Candy-Free Party Favors

I am just being honest here. I am so tired of my girls coming home from birthday parties with goodie bags full of candy. Maybe it is just me, but after letting them indulge in highly processed pizza, cake, juice and in some instances even soda do kids as young as 3 and 4 years of age really need a bag full of candy?

I don’t want to sound ungrateful because my daughters have so much fun at these parties, and I know it’s a lot of work and expense for the parents. But, it is a pretty solid reminder that we are very much the minority with our “real food” desires. And frankly, I don’t know what to do with these bags full of junk food that the party hosts keep handing out to my kids.

Luckily my girls are still young enough that they often forget about the party favors shortly after the party, but ever since Halloween last year I started giving them quarters for each piece of candy that they chose to give up to me. I certainly don’t want them to “miss out” on anything special and they happen to love saving up their change so they can go pick out a toy with their very own money. This of course means I end up throwing that bag of candy in the trash, which unfortunately seems like such a waste.

Earlier this month we celebrated our youngest daughter’s fourth birthday, and I was on a mission to come up with fun candy-less party favors. I know some say everyone should go without party favors all together, but I am not quite on that bandwagon yet. Plus I used to be a corporate event planner in my old life so I think it is fun to get into the details of an event.

So, without further ado, for only a couple bucks each we gave out the pictured pots, bags of soil, seed packets, shovels and plant tags to all our little guests. I was lucky to find almost all of the items marked down in the dollar bins at Target.

And I was even more thrilled to learn that most of the kids have since “planted” their party favor including my own two daughters who both really enjoyed the task. So hopefully these will last at least a little bit longer than the candy-filled alternative!

I recently reached out to my wonderful facebook community to get even more candy-free party favor ideas and here is the list of ideas that they came up with. We’d love to hear your ideas as well so please leave them in the comments below!

  • Bubbles
  • Books / bookmarks
  • Craft projects (can usually find $1 packs at craft store)
  • Pencils/erasers
  • Crayons
  • Small pads of paper
  • Stickers
  • Chinese yo-yos (found at Pier 1)
  • Bouncy balls
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Boxes of raisins
  • Small containers of Play-Doh or a homemade version
  • Bracelets that can be made at the party
  • Snacktrap holders
  • Boo boo bunnies
  • Animal or other fun hats (can be found at A.C. Moore)
  • Finger puppets
  • Scholastic books (they offer many books for only a dollar!)
  • Karate kid headbands (made at party with white napkins)
  • Teacups
  • Magic wands
  • Aprons
  • Paint supplies
  • Homemade sword/shield sets
  • Goodie tote bags that the kids can decorate at party
  • Silly Bandz
  • Balloons / water balloons
  • Water guns / goggles
  • $5 gift card to bookstore
  • Shirts that kids paint, decorate, or tie dye at party
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Tulle tutus that kids can make at party
  • Glow in the dark stars kids can find on scavenger hunt
  • Sunglasses
  • Hand-me-down stuffed animals
  • Foamerators made at party
  • Lego mini figures
  • Diego place mats and binoculars
  • Toothbrushes
  • Matchbox cars
  • Sand toys
  • Small puzzles
  • Jedi robes and pool noodle lightsabers
  • Nail polish

For more ideas go to this post: Easter without the junk!

[Entered into Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday]

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131 thoughts on “Candy-Free Party Favors”

  1. 4th grade has my daughter eating 5-6 pieces of candy a day!!! I’m so upset that I have yet to speak with the teachers regarding the health concerns I have for my daughter and her classmates. Two teachers give out candy for various reasons – I have donated coins that kids can choose to save-up, or donate to the class missions project. Daughter does understand and wants to be healthy, so she only eats one per day and puts the rest in her pocket. On another note, same daughter is hosting a spa birthday party – healthy “spa food” like cucumbers and fruit compote. Take home gift is a spa bath wrap we are making for each girl and her favorite doll. Not much junk other than the cake. :)

  2. Great idea’s, thank you! We just gave out mood rings, and a color chart wrapped in a small box for my daughter’s 7th birthday. Big hit!

  3. Just a note on super-balls: these were always banned from our house on advice of our vet. We had a golden retriever and now have a lab. They love to fetch. Most super-balls are exactly the right size to be a deadly choking hazard to larger dogs. I threw them straight in the trash, and the kids understood why. We never had any balls in our house smaller than a tennis ball. I know, we all have our own issues, but I lived in fear of a giant bouncy dog trying to catching a tiny bouncing ball.

    I love these ideas that are disposable items like chalk, paper hats, or the plants and pots.

  4. Last year we had a train parry for my son. We gave put train hats, bandanas and a train whistle. I have never given out the “traditional” goodie bag filled with candy…

  5. I agree on the junk food and the plastic toys all over my house that break as soon as they are played with, half the time. I try and just send home one item that is useful. I have found wonderful stuff at the dollar store or in the dollar section of places like target. Also have found great stuff on clearance at the end of a season that I snatch up if I know what party is coming: kites, crazy or fuzzy socks, pedicure kits, coloring books (especially if it goes with the theme), balls. And for older boys that are out of the “cute” stage, Frisbees, foam footballs, pack of water balloon grenades. We try and have the take-a-way favor be something that works in to the party theme too, like for a younger child’s “boot camp” we have bought army hats they can use for dress up, inflatable light sabers for a Star Wars party (bet the parents loved us for that one….) Or for an arts and craft party, make something at the party, picture frames, painted flower pot, as an activity and then send home with them. Again, something useful and fun that hopefully won’t get in the way.

