Green & Simple Birthday Parties for Kids

Carina asked: I was wondering if you have any tips for a frugal, eco-conscious birthday party for a baby.  I thought that would be a great discussion topic, and since your kids are older than mine, you might have some good ideas!

Birthday parties can definitely be a source of great waste from wrapping paper, to disposables plates and such, and it is wise to consider your options more carefully. For one, what are your goals in throwing a party for your child? Personally, I want my child to feel special, loved, and appreciated, but at the same time I do not want it to be focused on the presents. I want it to be simple, relaxing, and refreshing for all parties, but especially me as the mother and planner! For the first two years we have kept it extremely simple by making cupcakes, or a bear cake, and had family over for dessert. That’s really about it. Here are some other simple ideas for those who want a bit more:

Invitations – Use the online options of invitations to keep it simple and free. is my favorite method for email invitations.

Decorations - Make a simple homemade “Happy Birthday” banner than can be reused time and time again. This can be made out of colored paper or felt. Buy or make a felt party hat for your child that can be passed down to others in the future. Make a princess birthday hat for the girls, and a birthday crown for the boys (skip the number so it can be reused, or attach velcro to the back of the number so that could be changed). If you want to use crepe paper for decor, choose a biodegradable option. Beeswax birthday candles are the perfect natural candle for your celebration.

Tableware – Rather than using disposables, check out the compostable bamboo plates and bamboo silverware or reusable plastic options. We have a plastic picnic set from IKEA that works perfectly for these occasions. Cupcakes eliminate any need for tableware!

Dessert – When the children are really young, we keep it simple with delicious cupcakes. Make it a fun activity to decorate your cupcakes together at the party. As they get older, I definitely want to make them feel extra special by giving them the opportunity to pick out a special cake that we can make and decorate together. I keep a favorite birthday cake cookbook on hand for them to select their favorite.


Field Trips – Invite your guests to a field trip to the zoo, science museum, fire station, swimming pool, library story time, or park. This helps cut down on any mess in the home and makes it a fun frugal outing for all. For Karis’ birthday this year, we went to the Children’s Museum in Portland and then provided a sandwich lunch and cupcakes for our guests. It was delightful and simple, and she had a blast!

Games - If games are on the schedule, stick with the old classic games that do not require any waste – hopscotch, musical chairs, capture the flag, and charades.

Give to Others - make something together with your guests that could be given to bless others in your community. Make cookies and decorate for the neighbors, elderly, or the homeless. Help teach your children the value and blessing of serving others rather than focusing on ourselves. You could also make cards to missionaries or those in prison, or simple crafts (knitted, sewed, or crotchet) for the Pregnancy Resource Centers.


Gifts can easily be kindly declined and stated clearly in your invitations, but when it comes to grandparents and close family, this can be a different story. Our solution has been to request family to chip in together on a bigger gift item. We compiled a dress up box for Karis for her birthday and everyone purchased an item or two for it. If a friend wants to contribute, it makes it easy for them as well. The previous year we bought a wooden kitchen set and others contributed food items and such. This helps keep birthdays simple without too much extravagance and focus on the gifts. The child receives a special gift that will last and can be shared among others. For their first birthday’s, we honestly only buy them one small gift (Karis received a drum, Titus a sock monkey, and books and clothes from the grandparents). Less is more!

A Time of Appreciation

We want birthdays to be a time of love and appreciation for the child. We want to focus on celebrating the child and commending them for the good qualities that are being exhibited in their lives. Going around the table and sharing one thing we appreciate about the birthday person is a family tradition and always an encouraging time for the recipient. We also like to write a letter to each child on their birthday reflecting back on the previous year and the Lord’s goodness in their life, highlights, and what character qualities we see demonstrated in their life. I received these from my own daddy while I was growing up and they meant the world to me! We keep these in a special journal for our children to be given back when they grow up.

So overall, my vision is to keep things simple and yet special through the decorated cakes, and expressing our appreciation to our children. Limiting gifts and cultivating opportunities to give to others so our children grow up with a heart to serve and bless others.

Further Resources:

How to Throw a Green Birthday Party
Simple, Frugal Birthday Parties for Kids
by Simple Mom

Photo credit

What are your favorite green and simple birthday party ideas?

About Lindsay

Lindsay Edmonds is first a lover of Jesus, wife, mother of four, homemaker, and writer. She loves inspiring women around the world toward simple, natural, and intentional living for the glory of God.

26 Responses to Green & Simple Birthday Parties for Kids

  1. Olinda Bayman May 6, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    What a beautiful party looks like so much fun!

