Last weekend we were invited to a friends’ five-year-old’s birthday party at their house.
Despite having a few reservations due to our lifestyle and ethics being what I suppose a lot of people would classify as ‘alternative’ (vegan, healthy food eaters, uncommercial, etc.) we decided to go.
My main concerns were the food served (junk, sugary), the wastage (disposable plates, balloons, decorations), the present and activities (there was a mobile zoo booked) and as well as these primary reservations I also worried about my own daughter thinking that this was all normal, acceptable, that this was what one needs to have in order to celebrate a birthday!
My daughter has just turned four, and so far we haven’t thrown a birthday party for her, we’ve always had a small family celebration (all our extended family are overseas); a few presents, good homemade food and a day out somewhere.
The idea of hosting a party for young kids terrifies me, truly! The expectation of a party seems to be all about junk food and wastage! Reminiscing about parties I held or went to as a child evoke memories of gallons of luminous fizzy pop, a variety of biscuits, cakes, jellies, throw-away decorations, party poppers, party blowers, party bags not to mention a mountain of presents, lots of which were unwanted, unneeded, unrequired, surplus…. all wrapped up in kilometres of wrapping paper and ribbons, etc. The wastage was phenomenal for just one event!
And then these days, there is even more expectation around `the party’ it seems like so many parents want to outdo one another with their parties, the perfect theme, the best entertainment, the best caterers, there is so much excess. It just seems ridiculous to me to have a cake smash for a one year olds birthday party. It seems ridiculous to have a birthday party for a one year old though!
So anyway, back to the party we attended.
We bought the present from a local toy store; a jigsaw from an ethical company, wrapped in wrapping paper, ribbon and tag that we had lying around. We went for a classic present, and if he doesn’t like it and ends up in an Op shop then at least its a quality product that should sell well.
As we arrived the animal show was starting. I am generally worried about this type of entertainment; petting zoos and pony rides just seem to me a way to exploit animals, and teach children that animals are purely here for our entertainment – a message I certainly don’t want to convey to my own children.
However, I was quite impressed with the display by Animals of OZ. They were all native animals, and had been rescued, and unable to return to the wild, so presumably would have been euthanised were they not being used as part of the display. The handler spoke lovingly of her blue-tongue, Bubblegum living in her veggie patch at home, it seemed like although being used for display purpose, they were much loved.
The display was extremely informative, and kept the children (mostly four-five year olds) engaged. The animals were all taken around the group for a stroke, and a few lizards sat on knees, and seemed pretty relaxed about the situation.
We run a vegan/vegetarian household here, I’m vegan and we all eat the same meals, but the kids and hubby also eat butter, cheese and eggs (from our lovely ladies).
The party food out was actually pretty healthy to start with; plates of fruit, crackers and dips, veggie sticks, popcorn (not sure if it was flavoured or plain though), so I managed to fill my daughters plate up with a reasonable selection. Then came out the party pies, sausage rolls, fries, etc. Needless to say, these were avoided!
After this, the food got more and more typical of what I feared! A jelly each with an entire chocolate frog stuck in the top was handed out, (which my daughter ate half of), and an extremely large slice of birthday cake (chocolate, thick icing) was handed out, which she managed a portion of it. Unfortunately at home she knows she is expected to finish her plate, so we had to go and intervene and ask her to leave the table and go and play – she could take it home and finish another day! (Incidently when we collected her plate to take home, the half-eaten jelly had been replaced with an entirely new one! This is the sort of thing that really irks me – perfectly fine food thrown away!)
The party bag
And then the party bag she left with was filled with sweets… sweets! She’s only four, shes barely eaten a sweet before. And I guess some people would be horrified about that, as if we’re depriving her, but I just don’t think a celebration should be all about eating unhealthy foods, or that a treat should be sweeties!
Overall the party was much as I had expected – an excess of wastage and junk food!
So, if you want to break tradition and reduce the excess – what can you do?
Don’t have a party
Okay, not everybody will agree here, and I think everyone needs to have a big, ridiculously outlandish party at some point in their life, but maybe just not every year?
No present rule
`Your presence not presents’. People who don’t know you very well will be extremely grateful for this! If people are desperate to buy something, maybe write a wish list of ideas, or ask for donations towards `X’ (but don’t shove it in their faces, or include it with the invitation, that’s just plain rude! Ask for a book with a handwritten note (pre-loved or new) instead of a card.
Make beautiful fabric buntings that can be used year after year, can even add a name or message on it (use both sides for even more adaptability). Old paper, newspapers can be watercolour painted and used to make paper chains or bunting, and can be composted after the event.
Use bubbles instead of balloons, a heap more fun anyway! Mix up a big batch of bubble liquid in a bowl and use found objects (bent coat hangers, old straws, pipe cleaners, kitchen utensils… anything with a hole in it!) to blow bubbles with.
Instead of party poppers, blowers, etc. why not get small wooden musical instruments for your guests? These can be reused every celebration or gifted within a `party bag’
I personally don’t see the issue of a good old fashioned dance/play games with some music. Maybe someone you know is musical and can play the guitar, or keyboard, or sing.
I don’t think the food should be the main feature of the party. It should be there, yes, but it shouldn’t make people over-indulge, it should just be something tasty and delicious because they’re hungry. By letting people pick their own food this should reduce wastage. Put just some of what you make out, and keep re-stocking.
Small portions and finger foods are great in a party situation. Ideas: bliss balls, fruit salads, small rolls and separate salad options (to fill your own roll/sandwich), crackers, veggie sticks, dips (cashew cheese, hummus, guacamole, etc). If you want hot food, consider a big pot of veggie soup or warming stew, or a tomato/basil pasta. Homemade pizza is always fun – everyone to pick their own ingredients and bake, especially for kids.
And as far as serving food – just use your usual crockery and cutlery, ditch the plastic! If you haven’t got enough borrow someone’s, or hit your local op shop and go for a whimsical, mismatched look!
I don’t think one needs to omit the cake, or bake a no-sugar, healthy alternative made of fruit and veggies, (although a raw rainbow cake does look pretty damn tempting – Google it!) But, maybe look at reducing the sugar content, or at least reducing portion size/ the size of the cake. Have something that is delicious and moorish, and unhealthy – but go for quality rather than quantity.
I recently baked a chocolate black forest cake for my four-your olds birthday, (who insisted on a chocolate cake). It was delicious, but extremely sickly, she only managed half a slice before giving in! We ended up freezing half of the cake, as we would have ended up cramming it in every day for a week in order to eat it all up. Lesson learned, if you’re going to bake an indulgently rich cake, make it small.
If you’re hosting a children’s party, there’s probably the expectation that the children will go home with a party bag. You could just not worry about this aspect, after all if you’ve requested no presents yourself, then it seems ridiculous to give out gifts yourself.
If you want to give something, then little musical instruments, that would have been placed on the table or used during the party for dancing/singing happy birthday, could be taken home. Or maybe you could set up a little craft table for the children to make something to take home?
I think the most important thing is to stick by your ideals, don’t ever do things because they are `expected’ or `normal’ Its your party, celebrate it how you want to celebrate it! Who knows you might influence a few others!