  6. See, I’d rather have the candy than the plastic crap toys! Ugh. Clutter. My kids get candy very rarely so I don’t mind if they have a little bit from time to time and then it’s gone. But cheap, plastic made-in-China army men? They’re forever.

  7. I like to try to stay away from candy favors too. Here are some of the things I have given at my kids’ parties: flashlights, glow bracelets/necklaces, lip balm, tattoos, stickers, colored pens with notebooks & stencils, crafts created at the party, sand pails/shovels, bubbles, sunglasses, pool toys, sidewalk chalk.

  8. Hi Lisa, We also prefer to avoid any type of food with little or no nutritional value, especially since so many types of food are questionable these days. Flower Seed Packet party favors decorated with pretty mermaids and fairies are a fun way to connect with nature and a great reminder of the event as the flowers grow each year. Another idea is empty Tin Party Favors decorated with guitars, girly make up and even video games, that can be filled by the parents with whatever contents that they choose. http://www.PartyFavorWebsite.com

  9. Another great party favor (non-edilble) but amazing. Is the TickleMe Plant party favor. This party favor grows the only plant that I know that will close its leaves and lower its branches when tickled. Kids never forget the experience years later. My students love them too. See a TickleMe Plant in action at http://www.ticklemeplant.com Has pink flowers like a Truffula tree too!

  10. Your tomato party favour looks very similar to birthday gifts we gave out last year. We tucked a picture book about gardening in there too.

  11. Thanks for the tips. I am going to be making play dough to put in the party favors and am probably going to pick up something else from the dollar store. I let my daughter have a couple treats when we get party favors but most of it gets tossed. She is only 3.

  12. Love the seed/pot/dirt idea however the seeds in the picture don’t look organic. Those are poisonous too especially tomatoes.

  13. I was very happy to see this post on facebook today! My daughter’s birthday os coming up in May and I have been wondering what we should do. Thanks!

  14. We just had our daughter’s 3rd birthday party at a waterpark. It was a Dora theme, so the goody “bags” were a large Dora cup, and inside was a pair of sunglasses, bubbles, and a squirt gun. Party City has a huge selection of non-candy items and most of it is pretty cheap.

  15. I just wanted to share an awesome idea for a fall birthday party that we just did for my son. He had his birthday at the local pumpkin patch. There were picnic tables, a playground, hayride, pumpkin launching, farm animals, etc. There was a pumpkin patch where every child was able to pick their own pumpkin as their favor. And for the “birthday cake,” we had my son’s favorite…homemade pumpkin pie with homemade whipped cream. We had some homemade cookies as well for non-pumpkin eaters. It was also very economical, and it was so relaxing and FUN! Just thought I’d share!

  16. We had a birthday party for our 7 year old daughter. It was right before summer, so we gave out flip-flops and chapstick in cute party bags for the favors and it was a HIT!!!

  17. I have to say – I hate when I’m given seeds. They end up in the trash whenever I’m given them. I have tried to grow them, but then we fail because I am horrible in the garden department and I end up with disappointed children.

    That being said, my son had his fourth birthday and I found a $5 DVD at our local FCB, and the families all went home with a copy of that for their “treat bag”. Both mom’s had seen the videos sitting on my counter and had asked what it was for since there were multiple copies of the same dvd. When I told them they would be taking them home after the party they both LOVED the idea! And it was good – because I was bad and sugared their children up with an ice cream cake ;-) (But I then sent them into the yard with bathing suits on to run it off for an hour!)

  18. We just had our son’s 3rd birthday with an art theme. The favors we gave were a painted an 8 x 10 inch canvas as the party activity and as the favor every child got a small bag of lego duplos. Everyone loved the party as a whole!!!

  19. Most hospitals have chemotherapy wards, and these wards will usually accept candy donations for their patients. Chemo has a reputation for leaving a bitter or sour taste in the mouth, and small candies are VERY helpful in counteracting this during treatment. Contact your local hospital and ask for info. Our two nearest high schools collect during and right after Halloween, but chemo is administered all year long…

  20. For my daughter’s party favors, I ordered tutus and wings from http://www.haloheaven.com They have a ton of dress up items, sold in eaches, but priced like wholesale. I got a tutu, wings and a ribbon wand for each girl for $6.00. We’ve done this for two parties and it is always a hit!

  21. My 10 year old daughter’s birthday party was Harry Potter themed, and we gave out a wax sealer with the guests’ initials and a small stick of wax. Last year we gave out a small family game to each party goer – there are a lot of games that are 8 bucks or less, and the wax sealers were 5 bucks.

  22. We just did a backyard water party for my son’s birthday with sprinklers, kiddie pool, etc. We gave out these cute little hoodie pinch towels they have at IKEA ($9.99) as favors. It was a small party, so we didn’t have to buy a ton, and the kids an use them at splash parks & pools all summer. We also did a watermelon “cake” with canteloupe stars that I found on Pinterest. No junk food for kids at my house! Thanks for the ongoing inspiration!