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  3. Gretchen December 21, 2010 at 8:00 am #

    The wonderful thing about a first birthday is that you can choose what kind of party to have and the baby will be happy with whatever. :) For my daughter’s first birthday, which is at the end of May, I made her a “strawberry” themed party, and served fresh strawberry cake and ice cream, and let her play with a couple friends. I sewed her a birthday banner in bright colors we can reuse in future years, and used pretty dishes and my vintage tableware. SInce she was a baby, and her friends were as well, getting out the nice china and silverware for the grown ups makes way more sense! She and her pals ate with their little fingers anyway. :)

    For her gift from her parents, we gave money to World Vision’s emergency hunger fund. Nothing seemed special enough to give for a significant first birthday gift, and even just $10 spent on a little toy was way better employed by feeding those hungry babies. I wrote her a letter and told her about what we did for her birthday. When I got the brochure with the pictures of the hungry babies in the mail, she kept saying “baby, baby”, and right then I KNEW what I should give her for her birthday. I saved those pictures to show her when she is older and can better appreciate it.

  4. Kay August 3, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    My oldest son is 2 and for each of his birthdays, we have hosted an open house with very simple snacks (this year it was cupcakes, Chex Mix, and a fresh fruit salad). Most folks bring gifts but our invitation makes it unnecessary and no one feels put on the spot since there isn’t a “gift time.” Our little guy just opened a few whenever they started piling up and I made sure that the givers were still there so that he could thank them. Next year, we’re considering a themed party (A sandbox party to be exact) where guests would be asked to bring a bag of sand instead of a gift to fill up the sandbox that his Daddy will build. The atmosphere is laid back and because everyone’s not here at once, folks actually get to spend time with my son!

    • Lori August 24, 2010 at 9:27 am #

      I love the “sandbox” party idea! Too bad by son’s birthday is in October or I would be doing that for sure. He loves sand :)

  5. Katie Dickinson July 24, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    Simple “favor” bags out of cotton calico with grosgrain handles are easy to make, but provide years of pleasure! I made the treat bags for my son’s 6th birthday party, and loved seeing them pop up all over the place in the following months: in mom’s diaper bag for matchbox cars, taken to our local candy store to collect goodies, brought to the church nursery with snacks, and a few more. But it was super fun when kids brought the treat bags back at his 7th birthday party and wanted refills!
    Instead of purchasing individually packaged snacks for our church’s preschool class, we loved sending ours in the same kind of homemade (baggie.) The kids looked forward to the colorful all-in-one baggie and napkin combo and it saved on waste and clean-up for teachers. The kids just tossed the bags into a basket I brought home and threw in the washer until the next snack day.
    Maybe I should put the instructions in a future blog post!

  6. Heather July 7, 2010 at 4:07 pm #

    Wow! Great ideas, ladies! My little guy is turning 4 this month and I’ll definitely be using some of your suggestions. Thanks!

  7. Kika July 2, 2010 at 8:26 pm #

    For my five year old daughter’s recent we did a book exchange rather than gifts. Everyone brought and left with a new book. We do a craft for an activity – so far it is always at my home – and have free play time. I have extra dishes for parties and family gatherings – picked up over time at our local (free) “take it or leave it” so we never use disposables dishes; we also just use our regular cloth napkins. We buy our kids a few gifts but know what they want/need and really do not want more unneeded stuff in our home. For my older daughter I like the idea of collecting money to buy supplies for a family through World vision, say, or baby clothes for a woman’s shelter.

  8. Lacie June 28, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    Hey this is a great post for birthdays! My son is now 6, and we started a tradition when he turned 4 for him not to get gifts at his parties. My son’s birthday is in early December, so instead we collect gifts for children at a local foster home in town for their Christmas. He still will receive one nice gift from us, and then from all of the grandparents at a separate time before the party, and it is still more than enough. Kids bring the donations to the party and I put them in a large bin out of sight as they come (so no one gets anxious about the toys). We still do food and cake, and then let the kids play, and no one really even notices that we aren’t opening any gifts. We also set up a donation box at my son’s school and take the toys to the foster home after a week or two, and it has always been a great success, with us collecting several car loads for the children. My son helps us at the drop off and it’s great to see how the workers there will come over and hug him and tell him how happy they are that he does this every year. I think this will continue to teach him to think of others and to be grateful for what he has.

  9. Sarah J June 22, 2010 at 7:37 am #

    My friend recently threw a great birthday party for her daughter. They took their guests on a birthday hike and everyone absolutely loved it. After the hike they went back to the house and had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cake. The favors were reusable sandwich bags that my friend’s sister sewed for the party. She found instructions for the reusable bags online. The moms loved the hike, the simplicity of the party, and how inexpensive it was.

