Somehow, the birthday party gift bag has become as standard as a cake and candles. I swear, I SWEAR, we never got them back in the dark ages when I was a kid. But today? It’s an act of defiance to opt out. Which is not to say I don’t encourage that. Even if it’s a bunch of cheap crap, the cost still adds up. And it’s cheap crap! Or candy. Or just another thing to step on in the middle of the night.
But if you can’t bring yourself to send guests off with a quick wave and a swift kick in the pants, here are 12 ways to say “thank you” with stuff — stuff that the guests will like, the parents won’t hate and that, for the most part, would get an environmental stamp of approval.
To-Go Cupcake 1 of 12
You've already sugared the guests up with heavily frosted cake and juice boxes. What's one more cupcake going to hurt?
Pinata Spillage 2 of 12
Busting open a pinata is as much a birthday requirement as cake in some places. So let the hard-won prizes stand in for the post-party goody bag.
Nature Bags 3 of 12
If you're having a party at the park -- or you're lucky enough to have a backyard with a tree, take the guests on a nature walk. Let the guests decorate brown paper bags and then fill them with fallen leaves, acorns, tree bark or dandelions. Totally beats a bag of candy and fake jewelry.
A Book 4 of 12
Put a selection of gently used books (or inexpensive ones ordered through Scholastic) and let each child choose one. So much better than yet another tiny bucket of Play-Doh.
Free iTunes Download 5 of 12
Give out iTunes gift cards good for one free download. Overachievers can wrap the gift-card an abbreviated song list of the music that was played at the party. Particularly popular for the 7 and older crowd.
CD 6 of 12
Or burn a CD of your child's favorite songs or of the party's playlist. Don't bother with creating album-cover art of your kid, just write who it's from with a Sharpie right on the disc.
Playdate Coupon 7 of 12
Let your kid design "future playdate" coupons to hand out at the door when the party is over. For the guests, the party never ends; for your child, it's a chance to make it up to anyone who felt left out (there's always someone!).
Party Craft 8 of 12
Popsicle stick art, homemade bookmarks, fast-drying clay, origami cranes. If you know your way around crafts, setting up a project (bonus if it fits the party's theme) gets guests a take-home gift that even their parents might actually want to keep. Alternatively, you can have them decorate their own to-go cupcake (see #1).
Party Pics 9 of 12
If you've got a digital camera and full-color printer, assign an adult or older sibling to spend 30 minutes taking candid shots after all the guests have arrived. After the cake has been served, upload and print the best one of each kid or multiple copies of group photos and hand them out at the door.
Seeds 10 of 12
Perfect for the urban-homesteader types: a few seeds for planting at home. Extra points if you focus on plants indigenous to your area. If you're really motivated, make origami envelopes that the kids decorate. Just a few seed packets will cover the whole guest list.
Gift Cards 11 of 12
If you really feel you must give something of monetary value as a thank you, gift cards are the most obvious option. It's easy for the parents, and the child can get something she likes.
A Big Hug 12 of 12
But the best thank you gift of all is a heartfelt hug from the birthday kid. No forcing, of course. Even standing at the door and saying "thanks for coming!" is the perfect way to end a party. Go this route and more than one parent will lean in to give you, no junk Mom, a sincere thank you hug, too.