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Putting together a child’s birthday party is a lot of work. Even if you’re not being super extra with the decorations, you still have an exhaustive list of stuff to plan. One of the things I dread most is goodie bags, and maybe not for the reason you’d think.

15 Alternatives To Candy For Goodie Bags

When it comes to goodie bags, I like the idea of sending my kids’ friends away with some fun extra stuff. That said, I hate the idea of giving them candy and tiny plastic garbage toys! One of the first things had to do is to reframe my thinking about kids’ goodie bags for parties. I know that I’ve gone out of my way to pack them with variety – stamps, small toys, candy, cookies, etc – but is this a great idea? Most of the things my kids bring home in party goodie bags are lost quickly and forgotten, which is a waste of money and plastic.

I decided I wanted goodie bags to have some interesting, artistic, and perhaps meaningful items inside, so I set to brainstorming. I came up with this list of my favorite items that I think are a fantastic alternative to candy for goodie bags, but that kids will still enjoy.

Decorate your own canvas tote

So one of the first things I thought of was making the goodie bag itself a fun affair. I looked online to find good quality, kid-sized totes that could be decorated and bought up enough for each kid. Instead of candy and toys, I filled each bag with a pack of fabric paint, a smock, and some brushes. When we saw kids using the bags they made for their supplies at preschool, it made my daughter (and me) feel pretty great.

And since these are still bags, you can put whatever other party favors you want inside. You could even make decorating them a part of the party if you’re so inclined; my daughter had an art-party-themed birthday and this was a well-loved activity.

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Photos and frames

For this, all you need is a slight photographer’s touch, some photo paper, a printer, and enough small frames for each child. Photo paper can be picked up in most office supply stores or Amazon, and you can get solid-colored frames at Dollar Tree. As the party goes on, you can snap photos of each kid, or wait until everyone’s gathered around for cake/presents and do a group shot.

Give each child a photo, frame, some glue, and decorations, and allow them to create a memory themselves. I like to include sequins, glitter, pipe cleaners, and puff paint, but any craft decorations work great.

Find at Dollar Tree

Grow-a-memory kits

As I write this, I have about 200 small sunflowers on my porch, waiting to be planted in the yard. To say I love flowers is an understatement, and I love to share my enthusiasm for gardening with my children. As you might know, I’m all about gardening on a budget!

These kits include:

  • A small ceramic pot
  • Packet of seeds
  • Packed of soil
  • Instructions
  • Decorations

Like with the photo frames, I like to include a small decorating kit. This can be glue-on items or just a small pack of craft paints and a brush. Regardless, they’ll have fun decorating their very own planter and growing their first flowers.

I try to keep the plants small – something like marigolds are easy to grow and don’t get overly large. You can try pansies, violets, or daisies as well. You could also opt for sunflowers as long as you warn the parents that the flowers will need to be transplanted. You can buy ready-made kits like these, or opt for creating your own kits, starting with small pots like these:

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Coloring books

Coloring books are cheap and widely available at drug or Dollar Tree. Add in some super cool markers or crayons and you’ve got an art kit that is easy to assemble, cheap and a lot of fun. Truthfully, this idea came from a friend who gave us this super awesome metallic crayon set with a robot coloring book. This is still my son’s favorite goodie bag from a party, 3 years later.

Find at Dollar Tree

Friendship bracelets

My daughter loves making jewelry, so much so that my husband has bracelets to match most of his work outfits. Making friendship bracelets is a fun activity, and most kids love to give away cool pieces of art. Before the party, have the birthday boy or girl sit down and make a special bracelet for each kid that’s coming.

You can grab some string and beads from your local craft store, or pick up a kit like this one:

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Our kids are somewhat obsessed with Go Fish, and admittedly it’s nice to break out for family game nights. There are tons of card games that you can get cheaply and that kids can learn easily. Uno, Slapjack, or Old Maid are all fun games that fit perfectly in a goodie bag.

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Every kid loves stickers! It’s an unwritten rule that a sticker on a piece of school work means you’re an awesome student, and they’re great for decorating, too. What’s better is that you can find huge rolls online, at any convenience or dollar store. Or – even better! – make your own stickers at home. Talk about a memorable goodie bag surprise!

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There’s something naturally fun about tossing a ball around, and you can get them for $1 at any Dollar Tree or similar store. They’re a great include because, unlike other random plastic toys, balls are somehow always engaging. Our kids still have little bouncy balls from parties years ago, and they still play with them now.


Like crayons and markers, chalk is always a great inclusion into goodie bags. As long as the kids attending your party have a sidewalk to draw on, they’ll always have fun with chalk. I like to buy chalk in bulk, because it’s pretty much an auto-include in our birthday goodie bags.

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I like to use frisbees as an activity in the backyard when we do home parties, and then we can give them out at the end. Like balls, they’re always fun and simple to use for even younger kids.


Let’s face it – bubbles are just great fun. Kids love playing with them, and younger kids love watching them, so I always include bubble wands in my goodie bags.

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Lego Minifigs or block sets

My kids love Legos so much, and honestly, I do too because they stay busy for hours. Lego Minifig bags include the fun of a blind bag with a cool random figure, often from licensed products like Marvel or Disney. You can find these in most stores, like Target or Walmart, often strategically placed near the cashier. They run about $3 – $5 each.

I personally love these little builder kits:

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While they’re not official Lego products, they’re very similar and a lot of fun to put together. Plus, you get 12 in each order, so you can fill up a dozen goodie bags cheaply.

Nail art kits

Nail polish, buffing boards, and nail stickers are always fun goodie bag items. You can find them readily available again at most dollar stores, and you can build your own kits. My daughter had a blast customizing goodie bags with these items for her 4th birthday!

I like buying multipacks of polish that I can trust are non-toxic and washable, like Piggy Paint products:

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Art kits

One of my absolute favorite activities to do with my kids is to paint on canvas. Painting on canvas instead of paper feels so much cooler, especially for younger kids. Paired with a brush and some paints, you have a goodie bag masterpiece!

You can pick up multi-packs of canvas on Amazon, and I love to keep some on hand for rainy day fun!

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Make-a-monster kit

I love monster kits for Halloween parties, but they’re a hit no matter the season. These little kids have Playdoh, glitter, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks googly eyes, and other crafting essentials. The kids can then build the monster of their dreams (or nightmares, I suppose).

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Do you also dislike tiny plastic toys and copious amounts of candy in your kids’ treat bags? What are some candy-free goodie bag alternatives that you’ve come up with? I’d love to hear about them!