  23. I am doing a train party next week, and I am giving out train whistles and train-themed items as party favors. It might annoy the parents to be sent home with a whistle, but oh well. I am having cake that I am making, but the rest of the food will be pretty healthy.

  24. I was JUST talking about goodie bags the other day! When I was little, I’d get so excited about putting together goodie bags for my friends. I don’t really see it as wasteful because even the simplest little items can be so fun for a child to play with or use. You never know what they might feel attached to or get the most use out of to fuel their imaginations.

    My mom and I would go to the local craft shop and I’d get to pick out an assortment of little trinkets for everyone. I took so much joy in thinking of what each friend would like. Everyone got the same things, but I’d pick out different colors or types to suit each friend – little dinosaur pencil erasers, a scented marker, stamps with little ink pads, stickers/temporary tattoos, mini rulers, sparkly pencils, bubble stuff… I’m not sure that we ever put candy in ours. Maybe, but I think generally it was more fun little trinkets, and as a little kid I looooved things like that. I’d get white or brown sandwich bags and custom decorate them for each guest, drawing pictures of things they liked and making a fancy name, etc. I got to feel like I got to celebrate my special day by giving my friends gifts too and I think it helped everyone feel like they got to be celebrated. I can see how some might think of it as frivolous or wasteful but at least in my own experiences I never felt that way. It just made me really happy.

  25. I’m all in favor of no candy and no cheap toys that end up in the garbage. For my daughter’s 8th bday party – we did a nature theme with a walk thru our woods. This actually was in the middle of February in Wisconsin, so the kids bundled up and were out in the snow and woods for over an hour! Yes – fairy houses need to be built in the winter, too! Each girl left with a small sketch pad (from craft store $2 bin) and a mason jar mug that we decorated with raffia ribbon after a breakfast of scrambled eggs, homemade waffles and fresh fruit (the party started at 8am on a Saturday morning and yes, everyone arrived on time!). No birthday cake or cupcakes were served – we put a candle in my daughter’s waffle instead! I took it one step further and asked for NO gifts. Instead, we asked for food shelf donations and ended up with 40# of food and everyone respected my request for no toys! EVERYONE was happy, especially the birthday girl

  26. My two year old’s party was last weekend, and in the goody bags were a party blower (you know, those things you blow that make noise?), a piece of sidewalk chalk, a packet of nasturtium seeds, and a balloon that you blow up that has a rubber band on it to bounce? Two year olds don’t need much. It was hard to think of things that would be not cheap plastic crap that would just be thrown away and fill a landfill and not candy. And that would be appropriate for a toddler. And not too expensive.

  27. We have two non-candy things we are doing. First we are making skirts (fancy princess party), using the skirts to make a fun table skirt, then giving them to the girls as they go. Plus we made felt cut-out princesses that the girls can color while they are at the party.

  28. we are having a party tomorrow for our son’s 7th bday. I was just commenting about favors in general, but I 100% agree about the loads of candy! It drives me crazy. We’ve never been big on candy around here, which turns out to be a great thing on so many levels b/c our son is also a Type 1 Diabetic (autoimmune disorder NOT related to food overindulgence or anything of the like) and he only gets sweets like that if it’s an emergency and we need to bring his blood sugars up quickly. We are having a spy party so all of the goodies in the goody bags are spy related (sun glasses, disguise faces, magnifying glass, etc.) and the kids can use them during the party. :-)

  29. For my younger son’s 2nd birthday coming up (very hungry caterpillar theme), the kids will be catching and “adopting” a (stuffed) caterpillar. My older son has requested that I make maple syrup candy as his party favor in December.

  30. Awesome! We avoid candy for favors too. For my daughter’s pool party, we gave each child a sand bucket with a beach ball, a pool toy, bubbles and goldfish (I know so not real food, but I thought it was cute to add a label the goldfish that says “Thanks for swimming with me.”) Thanks for sharing these ideas, and I love the plant set as a favor.

  31. I have become a big supporter of no goodie bags or favors at parties. It’s just so wasteful to give something to all the kids who already have plenty of toys. I think it’s great to show kids that they can have fun without getting stuff and being materialistic.

  32. I agree. I would much rather have something I’m not going to throw out or that gets broken in ten seconds.
    I do non candy goodie bags for birthday and now for his school parties as well. I just made some Easter bags for the kids at school and I put in smiley face pencil sharpeners, fun erasers, sunglasses and silly bands.
    Some of our favorite party favors we’ve added to the bags have been coloring books, crazy straws, fake tattoos, fuzzy wristbands and 3d puzzles.

  33. I knew this year we were not sending a bag of trinkets and candy home with our birthday guests! Actually almost did the garden kit idea. My daughter had a cowgirl party at a stable. I sent home a little burlap tote, each guests initial was stenciled on the front with a horse shaped soap tucked inside. They drank strawberry lemonade from small mason jars that they got to take home and a bandana that they wore at the party. It wasn’t much but I didn’t hear any complaining:) I also thought about doing shaped crayons, if you have a box of broken crayons you can melt the up and pour them in any soap or candy mold for a themed favor. Etsy has a lot of these homeade shaped crayons,soap, etc if you’re not so crafty;)

  34. Lots of great ideas, here. Some have mentioned the “junk” items… We have a ‘pinata’ box. When the children come home with plastic-y, trinket-y, “junk”-y items, they go in the pinata box. For birthdays (over 5) we make our pinata then fill it with these items. I actually tell the parents the contents of the pinata so they have permission to embrace or toss the “goodie bag items”…

  35. Thank you for these fun ideas! My son had a pirate party this year and we gave each child a bandana and pirate eye patch to wear during the party and to take home. Each guest received a piece of homemade chocolate cake then went home with a “treat” that will last a lot longer than candy. Plus it made for really cute birthday party photos of all the little pirates! Arrrr!

