain the clean up!
All smash cake images shown were courtesy of a smash cake photo shoot with Jessica Vaughn.
Does my baby even eat the smash cake?
Many babies do not, especially if it a cake and/or frosting combo is unfamiliar to them. Thick, extra sweet frostings can turn some babies away from the birthday cakes quickly, meaning that even if/when you offer a smash cake with added sugar, the amount they actually consume is very little.
Can my baby have cake for her first birthday?
Babies can eat cake on their first birthday. Both physically with the feeding skills intact and from a nutritional perspective, most babies bodies are physically able to consume cake on their first birthday without it being a big issue. Infants are exposed to naturally sweet tastes both in utero through amniotic fluid and during their first year of life through breast milk and/or formula. So although we do want to try to limit a toddler’s overall added sugar intake as much as we are able, a single exposure to added sugar at a first birthday, even with the sweetest options of smash cakes, is not going to derail your child’s nutritional future. That is an important point to remember both now and in the coming year(s) as your child is exposed to more and more sugar in the world around them.
While we want to raise children who eat healthfully, we also need to prioritize our children experiencing food freedom and understanding how to embody a level of eating competence that allows them to confidently enjoy all foods (including birthday cake) if they so choose. While a traditional, sugary first birthday smash cake is not necessary nor negligent towards training your child in this important life skill, I encourage all parents to begin evaluating how they can better establish an all foods fit mindset while their child is still an infant or young toddler. This potential mindset shift in parents helps to set the stage early on with their child(ren) for ongoing feeding success, intuitive eating, and overall body positivity with each passing birthday!
Healthy Smash Cakes
“Is it even a cake then?” a friend asked when she suspected that I might be offering my son a healthy smash cake for his first birthday. To me, yes - it is. A cake does not require any specific ingredients to have the celebratory look or feel of a “true” first birthday cake.
However, as a baby, I know what foods, flavors, and foods my child favors (hence the strategically placed blueberries on top of my son’s cake, as shown). Something super sweet and unfamiliar in texture like a thick frosting may not engage them to “smash” let alone enjoy the taste of a baby’s first birthday cakes at all. That’s one of the reasons why I opted to make an alternative birthday cake with no-added-sugar for each of my baby’s first birthdays. During the early years of their development, this was still “the real thing” to them and didn’t leave them “missing” anything from it.
So although I decided to forgo turning these lentil banana muffins into a healthy smash cake for his first birthday (solely based on the principle of lentils being in his cake!), I searched for other recipes that aligned with what I wanted in a healthy smash cake and good, wholesome fun on his first birthday.
First Birthday Smash Cake Ideas
Here are a few of my favorites first birthday smash cake ideas from ones I have made for each of my kid’s first birthdays:
I made this first birthday cake for my oldest daughter’s first birthday. I used whipped cream instead of the frosting option included in the recipe and used sprinkles. I was VERY first-time mom and went all out on her first birthday party, so homemaking a cake was something I wanted to do. We made it into an ice cream parlor theme party, so she had other exposure to sugar at her party since we offered an ice cream sundae bar. Majority of the guests were adult friends or infants (who didn’t yet eat), so we didn’t make extra of her smash cake for guests.
I made this smash cake for my second daughter’s birthday plus cupcakes of it on the side for guests who wanted an option without added sugar. By this party, we had significantly more guests with young children come to the party so we offered traditional cupcakes and other sweets options for desserts, as well as this for a low-sugar alternative.
This is the one we made for my son this year. I used Just Date Syrup instead of maple syrup in the cake itself and then topped with a fluffy, whipped cream frosting similar to the one in the recipe above (basically whip the whipping cream and add maybe 1 Tablespoon total of an added sweetener of choice). Not that it was any less messy for photos, but I liked that being one consistent element between my kid’s first birthday cakes. We held a small party with extended family only this year, so I made two smash cakes: one for his photo shoot and another kept in the fridge (without whip) until his party two days later. We also offered traditional chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting on them for everyone at the party.
Celebrating the first year of life with a little one is so sweet. I hope whether you add sugar to their smash cake or not, you don’t stress over their first birthday. You are an amazing parent and you did an amazing thing raising a tiny human for one whole year! Fork-cheers-full-of-cake to you, friend!