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.

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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”

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  1. 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…

  2. For my daughter’s party favors, I ordered tutus and wings from 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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. :-)

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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;)

  16. 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”…

  17. 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!

  18. 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.” :)

  19. 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.

  20. 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:

  21. 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!

  22. 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!

  23. 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!

  24. @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.

  25. 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!

  26. 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!

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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!

  30. 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?

  31. 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.

  32. 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!

  33. 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.