How To: ‘Enjoy’ a Rubbish Children’s Party!

Instead of baking cupcakes, how about knitting them? A 'crafty' way to adapt a party junk-food standard into something fun and creative.
Instead of baking cupcakes, how about knitting them? A 'crafty' way to make a party junk-food standard into something fun and creative. (Cupcakes courtesy of Thomas's Mum!)

By that I mean, how to have all the fun without creating a great stack of trash!

Children’s parties are big business and they have become expensive nightmares filled with plastic tat, most of which ends up in the bin the minute the guests head home.

Here are some of my top tips for taking parties ‘back’ to what they used to be; simple, fun events that celebrate your child’s special day!

  • Make your invitations virtual if possible. Sit with your child and create a really funky and colourful invitation on the computer and give it an email RSVP. You could even set it around a jigsaw activity! See for details.
  • Or if you’d rather make a real one, do it with recycled bits and bobs on stiff card from the inside of a cereal packet. You can do a gorgeous collage from pictures and magazine cuttings on the side with the printing.
  • Don’t splash out on a children’s entertainer. If you are putting party together for a bunch of little ones, find out where your local toy library is and hire a batch of kit. Many large toys are just 50p per item and you can usually keep them for a week, so there’s no great rush to return them.
  • If you feel you need assistance with the party, just ask your chums to stay, help and be part of the fun! Don’t be a martyr on headache pills; no one’s going to appreciate that.
  • If you’re going to play games like pass the parcel, don’t put a sweet or toy in between each layer. Write our a little card with a tongue twister for them to read or a joke to tell and everyone will have a giggle. And do not buy special paper either! Use newspaper or magazine sheets and be sure to stick it all straight in the recycling bin once they’ve finished.
  • Speaking of which, make the clearing up itself a game for the children! Make two teams, give two children a rubbish sack and place them one end of the room. Then make 3-legged pairs of children collect as much paper as they can between the left arm of one child and the right arm of the other, then have them hot foot it down to the child with the sack and shove it in, then repeat until it’s all tidy!
  • Say ‘No’ to individual presents and ask politely for money or vouchers from a particular shop to be posted in a specially decorated (recycled) box and the birthday child can choose one really special thing to mark their day.
  • Don’t be seduced by pre-packed boxes of processed food. Keep the menu simple and seasonal and don’t buy copious bags of crisps, biscuits and sweets; they’ll only be off their heads all afternoon!
  • A great tummy filler is freshly made popcorn. It’s super cheap and a giggle to make and you get such a yield of it from a small handful of ingredients. Just put a drizzle of vegetable oil in the bottom of a saucepan that has a good lid (ideally a glass one) and pop a few kernels in to test the heat. Turn it up quite fiercely until they pop, then reduce the heat a little and add a cup full of popcorn, then wait for the fun to start! Turn it into a large dish or a simple baking tray, don’t buy special plastic servers that’ll clutter up your kitchen cupboards. The popcorn is fabulous when drizzled with a little melted butter.
  • Give the children a cooking activity to do. Doing foodie stuff is always great fun and they could even knock up their own party nosh. Get them to scrape out cooled jacket potatoes, then grate some carrot, cucumber or cheese and mix up the fillings and put them back in the skins and pop them back in the oven.
  • Or why not make my fabulous rubbish flatbreads (I know I do go on about them, but they’re just such fun to make and super easy and cheap).
  • Or once you have the dough, how about letting them make up their own personal pizzas. They could spell out their names with yummy toppings and herbs from the garden that they’ve collected.
  • Or just do tasty finger food for the children and don’t make stuff that requires a plate. Give jelly a miss for pudding, how about making a tray of delicious flapjacks cut into a slices that don’t require plates or cutlery.
  • Leave the bottles of fizzy pop in the shop and instead of buying plastic cartons of drink make up your own frozen drinks on a stick using sugar and additive free squash or juice! Put a lolly stick in the centre and freeze them in small yoghurt pots.
  • For something sweet, peppermint creams are dead easy to make and great sticky fun too. All you need is icing sugar, an egg white and a drop of peppermint essence (leave the colouring out). Mix it all together and roll out then let the children cut out sweetie shapes with bottle tops. For added fun, you could easily melt some chocolate and let them dip half the sweetie in it, then place on greaseproof paper to cool and harden. Kids and melted chocolate go very well together and they’ll love it.
  • For a celebratory cake with a difference, see below!
  • If not cooking, how about a crafty activity? Buy a few plain pillowcases from the charity shops and use fabric pens to decorate them, or do the same with tee shirts. You could even ask the mums to send their children to the party in a plain tee shirt ready to be decorated.
  • Have a karaoke challenge and invite the children to step up to the mike and take off their favourite pop stars. You could also glam them up with a little make up and with a few dressing up outfits, easily found at the charity shops and recycled there afterwards. You could also make a great party game out of having them hum songs and have the others guess what it is!
  • Play old-fashioned, traditional party games like sleeping lions, musical statues, musical chairs, bob the apple, pin the tail on the donkey and so on. They are not dead yet!
  • Use a double bed sheet as your tablecloth; don’t buy a paper cover that will end up stuffing out your bin.
  • Boycott the party bag! Be the first mum in your street to say ‘No’ to that ridiculous money pit, the party bag. A party is supposed to be about coming along and celebrating a special event with a special person, not going home with as much booty as you arrived with!

And that’s about it missus!

Remember, it’s we dumb parents who created a rod for our own backs with these lavish children’s parties.

‘Today’ presents you with the perfect opportunity to put your foot down and change the flavour of them, for good!

Have you got a few tips to add to this list?

Feel free to drop them into the comments box below – thanks!

Rubbishly yours,


A TASTY ADDENDUM: And finally, where would we be without cake? Do have a go at making your own birthday cake. It’s much easier than you think and you’ll really enjoy giving it a go. You can cover up disasters with icing and also cut out all the preservatives and e-numbered nasties and make an amazing creation that your child will always remember.

Check out your local craft centres and bakeries too, many of them hire out cake tins in fantasy and number shapes, so all you have to do is find a recipe for a simple sponge and fill it up! If you want to make a house or something squarish, just use a baking tray and cut it into the required shape.

Here are a few nuggets of inspiration!

BBC – an easy sponge recipe

Groovy Kids – here’s a little selection

Raising Kids – how about a chequered battenburg?

Family Fun – something a little more exotic!

Of course, you’ll find a stack of books at your local library and do check out the charity shops too – happy baking!