  10. Kimberly June 19, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

    Great ideas. I am starting to plan for my son’s 4th birthday. I like the idea of a plastic reusable picnic ware. I also love the idea of focusing on character of the child and writing them a letter. It’s never too late to start doing that! ~Kimberly

  11. Debra Worth June 19, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    We just finished having my son’s first birthday party. I looked at bamboo tableware but it was way too expensive. I could have used regular ware and paid someone to wash plates and still saved money.
    I was thinking about it and I’d like to get about 30 really thin metal plates ones that are simple enough to easily wash. Thin enough to not create a lot of bulk. (That’s one problem with using regular tableware. They take so much space.) I could get simple plastic plates, but plastic is not my favorite and I want them to wash easily even if we have something greasy.
    I looked at camping ware and I could get the exact type of plate I want. But, it’s $30.
    Is there anywhere where you can get such plates?
    I’d probably also get some cups like you get at pizza hut. The red tall plastic ones.

    • Debra Worth June 19, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

      Oh, we just put in our invitations that we decided against doing gifts at his party. We really just didn’t want him to get a bunch of new toys. He has plenty.

  12. Gretchen June 19, 2010 at 7:04 am #

    My kids are drowing in toys! I asked relatives in lieu of toys to gift them an activity instead. That has worked great! They have gone to summer camp, played soccer, taken swim lessons, rock climbing lessons, art class, movie date, special sleepover, etc. They usually get them a needed something to go with the lesson too, like goggles, shin guards, or smock.

    Also friends have given a special play date with my child coming over by themselves ( instead of brother coming too) and being “guest of honor” during their family dinner time where their children plan a special meal for mine.

  13. Nina Nelson June 18, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    What great ideas! We are trying to cut back significantly on gifts. We just went to my nephew’s birthday party that had a dinosaur theme. They made fossils with clay and plastic bugs and had a dinosaur bone dig. My SIL decorated the cake to look like a dinosaur. It was pretty cool, but she was ready to boot everyone out (lots of kids) at the end. I’d like to keep it simple for our 4 (all 5 and under) so that we make it a special day for them. And I don’t want them to expect presents – same goes for Christmas. Our goal is to become more service-oriented as a family so that they don’t get to the end of the day and say, “That’s it? I want more.”

  14. Angie June 18, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    Lindsey, thank you for this great post. I am going to bookmark it for when we have kids. My in-laws are so different than me that doing these great ideas will be difficult but we would be the parents and I hope that they can respect our wishes when the time comes.

  15. annie June 18, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    These are some great thoughts about gift issues. Gifts have been on my mind recently as we get closer to starting a family. I have a 5 year old cousin who (pretty much since he was born) is drowning in toys. There are piles of them all around the house. At his parties every one brings a gift and then his parents and grandparents buy him more than one large gift plus small ones. I think even someone who is more into plastic trendy toys than I am might think it’s excessive! It certainly makes me uncomfortable. The other thing that got me thinking was that I went to my 10 year old cousin’s birthday party last week and there were 20 plus kids there, plus family and family friends so there were a lot of presents. Seriously, it took 45 minutes to open them all. It felt a little weird, all of us watching her as she plowed through this pile. And I think she was overwhelmed. I know her parents were upset b/c they felt she wasn’t as appreciative as she should have been and she didn’t have much of a reaction to most of the gifts, but i think it was just too much!
    I grew up with parties and gifts (although more like 5 kids at a time at the party plus family) and it was fine, but my husband and I are living a more simple and frugal life than my parents. I like the idea of specifically requesting no gifts. All the reasons yall gave are excellent. I never even thought about doing so to protect those who can’t afford gifts. How thoughtful and astute! But I think we’re going to limit the gifts because we want to exercise some control over the kinds and amount of things our children have particularly when they’re young. The best way I think we can do this, is to either buy it ourselves, or try to discourage gifts from people other than those we feel comfortable having a conversation with about the kinds of things we want to bring into our house. We can talk to our parents, siblings, and some close friends about our child rearing strategies (they’re already used to all our weird life choices) but probably not people we know less well than that.

  16. Shana June 18, 2010 at 5:06 pm #

    These are great ideas! I have a friend (they have 4 kids) who just has their child choose one special friend over for dinner and cake. No presents just some fun. I have never been big on birthdays and with 3 (15, 7, and 4) kids simplicity is a must! We have always kept it at home with homemade cake and play time, and even though we say no presents, some still bring them. We struggle with when our kids are invited to parties it is very elaborate with renting a place (swimming pool, gymnastics, etc.) and all the goodie bags that are handed out. We tell our children that people celebrate in their own ways, and let them know what is important to us on birthdays, but it is tricky still, our 15 year old is used to it, but our 7 year old son has had some trouble getting this and wanting a big party like his friends. I look forward to using the crown idea- we will have a five year old this summer! Thanks for the great post!