  36. We throw gobs of candy out all the time from church and other functions. I give the kids some seeds and cheese in it’s place and they love it! Or sometimes I say how about a green smoothie and (at 4) they say YEAH! My DD always says ‘mommy, that’s not healthy’ when we see candy. She says ‘it makes your body weak, and not strong’. The more I learn about nutrition’s impact on disease, I know we are doing the right thing. It’s awesome!

    1. Gretchen Harmon

      Marie, my girls are THE SAME way! I LOVE it! We do an occasional “treat” here and there, but they NEVER beg for candy or any junk food. They call it “junk we don’t need because it isn’t good for us” and my girls are 4, 3 and 2. The best part is that my eldest will practical yell it out in the store for everyone to hear. Always makes me smile, not because I’m passing judgement on anyone but because my four year old knows she doesn’t need that type of food and if she wants a treat, a mandarin orange, a “big” orange, a fresh, juicy apple, a banana, yogurt, applesauce, (I could go on and on and ON about what they ask for instead) are readily available even though she knows she’ll have to wait until snack time and even then it’s always asking for a fresh piece of fruit, banana bread, etc. We didn’t even DO Easter baskets this year. We don’t really celebrate Easter in the societal way, but do the Egg Hunt as a Spring activity and even then the girls knew ahead of time, “Mommy we don’t need the junk inside. Just the eggs.” EVERYONE keeps asking them did you eat what was inside and they keep responding with, “No, it’s junk we don’t need. It isn’t good for us. We just wanted the eggs.” :)

  37. Don’t feel bad about throwing it away, Lisa! It is after all, junk. Not to say that we don’t indulge every now again in our home, but once we’ve had what in my mind is enough, I throw it out. We don’t NEED it; we WANT it and it isn’t a healthy “want”.

    In fact, as we’ve moved over to a more and more Real Food diet, I’ve just thrown out items flat out instead of using them up and then transitioning over or not purchasing that particular item.

    We had a jar of marion blackberry jam from Cracker Barrel. I LOVED this jam like no other. And so did my husband. His FAV. Then he found out about high fructose corn syrup in the yogurt we were eating, so he switched over and despite the fact I couldn’t STAND the fact of that particular ingredient, I had taken SO much time finding a yogurt I actually liked that it took a bit to find another. But I ended up just throwing out all the yogurt and jumped into a new, non-syruped one and it didn’t take as long as I thought to make the move. Then I found out my beloved marion blackberry jam had high fructose corn syrup in it. Joshua told me NOT to throw it out because he’d eat it.

    It went out while he was at work. And we had some scouts come to the house asking for food donations. “I could just give him what we aren’t going to eat instead of ‘wasting’ it”, I thought. Then it dawned on me, WHY ON EARTH would I give out food that isn’t healthy or even good for me to someone who needs good-for-them more than me?! I threw it all out. I went through EVERYTHING and tossed it out. If the scouts wanted a food donation, it’d be whole wheat, real food pasta, or a real food organic pasta sauce, tomato sauce, etc. It might be one of only a handful Real Food items at the food closet, but I at least can put my mind at ease knowing that I’ve donated good, healthy, real food to someone who needs it.

    I’m done now, really. :)

    1. I have been making my own yogurt so that it doesn’t have all the chemicals and such in it. It has way more probiotics in it than the commerical brands too. Just use a commerical plain yogurt that you like for a tablespoon.

      1 L milk (we’re Canadian)
      1/2 cup skim milk powder (I have used it without this but it’s a thinner yogurt)

      Low heat to rolling boil, stirring constantly. Once rolling take out of heat and let it sit for about 1-2 hours. Check to see if you can put your finger in the milk for 10 seconds.

      Then add your 1 tbsp of yogurt to the mix and put in mason jars.

      Put the mason jars into a cupboard (warm area) for 24 hours and then refridgerate.

      I add in my own homemade jam, or fruits or honey to sweenten the plain yogurt.

  38. I completely agree with you about the candy, and I also agree with Sara about the junk toys that just go straight into the trash. So I LOVE the CD idea from Tina! My daughter’s 2nd birthday was just last week, and I made crayon rolls for the party favors. I only included 5 crayons, since they were party favors; if I had been giving them as a gift, I’d fill it with crayons and include a coloring book or two. Anyway, I used this tutorial: http://prudentbaby.com/2010/12/baby-kid/how-to-sew-a-crayon-roll-2/

  39. One of my boys went to a birthday party last year that used plants as favors. They took it a step further and made planting flowers one of the party activities!

  40. Thanks so much for this post! I have been wondering about this especially in light of this week. I asked those closest to our family not to give our kids sugar for Easter, but they still received some from some of the relatives, school and church activities. Trying to keep sugar out of the house is pretty difficult especially at this time of year. These are great suggestions. I like the planter idea and will have to use that this summer for my 2 year old’s party favors.

