The children’s birthday party has been grasped by many businesses as just another marketing tool, and they are churned out one after the other, with lots of waste and at a pretty penny too. You know the one’s I’m talking about, MacDonalds, the bowling alley, extreme sports venues. Complete with processed junk food, plastic party bags with cheap plastic toys, and a supermarket cake full of additives. There’s a culture of having to keep up with the Joneses by spending more per head than the next Mom, or at least appearing to be spending more, and the result is lots of mindless consumption and waste, waste, waste. What ever happened to the sort of parties my parents threw me as a child? There was always a homemade cake, homemade cupcakes, iced plain biscuits that Mom had made, jellies in orange skins, and ice-cream cones stuck to a biscuit with a marshmallow and some icing, remember those?
If you’re tired of commercially-hyped birthday parties, here are some ideas to bring it all down a notch and help the planet out. After all, it’s the very children we’re having these parties for that are going to have to sort out the mess we’ve made of this planet.
1. Venue: Have the party at home, or if you don’t have space, think about using a local park or local community hall where you can provide your own food and drinks.
2. Invitations: Send out recycled card invitations, or at the very least, cards made from renewable sources. Write ‘Please recycle me’ on the cards.
3. Gifts: How to avoid the onslaught of tons of plastic junk that will end up in the bin? That can be a tricky one. If any of the party guest’s parents makes enquiries about gifts, you might tactfully suggest something that you would appreciate or that your child needs, e.g. paints, paintbrushes, crayons, colouring books, a nice bag for swimming kit or ballet shoes, books, jigsaw puzzles. If the child is older and is willing to participate, you might consider asking other parents to make a donation to an environmental charity on his/her behalf. You don’t want to ruin your child’s birthday so tread carefully with this idea. You might also suggest that instead of a gift each child brings one of their own old toys along to put together a package of toys to deliver to a children’s home, or a variation on that theme.
4. Food: Make your own party snacks. It’s a great way to prevent kids going bonkers after ingesting lots of artificial colours and flavourings, not to mention the sugar overdose. There are books on making children’s party food in most libraries if you lack ideas, and here are my suggestions: cupcakes, grated cheese sandwiches, fruit, homemade dips* with vegetable sticks, small squares of homemade pizza, cheese straws, fruit fool or chocolate dessert*, garlic bread. For drinks you can try diluted organic fruit juice, or make lemonade* or a nice fruity punch*. (* see recipes below)
5. The cake: Make your child a birthday cake. Again, there are lots of good books on the subject, but even more rewarding is to use your imagination. I’ve made dragons, bees, ballet cakes, you name it. By making your own cake you can control what’s in it by using organic flour, sugar, etc. and you can really customise it for the child. My children have always been very appreciative of their special cakes.
6. Activities: Depending on the ages of the children, you might include an eco-friendly activity in the party, like planting a tree in honour of the birthday child or going for a nature walk. Or stimulate their creativity by offering watercolour painting, providing a dressing-up box and encouraging them to dress-up, or providing homemade cupcakes for them to decorate with icing and sprinkles, chocolate chips etc. Older children will enjoy making their own personal pizzas, decorating T-shirts or making a dream catcher. Story-telling is a great way to keep younger ones happy.
7. The party bags: Gone are the days of a slice of cake in a serviette. Fortunately there are some options other than the plastic bags and plastic favours that are so widely available. There are a number of eco-friendly and ethical party bag suppliers offering recycled or reusable bags filled with fairtrade chocolate and fairtrade or recycled gifts: Earth Mother Party Bags, Eco Party Bags, Ethical Party Bags, Little Baggers and Little Cherry.
8. Avoiding the washing up: If you can’t face all the washing up after the party, there are some eco-friendly options. You can get disposable plates, cups and cutlery that are biodegradable and made from renewable resources from Silly Jokes and Little Cherry. Or you could go for party pack hire, where they come and take the dirty dishes away, like Juka.
9. Clearing up the mess: What can you recycle or re-use? Wrapping paper, gift bags, unwanted gifts. See what you can salvage?
Avocado Dip – put a number of avocados through a sieve and mix thoroughly with some creme fraiche, lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
Chocolate Dessert – Put 150g of broken up organic and fairtrade dark chocolate in a food processor with 300ml single cream heated to just below boiling point. Blend until smooth. Add an egg, a few drops of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt and blend again briefly. Pour into small bowls and chill. Garnish with whipped cream and crystallised violets.
Homemade lemonade – Wash 12 organic lemons and peel the zest off 6 of them. Place the zest in a large bowl or container, then squeeze all the lemons and add the juice to the zest. Boil 3 litres of water and pour over the zest and juice. Add 300g sugar and stir. Leave to cool or overnight. Adjust sweetness and strain. Put into jugs with ice, or in bottles in the fridge.
Refreshing Apple Punch – Boil 700ml water and pour over 2 peppermint and 4 rooibos teabags. Leave for 5 minutes. Remove the teabags, squeezing them well. Add a cup of organic apple concentrate and top up with water to taste. Float strawberries or other fruit in the punch.