If your child is born in late January (and you live in the southern hemisphere!), you might find yourself – like I did – hosting the first birthday party of the school year and setting the bar for both birthday parties and for treats brought in to share with the class.
After bringing fruit skewers to class on the first week of school, my January-baby daughter, reported that a classmate had told the class she remembered “somebody bringing in a watermelon shaped like a cake” when she was in prep/pre-school.
“That was me!” my daughter sheepishly replied half-proud, half-embarrassed at being the kid who didn’t bring in cupcakes, ice blocks or other sugary delights!
Not that we don’t indulge, but when you’re taking food to share with a class – and aiming to suit all dietary requirements of vegan, nut-free, without artificial colours, gluten free –fruit seems like a no-brainer (as long as there is refrigeration!).
And when you’re the first birthday of the year, you want to make a good impression – creative, fun, not too fancy, not too sugary, no bits to fight over and – to maintain your reputation – eco-friendly.
No matter where you live or when the birthday falls in the year, hosting a child’s birthday party and catering for associated daycare or school celebrations can be fraught with difficult decisions for time-poor, green-inspired parents.
The same is true for office parties, 21sts or other celebrations where convenient affordable options often rely on unhealthy food selections, disposable dishes and cutlery, and single use party decorations and favours – glow sticks, table glitter, balloons etc.
But all is not lost. You are not alone! Other people share your concerns about food miles, ethical food production, additives in food colouring, nano-plastics, deforestation and sugar consumer culture. They are sharing new ideas, developing earth-friendly products or remembering age-old traditions that help keep celebrations simple, fun and sustainable.
Of course, what you want to do for your party and where you draw the sustainability line will depend on the number and age of your party goers, your budget and location.
Whether your party girl or boy is 8 or 80, here are a few ideas that let you have your sustainable cake and eat it too.
Let’s skip straight to cake. Can there be a party without it?
Let’s face it, whether you’re a cake person or not, most parties have a delicious-looking edible centrepiece around that party goers are drawn to in celebration. Sure, it could be lasagna, but it is usually cake.
Sure, it sometimes seems impossible to ethically cater for everybody’s dietary requirements; that to be truly inclusive, you need to be gluten-free, nut-free, sugar-free etc.
If you’re not vegetarian, you can green-up your cake simply by choosing organic or free-range eggs and dairy products. By reading a few labels we can all look out for fresh, local ingredients, natural colours and flavours, avoid unsustainable palm-oil and gelatin in decorations, as well as GM and irradiated ingredients.
There are numerous vegan-options that can be altered to fit the bill and, if you are truly stumped, the ultimate is the cake-free cake! The all fruit option!
Mentioned above, but certainly not invented by me, slicing and stacking water and/or other melons is simple, relatively inexpensive, can look fabulous, and is easy for kids of all ages to help with.
Here are a few options to play with. The first is pure fruit; the others are extensions. Vegans can substitute cream with coconut or other non-dairy cream. Too easy!
1. Watermelon And Fruit
Recipe at Food To Love.
2. Watermelon And Whipped Cream
Recipe at Kidspot.
3. Three Melon Cake
Recipe at Cookies Cupcakes and Cardio.
For those who prefer a bit more cake in their cake, this tried and tested vegan recipe is delicious and so easy the “instructor” just mixes the ingredients in the pan.
It’s also easy to modify: substitute cacao with cinnamon or other spices or ingredients. As long as you have the ratio of ingredients correct, you can change the flavour, size and shape of this cake.
4. Vegan Chocolate Cake
Recipe at Instructables.
Vegan cake musings wouldn’t be complete, however, without taking our hats off to this Mum who made 1 banana, 2 strawberry and 2 maple oatmeal cakes in 6 hours with her kids!
5. Fondant Fruit Cake
Recipe at Live Learn Love Eat.
Did I hear you screaming for ice cream?
No need for fancy gadgets or ice cream makers or great expense. If you have got access to a freezer, affordable, easy, healthy and delicious frozen treats are no problem.
Basically, all you need to do is slice up some bananas, freeze them then blend them with a touch of vanilla, if you like. Read this for strawberry, chocolate, mint choc chip and other ideas.
6. Banana Icecream
Recipe from That Clean Life.
Do the same with frozen watermelon cubes blending them with lime and/or mint to makes a nice slushie or refreezing to harden into sorbet.
Of course, for a party, there’s more to organise than just food. There’s what you’re going to eat that delicious food with and what you’re going to do besides eating.
Not so long ago, people didn’t have the option of plastic everywhere. Making a table centrepiece out of natural objects was commonplace.
Nuts and dried fruits decorated cakes. Tablecloths were made of cloth. Cake was served on plates, a leaf or paper. Believe it or not, all of these things are still do-able.
If you’re keen to reduce plastic and waste, using your everyday dishes and cutlery is simple, straws are a no-no and, while poppers (fruit juice boxes) are super-convenient, paper or reusable cups and tableware are preferable.
But that means washing! If you need your tableware to be disposable, biodegradable cutlery and tableware are readily available – even in party-friendly kits.
7. Kids Party Boxes
To get an idea of the range of party products available check out Eco Party Box.
8. Cornstarch Party Pack
Discover a 140 piece party back at Going Green Solutions.
Analogue Activity Or Old Fashioned Fun
9. Pin The Tail On The Donkey
Remember Pin The Tail On The Donkey? According to Wikipedia, it’s been being played since 1899! Like other pre-digital era games, it can be altered to suit all themes and ages.
Pin the tail, nose, bow tie or whatever on whatever, depending on your theme.
Donkey, cat, football player – you name it – it’s not too hard to draw or get on line and print out a body and some pin on pieces. With a suitable blindfold, some tape, blu tack or actual pins and a wall, you are ready to go.
Discover how to make the game at My Party Games.
10. Scavenger Hunt
A scavenger hunt is a great way to have cooperative competition, to get out and about, and to explore the environment – for free!
Hop on line and there are already numerous printable lists/templates for Scavenger Hunts for kids. Eco-friendly parties might choose Nature as their theme. There are even templates for searching in your backyard.
This Canadian childcare provider network CCPRN stuck their lists and a crayon on a paper bag for green easy collecting for the kids.
Similarly, a treasure hunt, where you plant objects or prizes and provide directions or clues to find them encourages teamwork, gets bodies moving and lets party goers enjoy their environment – at little cost.
11. Charity Gift
A big stumper for families that want to challenge consumer culture is obviously presents.
At Christmas time we see a wide range of options to buy goats, chickens, sleeping bags, medical supplies etc for people in disadvantaged communities. We can do this at any time of the year.
Babies don’t really care what they get for their birthdays; kids aged 5 and up can understand the notion of giving something to help others.
Rather than presents, ask for a donation for a local charity or organisation that resonates with you. Help animals by collecting for animal welfare, support community groups challenging homelessness or supporting other kids.
Give the joy of giving by allowing the child to deliver the donation – and they will probably get a letter of thanks or recognition in return.
To lower the ecological footprint of your party or celebration you can aim for the home or hand-made, you can choose to host your party at home or in a park, community garden or at the pool.
Kids of all ages can dress up, share experiences or do activities together.
You can aim to lower the party’s carbon footprint or food miles, but there’s one aspect of sustainability we haven’t discussed here. Love!
Your concern for the Earth is a manifestation of your love for your child (or for whoever this party is being organised) – and of your hope for the future!
Whether or not you tick all the green boxes in your party preparation, communicate that -and your party will sustain itself.