Green Birthday Parties for Kids

This year I found myself apathetic about throwing a traditional party for my two year old.  While I could have selected coordinating décor and unique party favors, I was determined to keep it simple.  Am I an unfit mother?  I hope not.  The truth is that throwing a big birthday shindig often ends up being expensive, exhausting and very disposable.  

Luckily I knew my son would be thrilled to run through a park with his friends and receive a few presents. We added blueberry muffins to the mix and he was in utter bliss. 

Plus, I had to wonder, would I be doing all that extra stuff for him and his friends, or for the other adults? Before I got wrapped up in other people’s potential judgments of his very simple celebration, I realized that the people in Roscoe’s life are unpretentious, kind and very connected to him.  They forgave me for my un-Martha Stewart festivities. 

So, here are a few ideas for your own simple, green birthday bash:

People are the gifts: Instead of focusing on the decorations, the party favors or the presents, we made a big deal out of having all the people who love Roscoe together in one place. It took the stress of perfection off of us, (which was good, considering that we were five minutes late to our own party!) and freed us up to connect with the friends and family who came.  

Simple party decor:  Roscoe had a birthday crown that he made at daycare and that was about it.  Older children might feel neglected without the decorations, but party streamers can be reused by rolling them up from year to year.  We actually still have Roscoe’s streamers from his baby shower saved up for eventual use!   Another option is to hit thrift stores for pre-owned party decor.  There are always several rolls of streamers and a few bags of leftover balloons at our local thrift shop.   

Muffins instead of cupcakes. Having a morning birthday party was a good way to bypass loads of sugar and the time usually works better for toddlers anyway.  We picked heaps of organic blueberries this year and made huge batches of muffins to feed all his friends—it’s was my sneaky way of substituting semi-healthy food for birthday cake.

Sidewalk chalk. A giant tub of this was given to us by our neighbors and it helped lure the kids away from the swings when it was time for the birthday song.  You can make your own using this recipe. Having the chalk at the party was easy, fun and required no set up.

Cloth gift bags.  Roscoe’s gifts from us were simply tossed in homemade cloth family gift bags and tied with the attached ribbon.  We’ll use them again at holidays and future birthdays.  They make gift wrapping infinitely easier, cheaper, and eco-friendlier.  

Sheets for tablecloths. We got away with just having a table cloth (which was actually a printed sheet) for all of Roscoe’s decor. It actually looked quite nice and we just washed it after the party.  

Recycled Paper products. We used recycled paper plates thanks to Rebecca’s discovery about Chinet using 100% recycled material.   We encouraged our guests to dispose of used plates, napkins and cups in our paper grocery sack.  After a bit of sorting and rinsing, the whole sack then went directly into our compost bin!  

A gift plan. Roscoe has plenty of toys already and our house is relatively small, so the invitation stated that presents weren’t needed, but people’s presence was most welcome.   People did bring some gifts, but it was nice that they didn’t feel obligated and that the focus of his party wasn’t on what he received.  Rebecca shared that she’s asking family members for experience-based gifts like museum or zoo memberships, rather than material things for her daughter.  

Do you have any ideas for thrifty, green birthday parties?  I hope that I can add them to my list for next year’s festivities!

Please feel free to add your frugal, eco-friendly wisdom to our Thrifty Green Thursday blog carnival.  There are step by step directions for using Mr. Linky here.  We can’t wait to learn more from our fellow green bloggers this week!


  1. wow I was actually thinking about doing something similar to this for next week. I have been making my gift bags out of fabric and on the ribbon put a little saying about passing along to another friend for a gift. I think its an awesome idea and much cheaper than buying a bag and all the other stuff. Just look for remnants on sale!

    i also love the experience gifts that is a great idea for when the kids get a bit older.

  2. Those are some great ideas. I love the crown that he made and the substitution of muffins for cake. Brilliant!

    I’m going to use some of your tips for my son’s 1st birthday party, which isn’t until March but it’s nice to have some ideas floating around in the ether of my brain.

  3. These are great tips! I worry, too, that having a simple party makes us look like cheapskates, which is beside the point.

