Lower-Waste Goodie Bags, Prizes and Stocking Stuffers

The goodie bag dilemma

Earlier this week, a reader asked me if I had any good ideas for kids’ goodie bags. She and her family throw a big Christmas party every year. She cooks all sorts of delicious food, organizes games for the kids and dresses up as Santa. She had been stressing out over the prizes and gifts she usually gives out, which she herself called “crap.”

I remember those parties well when my kids were little. They’d come home with a bag full of junk that they played with for only a few minutes—and that was if they’d received an above average goodie bag. And when I threw parties, I dreaded putting these bags together.

The mom asking about the goodie bags said her kids were fine with simple items, having lived a sheltered existence. But the kids coming to her party would expect something more impressive. What do you do when you invite kids from the “real world” to a party? You don’t want to be a stick in the mud or alienate your children’s friends but you also don’t want to buy into the consumer crap-fest (well you don’t if you’re reading this blog, I assume).

Crowdsourcing low-waste goodie bag ideas

My first idea was seed packets. My second idea was to take to Instagram.

I was bombarded with great ideas! I’ve tried to group them below into themes. These would also make good stocking stuffers.


  • Seed ball kits
  • Packs of seeds
  • Small terra cotta or cardboard pots for the seeds
  • A small plant
  • A bean sprout kit (go here for a post on sprouting beans)
  • Feathers
  • Shells
  • Pinecones
  • Acorns
  • Crystals
  • Tumbled stones
  • Pet rocks

Small toys

One of the most suggested items was homemade Play-Doh. You could put it in a small jar or a wax wrap. Here is a recipe. Other small toys:

  • Glass marbles
  • Wooden yo-yos
  • Wooden tops
  • Playing cards
  • LEGO pieces
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Reusable water balloons
  • Small unfinished wood trains
  • Ribbon streamers on sticks
  • Hacky sacks

Art supplies

  • Crayons: melt broken ones down into multicolored small shapes
  • Small wooden shapes to paint
  • Wooden bracelets to decorate
  • Stationary: small blank books, notebooks, coloring books, coloring pages
  • Cat’s cradle string
  • Stickers
  • Friendship bracelet kit
  • Felt balls
  • Homemade pompoms made with leftover yarn
  • Rubber stamps
  • Pencils, colored pencils, erasers
  • Origami paper and instructions
  • Buttons in a jar


  • A treasure hunt: list things the kids could find in the garden
  • Chalk for hopscotch
  • Cloth bag for trash pickup at the local play spot
  • Make something at the party to take home: snack bags, puppets, ornament


  • Secondhand books
  • Other small secondhand items from the thriftshop
  • Cloth hankies
  • Hair accessories
  • Money
  • Bamboo toothbrush
  • A small jar filled with Dr. Bronner’s soap for blowing bubbles
  • Cute reusables: utensil sets, straws
  • Experiences: passes to activities like Skyzone, the museum, tours at the museum
  • Tiny Bonne Maman jars (someone please give me these)


  • Clementines and mandarin oranges
  • Small lady apples
  • Popcorn in a bag
  • Small cookies
  • Hot chocolate mix with snowman poop (i.e. marshmallows)
  • Energy balls the kids make: dates, nuts, coconut

Reader responses

These are just some of the responses I received :O
I have the most creative readers
I had over 120 responses on Instagram

16 Replies to “Lower-Waste Goodie Bags, Prizes and Stocking Stuffers”

  1. Blooming flower tea balls

  2. Some fantastic ideas. 👍

  3. We’ve had several parties for boys and girls where small bean bags were used for fun activities during the party and then several given to each child in a cloth bag to take home at the end of the party. This works for all ages and it’s not that hard to come up with age appropriate games to play with them.

    We have a lot of fun mass producing the bean bags together ahead of the event too. You can make rainbow bags, golden bags, pretty flowered bags…let your kids have fun choosing the fabric! Even little kids can help fill bags with beans. Bigger kids get a kick out of running the sewing machine to make them…then there are so many games you can play with a bucket of bean bags around the house before and after the party!

