Children's birthday parties are memorable for adults and fun for kids. Unfortunately, they can be wasteful and unhealthy affairs, with disposable plastic cups and plates heaped with sugary juice and cake. Gifts of plastic toys, though given with the best of intentions, are often added to a child's already enormous stockpile. If this scenario sounds familiar to you, fear not. There is something you can do! You can plan an eco-friendly birthday party for your child. Here are some ideas to help you get started on a low-waste party that is fun for your kids and good for the planet.
Swap out traditional birthday party snacks with healthy alternatives
Just like any social gathering, food is at the heart of children's birthday parties. But the foods traditionally offered are enough to make any health-conscious parent cringe. Cakes packed with sugar. Juices packed with sugar and artificial coloring. If a meal is eaten prior to cake, it is almost always pizza, laden with carbs and preservatives.
So when planning your healthier, more eco-friendly party, food is a good place to begin making changes. Of course, no parent wants to forbid their kid from having treats, particularly on their birthday. And luckily you won't have to! Many bakeries offer sugar-free (and sometimes even allergen-free) options. If you're making the cake yourself, even better! Many recipes for lower-sugar cakes and frostings, such as this popular one (which uses no-sugar-added applesauce) can be found online. As for beverages, try homemade juice, lemonade, flavored water, or buy from a brand that uses all-natural ingredients, such as Suja.
Food often determines the location of the party, too. If kids are going to be eating pizza, the party is usually held at a local pizza spot. To gain more control over the party's main course, simply change the location to your backyard or living room. Now you are free to serve delicious sandwiches with real meats, veggies, and cheeses. Or, if the birthday boy or girl is set on pizza, healthy recipes exist for them as well!
Cut waste using recyclable utensils
What does birthday food usually sit on? Disposable plastic plates. And it's usually eaten with disposable plastic utensils. Beverages usually come in plastic cups to match. This problem is another that can be fixed simply by changing the location of your child's party from a public place to your home. At home, you can use the same utensils you use every day. Or, if the kids at the party are too young to use glass cups and grown-up plates, go with plates, cups and utensils made from recycled or biodegradable materials, such as the ones sold by Party City or Green Stripe.
Party City also sells pop-up recycle bins. If they are old enough, kids can be encouraged to throw their recyclables in the bin. Or, if they are too young, their trash can be gathered and sorted by the adults.
Choose eco-friendly invites and decor
Once the location of your party is set and you have an idea of how everything should be arranged, you need to know how many people are coming! Sending traditional invites can be wasteful, as most of them get thrown away as soon as they are read. Lucky, we live in the age of the Internet, and the most eco-friendly invite of all is one that is simply electronic! Send a Facebook invite to everyone on your list, and text those who don't use Facebook.
If you consider electronic invites to be too informal, consider eco-friendly invites made from recycled paper. Some varieties even come with seeds embedded in the paper, so the recipient gets some pretty flowers along with their invite.
Many party decorations are also traditionally made from plastic. The worst offenders are balloons, which lead to waste and can be very bad for the environment, especially if they are released outdoors. For better options, make decorations yourself from recyclable cardboard or thick crafting paper. Or, if you're too busy to DIY, take a look at eco-friendly decorations from Green Party Goods. They even have biodegradable balloons in a variety of colors and patterns!
Think about gifts differently
Birthdays are an exercise in giving, which should be a good thing. But for the kids (and especially parents) on the receiving end, it can be overwhelming. Kids often leave birthday parties with a heap of brand new plastic toys to add to their already enormous stockpiles. Oftentimes, kids only request one or two items that they really want, but since everyone feels obligated to bring a gift, clutter and waste naturally happen.
The first step to fixing this problem is talking with your child. Tell them that they can request a certain number of presents and make a note of those items. Then simply explain to them that since they only want one, two, or three things, but they have many more people than that coming to their party, it would be good to think of something else for them to bring, other than gifts. Maybe they can bring extra healthy foods for guests to enjoy. Or maybe they can bring donations for a charity of you and your child's choice.
Another aspect of gift-giving that can leave parents rightfully frustrated is wrapping paper. Though most varieties are biodegradable, it is still a lot of unnecessary waste. Since your child will be choosing their own gifts ahead of time, simply keep them in a hidden place in your home (or if they were purchased by a guest, ask them to leave off the wrapping and hide it as soon as they arrive) until it is time to give them to your child. Kids don't usually care about the fancy wrapping anyway; they are after what's inside! So this traditional party aspect can be cut entirely.
Communication is key
Talking to your guests and your child is key to the success of an eco-friendly party. If your child has had traditional parties in the past, they may need to be reassured that nothing important will change. Party guests will need to know your protocol on gifts, and it wouldn't hurt to give them a heads up about the food either, simply so they know what to expect.
It is important to present the idea of an eco-friendly party as an improvement, not an inconvenience or a wild new idea you've had. Be proud of the fact that you are teaching your child about the importance of our planet and giving to others, even on a day that is mainly all about them!