    I also feel somewhat wasteful in throwing the candy out but then I think about how much sugar they get out of our house and it seems worth it. Thanks for your blog. I’ve really enjoyed the resources and articles!

  41. I love the potted plant idea and want to remember that for even a wedding favor with a label on the pot and on the tomato stake. Love the idea!

  42. @Jenn, depending how old your daughter is — a favorite birthday party activity for my girls was painting clay flower pots with acrylic paints — that was the activity and the party favor! My daughters are in college, but we still have some of those cute pots. One year in middle school, my daughter and a friend got out the acrylic paints (marked for outdoor use) and painted some rocks from the garden — we still have those, too, cheerfully lining the garden walkway.

  43. Fabulous ideas! I’m totally doing this for my daughter’s birthday in June. The little pots are so cute and promotes healthy eating (tomatoes!) Love it! Thanks!

  44. My son turned one in January, and I wanted to do favor bags. Obviously, he’s too young for sweets, so I picked our things that he loved: a little rubber duck, triangle-shaped crayons, little hand clappers (he has a bigger one), and even a tiny pack of Apples-to-Apples Junior for One of my friends’ 9-year-old. I hope to keep up that tradition for future birthdays! And I LOVE the favors you did! There are so many more ways to be creative than tossin candy in bags – for less money many times!

  45. The best non-junk party favor we’ve ever received was a CD burned with the birthday girl’s favorite songs. It’s become a favorite in our house, and we plan to do the same for our little one’s next birthday!

    1. I hate to be a buzz kill but be careful on this because unless you have recordings that are in the public domain, you are likely breaking copyright laws. No, you aren’t likely to be caught and sued. That said, I’m reluctant to break laws like this and risk making my kids think it’s legal.

  46. I totally agree with this. My daughter just turned 1, and I was so torn about the goody bag idea. My view is, if I won’t give it to my child, I’m not going to give it to other people’s children. I ended up giving animal crackers to each of the kids that came, since her party theme was Monkeys. I hope more people start to think like this.

  47. I am all for candy free party bags – let me say that straight away. My kids are older now but it used to bother me when they were younger that they got so many sweets at friends parties. especially as they were so happy with a bubble bottle, or some balloons, or satsumas, etc. I do have to say though, that as I am now pushing towards a Zero Waste home, that a lot of the dollar store items and all the packaging are going to be in landfill within the week. Please be aware of not creating more rubbish that can be avoided. Love your site xx.

    1. 100 Days of Real Food

      I have also recently been inspired by the Zero Waste family…would love to move in that direction as well!

  48. I can’t get the link to work about avoiding processed foods while traveling! My husband travels for work and has a hard time eating real food 100% of the time…so I was hoping to read your article and pass it on to him! Any chance I could have it sent to me?

  49. I’m totally on board with a candy free party favor, but PLEASE don’t give my kids a bag full of tiny cheap toys that will end up in the trash a few days later. Such a waste of money! My favorites are crayons, bubbles (we go through both of those things like crazy! so you can never have too much), a book (our Dollar Tree has a pretty good selection of books), playdough, etc. Just 1 or 2 things that matches the theme of the party is SO much better than a bag full of (basically) trash.

    1. I agree! We end up throwing away the cheap favors because they either fall apart or will not be played with and will just sit around the house. I just had my daughter’s 3rd birthday and decided to skip the favors this year. I love indulging in the party theme, but I decided to simplify this year. I didn’t overhear a single complaint from a child about not getting favors.

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  51. We are also a “candy free” and junk toy free party favors kind of family! Cannot stand either of them. Your list is great, and I love what you did for your daughter’s party! Here are a few ideas of favors that we’ve done in the past: we bought a bunch of t-shirts and let the kids go to town personalizing them by stamping the letters of their name & cute jungle animals (this was my middle son’s 1st birthday, a jungle theme). For my oldest son’s 6th birthday, a “camouflage” theme, I bought a case of nice green water bottles, and personalized each one using a sharpie paint pen. I would have preferred to order vinyl waterproof labels (or made them myself, but I ran out of time). They also used the water bottles to collect, for the scavenger hunt, the little army men (like the Toy Story ones) in the yard… For the same son’s 4th party, a Polar Express theme, I personalized white hot cocoa mugs (from the dollar store) for each child & decorated the mugs in Christmas colors and snowflakes. I filled the mugs with some jingle bell ornaments, a package of cocoa mix & a little ziplock bag full of sparkly reindeer food. One last idea, for the same son’s 5th birthday, we went to the NC Aviation museum, near the airport, and each child went home with a miniature model airplane kit, that they could put together. Clearly, my oldest son has the best birthday parties in this house, lol… The 2nd and 3rd haven’t had any quite that good yet!

  52. This year for my daughter’s b-day we got flip flpos and then I cut a bandana in strips and they tied them on the strap of the flip flop. It was a activity and a take home gift as well. I think it cost me $3 per kid. Hobby Lobby has ton of things you could do.

  53. For my daughter’s birthday I made little bags with little nail polishes, colorful emery boards, toe dividers, note pads, and cool pens. When the girls arrived and settled down I passed out the bags. The girls had a manicure / pedicure party. Then the girls got to take home their bags. So I was able to do a “craft” and have goodie bags at the same time. It worked out beautifully! FOr my son’s birthday I plan to give the boys matchbox cars, coloring books and crayons (crayons can be found really inexpenive during the back to school sales).