  17. Jessica in Europe June 18, 2010 at 11:17 am #

    I love the ideas.
    As far as gifts go, we ask all friends invited to celebrate our kids birthdays not to bring presents. We have several reasons for this. One reason is because we want our kids’ birthdays to be a celebration of the their precious life and not focused on what they are receiving. I also try to stress to my children that when we have guests, we need to figure out how to serve them and help their guests have a fun time. So we give little goody bags to friends.
    The second major reason we ask for friends not to bring gifts is because I never want someone to not attend my children’s birthday parties because they can’t afford a present. This will likely be a reality at some point so we ask for no presents to allow all to come.
    We give our children presents though (with great joy!) and our families do too. We’ve always opened those presents at a time when friends are not around.

  18. Shannon Hazleton June 18, 2010 at 9:51 am #

    Oh, I forgot to mention – I like the idea of the felt crown. I found some ‘Happy Birthday’ fabric ribbon one year and made a special bow for my girls to wear on their birthday each year. I think the crown will work well for my boy and my girls, though. ;)

  19. Shannon Hazleton June 18, 2010 at 9:32 am #

    My daughter Maggie turned 4 this year, and I ordered in inexpensive, pretty silver cake topper that’s the letter ‘M’ for her birthday cake. (You can find them as wedding cake toppers.) We can use this every year on her birthday, and I’ve decided to purchase one for each of my other children on their birthdays and make it a fun tradition. It makes even the plainest chocolate birthday cake look special. ;)

  20. Deb June 18, 2010 at 7:13 am #

    We rented a bounce house one year in CA and it really wasn’t that expensive considering they played in it all day. (stuff like that is cheaper in L.A.) They delivered it and set it up and then picked it up. We all hate cake, so I made some other unhealthy snack, I think it was puppy chow and we just had drinks. My dh also has been known to make homemade pinatas out of old newspapers and balloons. That makes for a very inexpensive addition to the party. If you must use disposable, those red plastic cups can be washed in the dishwasher. I bought cheap Corelle ware plates from the outlet and cheap glasses from WM, so we actually have service for 20, and it is rare that we have over 20 people over. My kids are teenagers now, but I have been to a lot of birthday parties where the birthday child acted like a spoiled brat and it made me crazy. My other favorite was when we would get an invitation to Chuck E. Cheese and then we would have to pay for our own pizza, drinks and games and bring a present. There goes the entertainment/eating out budget in one fell swoop. I try to be considerate of others’ finances if we have a party/get together and just say, no need to bring a gift. It doesn’t always work, but at least they are not obligated and I always made my kids write a thank you note, a picture before they could write words, then copying words, then eventually writing their own.

  21. carina June 18, 2010 at 5:05 am #

    Thanks for the tips! We are going to make a banner that we can reuse each year, and we are looking for a plastic picnic set that we can wash and reuse. I love the felt hat idea, but my son hates having anything on his head, so maybe when he turns two!
    I love the idea of going around and sharing one thing we love/appreciate about the birthday person, I will definitely be incorporating that into our traditions!

  22. Morgan June 18, 2010 at 4:09 am #

    My 4 y/o daughter has a brain tumor and is a patient of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She is doing great, by the way! Anyway, for her birthday we ask that people donate toys for us to take to the hospital. They have a list of accepted and popular toys. I think it made everyone feel good knowing they were giving a child a toy. A friend of mine has people bring books to donate to the NICU at a local hospital for her daughter’s birthday. This year we are going to ask for either a kid friendly movie or iTunes gift cards (it was hard to transport all those toys) to donate to St. Jude. Children’s hospitals always need toys, and those that are hospital bound deserve it! My husband and I still bought her presents and so did her grandparents but it kept us from bringing home an abundance of toys that she will probably not play with much. It was a win, win for everyone!

  23. Sarah M June 18, 2010 at 3:22 am #

    We just had our son’s 3rd birthday party on Tuesday (he actually doesn’t turn 3 until Monday, but we will be out of town, and wanted to celebrate with grandparents) but we will always keep it small for financial and sanity reasons :)
    Our city provides free jazz every tuesday night in June (called Jazz in June) to the community and it is a lot of fun. I decided to make our invites from recycled stock card (you can buy these blank, brown cards & envelopes at Hobby Lobby for about $5.99 for 50), and just invited grandparents, and my husband’s sister’s small family.
    We had a simple dinner we brought in our picnic basket to the event (mini quiche, fruit salad, cupcakes) and just visited while our kids explored the area.
    We always keep it very simple for birthdays & Christmas in form of gifts, we always do: “Something to read, something to wear, something to play with”. This year, for his ‘wear’ gift, I made him a superhero cape & ‘Zorro’ mask, and his ‘play’ item are tree blocks, along with a subscription to Ladybug magazine (you should check them out!, for his ‘read’.

    Simple and cheap, and fun!
    Sarah M

    • Lindsay June 18, 2010 at 6:10 am #

      Thanks for the magazine recommendation! I was on the lookout for something like that. I was originally looking at Nature’s Friend but it looks like it is for an older age group. Great ideas!