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Best Kids Birthday Party Idea: Box Car Drive-In DIY

Think outside the box, children! Unless you’re having a 3rd birthday party. Then by all means, please get inside this box, with your box of food, while you watch that box on the wall. (But trust me, you will love this in-the-box thinking!)


Miss P turned three recently. THREE. It feels weird to even type that, let alone come to the realization that three years ago that she came into this world. I could go on and on about that, but for now, I want to share with you the pics and DIY of what is possibly THE best birthday party idea: Box Car Drive-In DIY.

(Note: I will include all links at the bottom of the post for reference, in case you decide to do a party like this – I highly recommend it!)

Box Car Drive-In DIY

Eighteen toddlers/kids, all set up in box cars, watching a movie in our living room. Does that sound crazy? Of course it does. But I’m happy to report that our lunacy came in handy because IT WORKED!

It was inexpensive, low maintenance, and last minute (hail to the gods of pizza, popcorn, and Amazon Prime!). Double bonus for the fact that the kids ate in their boxes too, so the messes were pretty much contained.

So let’s see: Kids entertained? Check. Parents able to hear themselves think, and maybe have a conversation? Check. Easy cleanup, simple menu, glass of wine for parents? Check, check, and hellyesbigfatcheckmark!

Here’s the lowdown on how we did it:

We set the scene

We purchased these boxes from Lowe’s for $1 and change each. I made a “license plate” for each of the kids by cutting plain printer paper and writing their names in marker, then taping it to the back. I bought a set of plain black plates from the dollar store and taped 4 to each box, so they looked like “wheels”.

We moved our couch so we had the whole width of the room and could fit the boxes.


When the guests arrived we told each child to find their box and take it outside to decorate it, where I had set out markers and dollar store stickers for them to use. (This made the kids light up more than I expected, and reiterated the fact that all you really need is a cardboard box to make a kid happy.)

We kept decorations simple and fun

Once the kids decorated their boxes they had fun with the other decorations we set out: a “photo booth” with props, a movie-theme banner, and a “red carpet”:




We kept food simple

Pizza and popcorn for everybody, with a couple of large salads for the adults if they wanted a healthier option.

I found these adorable concession-style trays on Amazon that had a spot for drink, popcorn, and food. They worked GREAT and I loved how they kept the food (read: MESS) inside the box.

We set them up on our kitchen island with a big bowl of popcorn in the middle so people could self-serve:


(Those juice boxes you see in the far back-right of the photo were bought two in a pack at the dollar store.)

Once the kids finished decorating their boxes we set them up with their pizza, popcorn, and drinks, then they got in their boxes, and we started the movie.

They STAYED IN THEIR BOXES AND WATCHED THE MOVIE. We almost could not believe it.


Parents could actually talk to each other! The kids were even yelling at us to keep it down so they could hear better, I kid you not. (For reference, we watched the movie The Good Dinosaur. The ages of the kids ranged from 3 – 8. I tested it out on P a few days before by setting up a box for her and showing her the movie, and not only did she stay in her box but she actually asked me to watch it again once it was over.)

And the mess was contained, because they ate their food IN THEIR BOXES. This is a neat-freak’s dream.


After the movie was over we hung out for a bit, then sang Happy Birthday to Miss P.

I was about to pay a small fortune for a specialty themed cake for her but figured I’d ask our local Whole Foods if they could do it. Not only did they say yes but they gave me email addresses for their head bakers so I could send them photos of what I wanted. Look below the cake – they made the cupcakes look like buckets of popcorn!


I also coordinated with our local snow cone truck to come by at that time so the kids had either cake/cupcakes, and/or a snow cone. You could probably guess that many had both, and I think it took Miss P three weeks to process all of that sugar. I’m a bit of a nut about clean-eating and no sweets, but I know when to let go, and I think a third birthday is a perfect occasion to swallow your neurosis and let the shit-show happen.


“Goody Bags”

I’ll put this out there from now: I am a goody bag party-pooper. I know it’s a nice touch but I never want to do them because I don’t want to fill them with even more candy or throw-away toys, or give parents a headache in the car on the way home when their toddler is having a melt-down because they want to open and eat everything and play with all the things RIGHTNOW. But I found the ridiculously awesome (and theme-appropriate) idea to send guests home with (drum roll please…) Redbox Gift Card Codes!

These were inexpensive and easy to do, thanks to a fellow blogger – just download the printable template and follow her instructions to purchase the codes, then plug them in on your computer and print. DONE!

I added them to a bag with some sidewalk chalk and a small bag of chocolate chip cookies:


(I blurred out where the code is so this party-goer can still use it, but you can see where it goes – and the printable is really easy to use.)

That was it! We had a blast and I would do this every year if my kids let me. As promised, here are all the links where you can find everything we used for the party:


So tell me: would you do this? Did you do it already? Let me know in the comments!


Alessandra Macaluso is the author of What a Good Eater! , Lucy the Bee and the Healing Honey, and The Real-Deal Bridal Bible. She’s also a Qigong and Tai Chi instructor, and overall wellness advocate. Her work has been featured in several anthologies which can all be found on her Amazon author page, and she has contributed to The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, TODAY Parents, and many other online publications.

Alessandra is a northerner-turned-southerner, enjoying the south with her children, Penelope and Ciro, and her husband, Greg.

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