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  55. Honey sticks
    fake tattoos
    little flip top note pads (like detectives use as my son would point out)
    Marbles
    For my kids last birthday we decorated mini pumpkins and squash and that was what the kids got to take home
    My son wants to make mix cd’s for all his friends for his birthday this year:D

  56. I’ve had this same conversation with local moms…and yet we all continue the “tradition” of junk food at the parties and junk-filled goodie bags. There was one party where I put more effort into creating personalized, laminated Webkinz bookmarks for my older son’s party. I loved hearing that the kids were using them while reading. But I also recently allowed Chuck E. Cheese to hand out their crap-filled bags to the guests and my younger children’s party. I’ve definitely felt that eliminating processed foods and junk from our lives has been a one step forward, two steps back process. I hope that we will all continue to share ideas and make time to live and celebrate in more healthy manner.

    Regarding Halloween candy, my son’s boy scout troop mails all leftover candy to the troops abroad. Once my kids realized where the leftovers went they stopped asking for treats. A small step, but progress nonetheless!

  57. We have done mylar balloons from the Dollar Store as favors. They are decorations during the party and then the kids can take them home and play with them. They last a few weeks to a month and then can be tossed. We do tie something small on the bottom to keep the balloons from sailing away. Last year it was a single Mega block (I knew the kids had Mega blocks at home and would just be incorporated into their collections.) Next year we are using tiny bottles of bubbles, the kind you would get at a wedding to blow when the bride and groom leave. They are 6 for $1 at the Dollar Store. They have been a huge hit with the toddler crowd.

    I love the idea of food-free favors. I have food allergies and I cannot tell you how many times I have been given ‘gifts’ of food I cannot eat. I am an adult and know that people mean well but it still makes me feel bad. I do not like to give out food because I don’t want to ever do that to a child.

  58. We have done mylar balloons from the Dollar Store as favors. They are decorations during the party and then the kids can take them home and play with them. They last a few weeks to a month and then can be tossed. We do tie something small on the bottom to keep the balloons from sailing away. Last year it was a single Mega block (I knew the kids had Mega blocks at home and would just be incorporated into their collections.) Next year we are using tiny bottles of bubbles, the kind you would get at a wedding to blow when the bride and groom leave. They are 6 for $1 at the Dollar Store. They have been a huge hit with the toddler crowd.

  59. It’s so hard to make everyone happy with goodie bags! I always try to do candy-free, plastic-free, and latex-free take away bags, even if it means spending an extra couple dollars. I usually make up for those dollars by using “real” plates and silverware.

    The plants are a great idea!

  60. OMG, I am so happy to have stumbled upon this website. I was just talking to a girlfriend about food and how something is not right with our body system that we’re not digesting things very well. But as for the parties – you’re right, I can’t stand all the candies my kids get from the parties and thnk your idea is ingenious… a quarter for each piece of candy! I know my 8 year old daughter would totally go for it. My ten year old son and five year old daughter… not so much. lol. I pride myself on not giving favors that are educational, like workbooks from the $1 store and writing noteboooks, whatever. Something educational and something fun that won’t break within hours. Thaks for all these great ideas!

  61. Great ideas! I want to go to your parties!

    Regarding Halloween candy, my mom had all of her kids freeze our candy till Xmass time when we made a sugar free gingerbread house with sugar free egg white based “snow” that even the cats wouldn’t eat. By unwrapping all the candy and using it to decorate huge houses we were happy to not eat the candy in Oct/Nov (though tempted on decorating day) and then with the nasty tasting adhesive “snow” on it, no one wanted it again. Oh, and we are Jews, so its a pretty universally appealing activity. Most years we went with a saltbox design for simplicity, but a Victorian with m&m roof was really memorable.

  62. Laurie Carlson

    We only did birthday parties with friend’s invited for our children’s 6th and 12th birthdays.
    It made it very special for them. I just could not see spending all the money and getting
    more things that our children didn’t need. We also limited the number of parties they
    went too. They could go to their dear friends parties, but not everyone in the classroom.
    Frankly, we did not have the money. I was committed to staying home and not working so
    we couldn’t afford all the money for gifts for each of their friends. We also had parties
    just for the fun of it — so no gifts or party favors were needed. My children were able to eat with their friends without themed paper plates!! Kudos for the families out there that are willing to set some boundaries in their lives, whether it be for health or financial reasons.
    There is a lot of fun just in being alive!

  63. I am with you on this … I cannot stand the candy that comes home, yet personally the little plastic things can also make me nutty. I generally go for one “big” thing for my kids’ favors. You end up spending the same amount, in my, opinion, so I put it towards one thing instead.This past year my just-turned 7-year-old’s friends all got a Junie B. Jones book (around $5/piece – she only had 8 girls at her party so it really wasn’t bad). Or I’ve done the books for $3.99 at Borders as the favor. If you can catch a good sale, sometimes you can get beach towels at Target for $5 also.

    One other cute smaller item that we got at a 3-year-old party was included with other Dora things – the mom got a package of Dora panties and each girl got a pair in her bag. It’s amazing how exciting new panties are for newly potty trained kids!

