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This post originally appeared on Today’s Parent, who seems to like the way we party. We like that they like the way we party. Our Today’s Parent blog is called Bunch Likes to Party.

You’ve carefully found a theme and some great activities for your kid’s birthday party. You and the birthday boy or girl have negotiated a menu that’s fun without being all sugar. Invites are out and now all that’s left to decide is the loot bags. Arrrrgh loot bags. Like you really want to buy character-branded plastic bags and fill them with random dollar store items, right? Like other parents really want more of that stuff lying around. Like the kids will play with that stuff for more than five minutes before it gets lost in the crack of the couch. Not to worry, we’ve thought of a few alternatives :

1. A pretty potted plant

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This party favour’s sweet, simple and suitable for kids of all ages. Pick up small clay pots at the hardware store and have the birthday kid write each guest’s name on a pot in his best handwriting or with a glitter pen. You can either fill the pots with soil and plant a flower in each, or simply include a packet of flower or vegetable seeds. Depending on the birthday kid’s age, either enlist her help with writing and planting, or simply ask for his opinions on flower types and pen colours. If the boys attending the party might think they’re too macho to love a flower, go with lettuce, herbs, or something tough-sounding like dragon coleus. (Unless the boy’s name is William, in which case you’d obviously include some Sweet William).

2. Play a game where everyone leaves with a prize

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Play the British game “Pass the Parcel” with books! Buy an age-appropriate book for each guest, and wrap them in one package, though each book should be under its own layer of wrapping or tissue paper. Play some music and have the children pass the package around in a circle until the music stops à la hot potato. Whoever is holding the parcel when the music stops removes a layer of wrapping paper. The player who removes the last layer of wrapping keeps the book and then moves out of the circle. Keep playing until all the layers have been removed and each child has a book. If you didn’t want all those layers of wrapping paper tossed out, you could even do away with the layers and just pass around one book at a time. Or, start each kid off with a wrapped book to save time and the fun is just seeing who ends up with which book.

3. It’s hard to go wrong with cookie dough

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Send guests home happy with a cookie-making kit. Include a chunk of frozen cookie dough, a copy of the recipe with baking instructions and an interestingly shaped cookie cutter and presto! On the next rainy day, everyone’s got an insta-activity that can include the whole family.

4. Teacup and saucer

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If your child’s party is a hoity toity affair where kids nibble on crust-less cucumber sandwiches, it’s easy to match the loot to the lunch. Spend an afternoon or two browsing through thrift stores, and pick up cheap china cups and saucers. Wrap a few individually wrapped (caffeine-free) teabags together with a ribbon and send each kid home with all the fixings for their own tea party.

5. DIY picture frames

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If you’re staying around the house – for awesome backyard bash ideas, check out our previous post – pop in a craft session between, say, water balloons and ice cream. Gather Popsicle sticks, markers, glue, construction paper and anything else you might need to make picture frames. Alternatively, you could pick up some super plain frames from a craft stores and let the kids loose with some acrylic paint. Remember to take lots of photos while the kids are playing, crafting and laughing, and then pop up to the computer and print them off. Let the kids glue them to their new frames, and they’re set go home with something they can hang on the wall, not throw in the trash.

If you’re looking for the bag part of the loot bag and don’t want to buy little one-use plastic bags that go straight to the landfill, consider the following:

  • Brown paper bags — They’re simple, cheap, recyclable and you can make them into a party activity by having the kids draw on them or turn them into puppets.
  • Nylon or canvas shopping bags — You can find these at the dollar store sometimes and they always come in handy. You can even customize them with a Sharpie, fabric markers or fabric paint.
  • Cereal or milk bags — Provided that your family eats cereal/drinks milk, they’re free! When you finish a box, rinse the plastic bag inside, trim the tops and tie them shut with ribbon. Keep in mind that you’ll have to start planning in advance to save up enough bags!
  • Cloth bags — These are more time consuming than popping into the dollar store, but an excellent way of using up old T-shirts. It’s pretty easy to turn a T-shirt into a tote bag, and if your child and their friends are a little older, you could make sewing part of the party.

Photos by saebaryo, edenpictures, *superfurry*, mreh and naan, all via Flickr

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