  4. I recently hosted a birthday party for my grandkids and had the same concern. My solution: I got shoeboxes and cut two round holes in the lids. Then I sewed a pile of small beanbags. Each child got a bean bag toss box to decorate and 6 bean bags. Then I cut out themed figures (ghosts, bats, black cats etc) and taped them around the house. The kids ran around collecting the figures and then decorated their boxes with them. This was their take home gift. I was very pleased with my creativity, but i’m afraid I won’t be able to beat this idea next year. ;-p

  5. We give out weird stuff at Halloween (I know – wrong holiday but we don’t really do Christmas). One Halloween, I gave out coloring books that I made from recycled materials (and had the coloring pages printed). We ran out and still had trick or treaters. Those kits got things like beaded tiaras we had leftover from a craft fair (that we had made) and recycled journals. The kids loved them. We’re often a popular house because we give away things that aren’t the usual. The beaded tiaras are super popular when we make them for craft fairs – just chenille stems and beads. Most of the time, people give us their excess (it’s amazing how many people have random craft supplies just taking up space). They can be gender neutral depending on the child and color of beads (one year we did football team colors and dads loved them). This year we’ve made bracelets/necklaces out of the tons of beads we have in our craft supply. The kids love them, even my 21 year old. Ornaments is another one. Right now I am making ornaments out of the ribbon/yarn stash and canning rings (how did I get so many canning rings). We’ve used old canning lids and magazines to make ornaments in the past. Once you get going, the ideas just start flooding in.

  6. I often had “tea parties” of some sort for my children’s birthdays in which the “goodies” the kids would take home would be thrifted tea cups and saucers that they used for the party, mugs, small dessert plates, a napkin and placemat set (made or thrifted), small muffin tins and muffin mix, things like that. I understand many of these things became treasured items by their friends.

  7. Here’s a revolutionary idea – what about NO goodie bags? I find even when there are eco-friendly things like seed bombs or packets, they still sit around. It’s just more stuff. I never did goodie bags for any of my kid’s parties and I never heard a complaint about it – although a few parents did thank me and started following my lead.

  8. Marilee Bryant says: Reply

    Question about the hot cocoa mix with mini marshmallows: Are you actually able to find marshmallows not in plastic? I LOVE marshmallows, but no longer buy them because of the plastic and also because as a vegetarian I don’t like to eat things containing gelatin. I do make my own delicious marshmallow fluff.

  9. Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse has a bunch of stuff you can repurpose for party favors: My son had one party where every kid took home a trophy! Another year, PCCR had a lot of loose keys from computers; he carefully picked out the letters of each guest’s name and put them in a bag with some other trinkets.

    We’ve also bought toys of the goody-bag variety at yard sales, where you can get them very cheaply and you’re reusing rather than buying new ones. Each guest gets a unique array!

    Another fun party favor is decorated magnets. You can cut out characters from comic strips, pictures from magazines, etc. We’ve used the flexible magnets with ads printed on them–remove the ad with nail polish remover, apply decorative paper with white glue, and stick to an old cookie sheet to dry FLAT–but those are weak magnets. Better to buy the 1/2″ black circle magnets at a craft store and decorate with a picture or beads. You can attach a picture larger than the magnet by gluing the picture to a piece of cardboard (cut up an old box!) and then gluing that to the magnet.

  10. Little Plastic Footprint says: Reply

    Thank you for these suggestions! We have actually just been making our own xmas crackers and have been searching for zero waste gift ideas. We also have a 4 year olds birthday party next week and plan on filling our own cloth party bags so that they can be re-used next year.

  11. I discovered just a few years ago that goodie bags were a thing ( no kids here). I feeling a bit like a cranky curmudgeon in that goodie bags weren’t handed out when I was a kid. When did this happen?!

  12. Awesome ideas!

  13. The playdough recipe you link to is almost identical to the no-cook recipe I was taught working at Playcentre (preschool). Just replace the cold water with boiling water and it self cooks instantly. Obviously the boiling water is the last thing to go in. No need to be fussy – if too dry add oil, too wet add flour. Salt & cream of tartar preserve, & salt also deters eating – you could easily use half of both is you are running short although it won’t keep as long.

  14. Thank you so much for this list. It has undarken our mood for my kid’s birthday dilemma.

  15. This year for my 11yo daughter I gave her friends a printed picture of them all doing a silly ‘Charlie’s Angels’ pose, and a Harry Potter bookmark made by a local artist found on Etsy. No one complained one bit! And no wrapped candy either, they ate homemade chocolate cake and macadamia nuts cookies, and they even praised my cooking! Win-win!

  16. […] Low-Waste Goodie Bags, Prizes, and Stocking Stuffers (from ZeroWasteChef.com). The author went on Instagram to crowd-source goodie bag ideas. She got lots of “goodies”! […]

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