  64. I just put together a goody bag for my daughter’s party. I included bubbles, a water ball (one of those soft balls you can use in the pool), and hair clips. I also put in a book on animals that I found in the dollar spot at target. I know that these items tend to be more expensive, but we usually only invite two or three friends (because I can’t handle too many kids!) so that allows me to spend a bit more on each goody bag. My other daughter’s birthday is at the beginning of the school year, so I usually include crayons or colored pencils because of the great sales then!

    I have never felt obligated to make a goody bag. I like seeing the look on the kids’ faces when they get the goody bag. Plus I do think there is some value in the birthday child seeing the other children get something. It takes the focus off them briefly (but not too much – it is their birthday, after all!).

  65. I almost posted something similar last week. I’m room mom for my third grader and decided that I wasn’t going to have junk at the end of year party. I was going to get Chipotle’s taco kits for lunch and have fruit and a simple well made cookie (i.e. cookies from a local baker that uses quality ingredients). The paper products are compostable and/or made from recycled materials. I saw this really inspiring video about turning trash into toys, so I thought we might do a craft using water bottles or something like that. Goodie bags would be a “summer survival kit”. A pail filled with some of the items in your list and things like sunblock and refillable water bottles. The gardening pot idea though, is something I may consider instead. It’s much greener than a bag full of cheap plastic toys! But the party time has been changed to after lunch and the time has been shortened to just 40 minutes, so the taco kits and the craft are a no go. I’m still going to do get the “good” cookies, organic juice, maybe some popcorn or fruit and either the pails or your flower pot. We’re going to let the kids autograph each others yearbooks and old “recycled” t-shirts brought from home.Thanks for the great ideas!

  66. When we had my 5 yo’s party at the zoo, we gave out animal baseball caps, sunglasses and water bottles – goody bags they could use during the party! I love the plant idea. My son wants a watermelon party this year (not sure what I’ll do with that), so maybe we’ll give out watermelon seeds.

  67. Such an awesome idea. I do not have kids of my own but love hanging out with my niece. This will make a great gift, that isn’t unhealthy, or obnoxious (noisy). Her mother will be thrilled.

  68. I love photos. Ask the children to make photos with disposable cameras and let them take them home. Or, make a frame at the craft event at the birthday party. Take one picture of each guest and frame it for them as their favor.

  69. Great post! Something to try too would be to talk to the parents in your children’s circle of friends and bring up the concerns about the candy. Chances are, they just couldn’t think of anything more creative or as simple as candy. Your insight could spark their minds for the next party!

  70. Great idea! I am also NOT a fan of birthday party treat bags filled with candy and little plastic toys. The whole bag always ends up right in the trash once we get home.

    For my daughter’s 4th birthday party, I had each child decorate a beach pail and sun visors with their name and stickers. Before they left the party, I dropped a coloring book and a container of washable crayons in their buckets. They seemed to be a real hit!

  71. I am doing something similar at my daughter’s 5th birthday. I took a little plastic hoe I purchased at Michaels and using decorative ribbon I tied a packet of wild flower seeds to it. Very inexpensive but nice presentation and fun (I hope!)

  72. My ds is now 24, but when we had parties we never gave away bags o candy as favors. Bubbles were always popular, as well as pencils, stickers,and other little baubles. One year we did something similar to the tomatoes. I had the kids decorate clear platic cups and then plant zinnia seeds. They had popsicle sticks and they glued the zinnia packet to that. Before the parents showed up, I told the children to take care of the little plants so they could give them to their Mom’s for Mother’s day, (but dont tell them!) D’s birthday is 4/1 so it worked out well. I got so many complements on that one!

  73. I agree! The candy and the cheap made in china (potentially harmful) junk toys are equally annoying! You have to be creative to avoid both of them, but there are SO many options to choose from if you just put a little thought into it. I like some of the creative ideas posted here so far. And the tomato seeds were a great idea, especially for a spring birthday.

  74. Kathryn Ewers Bundy

    Not Just Parties — as a 1st grade teacher let me add that children do not need to bring goodie bags to school filled with candy for holidays or birthdays. If your school does not have a rule against candy (ours does) please help out the teachers by finding healthy food or non-food choices for school celebrations. Get with the room parent and help plan. If you have good suggestions, people are much more willing to try something new. And please let all the parents in the class know if a no-candy rule is in effect. It’s heartbreaking to have to send back unopened treats.

  75. Love this idea especially with summer growing season upon us. For my daughter’s birthday this past year she wanted a tea party and I purchased wooden initial letters of all the guests first names – they had a blast painting. I’m with you on the junk – my children get one piece of candy and the rest goes in the garbage when they’re not looking~

  76. I LOVE this post!! I’m tired of the candy AND the dollar store made in china toys.
    My two favorite ‘alternative’ favors (crazy that candy & junk is ‘normal’) have been a CD with the birthday girl’s favorite songs and a plant that the party guests started as seeds in pots as part of the party activity.

  77. I never gave party favors for my kids parties. I never understood the point of it. You give the kids a party and food and fun – you have to send them home with more??? Anyway, whenever I found myself explaining to parents about how “I don’t believe in goodie bags” they all seem to LOVE the idea. Most parents said it was awesome and they wished they could bring themselves to do it! Maybe they were just saying it to my face but oh well….

  78. I absolutely love these! My kids usually drop there goodie bags on our kitchen table and forget they are there, but these would make them want to get home and plant their seeds! It may even inspire them to do more gardening!