  4. I guess that should be “loaves”.

  5. I think you’ve forgotten an important part – thatdecorations can be reused. My daughter’s luau decorations came from a scrapbook store my mom frequents after its event. After the party, I passed the decorations on to a blog reader.

    You can also do e-invites to cut down on paper waste.

  6. Both of my daughters had green birthday parties this past summer. They rocked!


  7. Thanks for the tips. Two of my kids have birthdays in December, one before and one after Christmas and these tips will help with cutting down on some of the expenses.

  8. I keep meaning to comment that I have every intention of joining in, I just haven’t gotten it together yet! Soon, soon!

  9. I love the link to the chalk recipe!

  10. Oh my goodness Joy, I think it is so ironic that you served muffins because when I make my kids’ birthday cakes I ALWAYS think of you.=) I am very impressed. I think I love cake too much myself to not have it.

    Happy Birthday to Roscoe!

  11. Eileen is sharing the dark secrets of my sugar-encrusted past! The (ironic) truth is that I love cake decorating and often made my best friends rich birthday cakes as gifts a few decades ago. Someday I’ll just have to succumb to my urge to frost and whip up a 3-D medieval castle made of marzipan for Roscoe’s festivities, but for now I’m trying to hold firm on the muffins!

  12. So I keep getting mental blocks for this carnival:( But my green party idea comes from a one-year old party I attended this year. Instead of gifts the parents suggested guests bring donations to a medical research foundation. In this case it was an ailment a family member had suffered. The one-year old didn’t miss the extra toys and it made others pause for the cause.

  13. I love your idea Erika! I suppose that older children could help choose the cause that they wanted their guests to support. Family and parents could still pick out special gifts for the child, but having friends support a worthy charity at the party would probably give our son a chance to really enjoy the unique joy of generosity. I’m saving this tip for next year’s party!

  14. I think the donation-as-gift idea could be a great way to get kids to focus on the nonmaterial aspects of their celebration, and of course it’s wonderful to support a worthy cause rather than add to a kid’s stockpile of toys and clothes. However . . . I might feel a bit under pressure and annoyed if I received an invitation with the “suggestion” that I donate to a charity. What if it was a charity I didn’t want to support? It puts the guests in the uncomfortable position of having to look stingy. To me there is a big difference between asking someone not to buy a gift at all and telling them (even in a really nice way!) exactly what to get as a gift.

    Perhaps, though, there is a really good way to do this without making guests feel obligated to donate money to a charity? Perhaps it could be done anonymously somehow, like “In lieu of gifts, please consider supporting X foundation”? That might work well!

  15. For those interested, I have created a Green Birthday Party Planner to help busy parents have a low stress party that’s simple and eco friendly. It’s my thought that if we are going to make green something not alternative, but a normal way of life, we have to make it simple and practical.

  16. these are such great ideas, and i’m extra impressed about composting paper products! you’re so right that so often the details are more for adults anyways–young kids can easily be please with simple!

  17. The book exchange is a great idea, thanks to Jessica for that and the list!

  18. For children, birthday invitation cards are the perfect vehicle to introduce young people to the practice of giving to charity from an early age. Over time, philanthropy will become one of the best habits that stays with them for life.

  19. provides electronic invitaions with a “Donate Now” button attached to your favorite charity. Guests are encouraged to make a donation in lieu of bringing a gift. Our service turns charitable gifts into simple, convenient and fun acts of kindness that encompass all budgets and lifestyles.

  20. Ive got some good party tips from this. Halloween is going be a scary one! Cheers

  21. Jennifer says

    For my daughter’s 6th birthday, she wanted to do something to help animals. So we had a cat and dog theme and a donation drive to benefit our local animal shelter. In lieu of gifts we requested that guests bring a donation for the shelter and included their “wish list” of items like cat food, dog treats, paper towels, etc. with the invitation. It was a huge success! Not only were the other parents impressed with the idea but the children were excited to be participating. Everyone loved it. The shelter sent a letter of thanks to my daughter for her generousity. Grandparents bought a few toy gifts and she did get one thing from us, so she did not feel deprived at all. The experience was priceless and did more good for her than a traditional party could.

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