  79. These are great ideas! I am totally with you on the bags of junk that are brought home! My kids forget too so I have been able to throw some of them out. :) Thanks so much for your website! You are very inspiring!

  80. When my kids were smaller we often just tied helium balloons to a small toy, like a train or train whistle or Thomas book (for my son’s numerous Thomas-themed parties) or a tiny stuffed animal or box of crayons (for my animal-loving, artistic daughter’s parties).

    We don’t do birthday “favors” for the 12-yo son anymore – his friends just want to go play video games and eat pizza and cake, and I can manage that. My 9-yo daughter wants creative parties, where they make jewelry or scrapbooks or figurines or paper dolls, so that’s the “favor” that goes home.

  81. Hey Lisa, wow, I would LOVE for my son to get one of your party favors. And, totally not related, but somewhat to your post… I am SO relieved that you also have let your kids endure in the “real world” of eating pizza, sodas, etc at parties. I have had to do the same and will this Friday when my son has his end of season pool party with pizza and drinks. 2 weeks ago was grilling hot dogs (regular store bought), making s’mores (with hershey’s chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows with blue dye) and a Capri Sun. (We were doing a one night camp out and cooking our dogs and s’mores over little bonfires.) I personally don’t like him eating all of this, but when we make the switch and are eating MOSTLY (trying to get to 100%, but don’t know that is EVERY TRULY achievable unless you offend friends, upset the kids, etc) then I’m ok with an occasional this and that here and there. OK, off my soapbox now. Ah, for my son’s party, I totally forgot about goody bags this year and last. Maybe I can do better once I get a better handle on all of this and give a cool one (like you did) in January. As for my son and candy, it goes in his candy jar. And, he NEVER opens it… Every few months I go tossing the stuff in garbage. Go figure! Of course, it could be that his dessert at night is yogurt or fruit or an occasional piece of chocolate (organic and from Earthfare). Thankfully when we left ball field last week during my custody, he got a green Gatorade and some Oreos as snack from some team mom. I got a handle on the Gatorade and he asked me about it when we got to the car and I said I had it and handed him his iced water bottle. Once home I realized he never said another word about it, so at least I eliminated some HFCS, dye and no telling what else, but he did get the Oreos… ;-)

  82. I am with KM on the dollar store trinkets too…if they don’t break and totally disappoint my kiddos–as soon as they get them home no less–then they insist on keeping them forever and they end up under the couch, in the car, under my foot in the middle of the night. It is a mess. lol. I also don’t like the candy and junk food served at parties. If you are very busy and have lots of parties to go to it ends up feeling like you need a week long cleanse to get it all out of your system. Four our birthdays, we usually have family over–lots of kids already so we don’t invite other friends yet (kids are 4 and 6), and we don’t do any gift bags. Our other family members are really appreciative. We usually send a picture of the birthday kid out in the thank you cards or in the invites…that seems to suffice. At the party we usually play with bubbles, toys in the play room if weather isn’t nice and there is usually a good game of football or soccer with ages ranging from little ones on up to the adults. We also try and keep to whole foods as much as possible.

  83. We don’t really get goody bags full of candy from the parties my kids go to. They also don’t tend to include a meal. There is usually one candy item and a pile of dollar store type stuff. As much as I don’t want my kids eating tons of junk, at least it’s consumable! My daughter has so many cheap trinkets, stickers or “crafts” from goody bags/stockings/Easter, etc., and she insists on keeping them forever! I think making something useful as an activity at the party and then taking it home is a great idea. I also really like the pots you put together. Cute and useful! Taking home a cupcake in a pretty box instead of eating cake at the party would be an idea too, especially if they decorate it.

  84. My friend once told me that they let their kids pick a few pieces of candy at Halloween and then she puts the rest in a ziploc freezer bag and freezes it til Christmas-time when they decorate gingerbread houses. I thought that was such a great idea. I would imagine you could do the same thing throughout the year with candy collected from birthday parties and other events.

    I love the idea of non-sweet party favors but just as much as I’m not crazy about all the candy I’m also not crazy about the little plastic party toys that get played with for five minutes and then junk up our house. I love some of your ideas up top. Thanks for posting them!

    1. What a great idea about the halloween candy! It saves money on buying more candy at Christmas time!

  85. This year I found Toy Story (my soon to be 5 yo’s theme) cups in the dollar section at Target. I’m filling the cups with bubbles, Toy Story Army Men, Toy Story Stickers, and Buddy Fruit Fruit Snacks (which is a much better alternative to candy!!).

  86. We love making the “favors” during the party, I think it means more to the guests than a bag of candy and toys. For what you can do with the candy you receive… during Halloween we hear ads for organizations that send candy to the troops. One of our local dentists will pay kids for their candy and then donates it to a charity that makes care packages for the military. I’m not sure if that is active all year or not. It’s worth a quick search. Good luck!

  87. Instead of tie dyeing shirts (with different sizes needed) we have done pillow cases and large white bath towels for use as beach towels.

  88. I always include some non-candy items in goodie bags. What if one of your guests is diabetic? I don’t want that child to feel left out.

  89. I always thought it would be cute to make beads out of Sculpey clay (or something similar) and bake them while the kids are playing/eating/whatever. Then they could make bracelets or necklaces out of them and take them home. That would be for a girl, of course.

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