A Healthy School Birthday Party–But Did We Really Need the Food?
|January 10, 2014||Posted by Stacy under Classroom parties, Classroom treats, Cupcakes, Healthy parties, Healthy school snacks|
My oldest son recently celebrated his 8th birthday. Last year, when he was in 1st grade, birthdays were celebrated once a month as a group. But his 2nd grade teacher follows a different playbook: She allows each student to bring in a treat to share with the class.
When I suggested bringing popcorn as his birthday treat, I wasn’t sure how my son would react. Fortunately, he loved the idea–as did a couple classmates who happened to be in earshot. Wow, that was easy! To make it feel special, I found some fun movie theater-style popcorn containers and–voila!–we were done. He was happy, and I was relieved–I didn’t know what I would have done if he’d insisted on having cupcakes or another sugary treat.
Then a funny thing happened when I went to the classroom on his birthday. As his classmates sang the Birthday Song, my son’s face lit up. When they were done, each child took a container of popcorn as he or she sped out the door for recess. And in the frenzy of it all, I couldn’t help but think: Was the popcorn even necessary? Would he have felt just as special if the other kids had simply wished him a heartfelt happy birthday or made him a card?
Food is part of our culture–and yes, it can be an integral part of celebrations. But do we really need to serve it on every special occasion, especially at school, where it can be distracting and can leave kids with food allergies feeling isolated and left out? I’m all about healthy snacks in the classroom, but I also wonder if it would be better to teach kids that not every celebration has to revolve around FOOD.
In my personal food journey, I’ve finally learned that I don’t have to indulge at every special event or holiday. I can go to a party and not fill up on sugary treats. This isn’t the product of willpower but rather of changing a habit that was ingrained early on in life. I treat myself occasionally, but only when I really want it–not just because it’s there.
What are thoughts on birthday treats at school? Love ‘em, hate ‘em, or not sure? I’d love to hear your two cents! Please scroll down to leave a comment.
Just today I went to my son Ian’s classroom to celebrate his 6 1/2 birthday (birthday is in the summer, so the school does half birthdays). I love what the kindergarteners do: They present a giant poster of themselves with several photos pasted on and explain what they’re doing in each picture. They write a short piece about their favorite toys, foods, pets, etc. Then classmates ask questions. Finally, they can hand out treats (must be store-bought, ugh) and/or trinkets. Ian was so excited to give the mini bubbles he picked out. He agreed w/me that toys are more fun than food b/c they last longer. Many of the parents ignore the teachers’ plea to NOT bring treats. I can tell you the kids are very excited with toys and pencils. My other son was so proud to give out mini-skateboard toys to the boys in his class and rings to the girls — total cost to me for both boys’ classes was $14.
Love it, Suzanne!! Awesome that your boys are on board with skipping the treats. Presenting a poster of themselves and having classmates ask questions sounds way more interesting and meaningful than a sugary treat.
I really enjoyed this post and I totally agree that food does not have to be part of everything. The more I campaign for healthier sports snacks, the more I am coming to believe that no snacks at all might be the best approach there as well. Eliminating these extra foods teaches kids that food doesn’t HAVE to be part of every single event in our lives–and eliminates something for a parent’s to-do list which is always nice.
Thank you so much, Sally! I think we are a long way off from coming to a consensus about what is healthy. It may never happen. Couldn’t agree more about teaching kids that food doesn’t have to be part of every single event. And skipping the edibles certainly would make things easier for parents.
I never grew up having birthday treats at school, merely because my birthday is during the summer; however, I did attend many birthday “parties” at school during my younger years. I, personally, really enjoyed these mainly because I loved free food. But as I got older, I realized that things such as icing on cupcakes are very bad for us. Yes, it might be good for us to splurge every once in a while, but not for everyone’s birthday at school. Food does not have to a part of everything to make life well. It’s the people who you spend the time with that make the moment enjoyable. Food shouldn’t be the deciding factor about whether something is fun or not, it’s the life.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Alex! Regarding your statement, “Food shouldn’t be the deciding factor about whether something is fun or not”: I couldn’t agree more! Once we let go of pre-conceived notions, we have a better chance of developing a healthy relationship with food. Thank you for coming by!
I am working hard in our school to remove the food altogether…its tough…I just believe that we need to stop teaching our kids that they have to eat just because its a Birthday, or Valentine’s Day, and my biggest problem: using food as a reward!! Our kids are learning these terrible habits everyday at school, and now is the time to change. Teaching them when to eat is just as important as teaching them what to eat.…lets stop feeding them when they aren’t hungry.
My favorite post on this subject:
I am touring preschools for my 3.5 year old. Almost all of the schools provide snacks (mostly highly processed foods and lots of juice). One director was so proud to say they celebrate everything-birthdays and all holidays with a party and lots of “treats”. Another place we visited at snack time. The parent-provided snack was a bag of animal crackers for each kid. They gave one to my daughter to take home. It was a large bag, so I looked at the serving size. The bag was 2 servings totalling 240 calories! It was also someone’s birthday, so along with the crackers, they passed out a ice cream sandwich. So the 3–5 year olds were handed about 450 calories worth of highly processed, sugar loaded snacks. I just don’t get it. I dread sending my baby off to school because it seems like junk is passed out almost daily. We’ve worked so hard to give her quality food. Very discouraging 🙁
Hi Jennifer — You’re smart to look at the food situation before choosing a preschool. I hope that you can find one that has better nutrition practices. Perhaps there is a Montessori school in your area? I had a similar problem with unhealthy food when my kids were in preschool. When my now 8-year-old started preschool at age 2, he was taken on a field trip to McDonald’s on snowy roads. Sugary processed afternoon snacks were the norm and birthday cupcakes were abundant. After I spoke to the preschool director about it, they did stop offering the afternoon snack and ask parents to bring healthy food to parties. It was still far from perfect but at least it was a start. Good luck and I hope you can find a healthy school for your child!
I can relate with this article. We are going through the same thing with our school right now. The kids have a 100 day celebration with candy, then 2 days later they have the Valentines Day celebration with tons of candy, so much that every kid goes home with a shoe box full of it! Then throw in the 25 birthday celebrations with treats, holiday’s and depending on the teacher even more.
Me and my wife along with some other parents have had enough and are setting up a meeting with the Principle. I have asked for a copy of their Wellness Policy to see what guidelines they have in place. I wrote the Principle last year and had a decent correspondence but not much has changed,it’s still Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
The kids don’t need the food to have fun. The parents and teachers are producing a generation of diabetics. The kids would be fine with being creative and making gifts instead of eating candy and cupcakes. And if a snack or food is to be used, make it something other than a sugar bomb. Sometimes I feel like we treat kids like they are in a petting zoo.
On a positive note: I coach youth baseball and every year it is a custom for parents to rotate bringing a “treat” for after the games. Last year I asked the parents not to, due to certain kids with food allergies and the fact that giving the team a sugar bomb after a healthy game of baseball didn’t make sense. Not one parent complained, and only a couple kids asked about it only once. They didn’t seem to miss it one bit.
Great website thank you!
Brandon — Thanks so much for your comment! It’s great to hear from a dad. I, of course, couldn’t agree with you more and it sounds like you’re taking all the right steps. Fingers crossed you can get through to someone as there’s obviously a lot at stake. Our kids’ health is worth fighting for!! And I, too, have found that they are just as happy celebrating without food. It just takes a little creativity and open mindedness from parents and teachers.
I grew up being used to going to birthdays that involve catering services. But i also do think that it is also about the happiness and learning to appreciate another year in your life.
AMEN! I totally agree with you. I am completely amazed at how parents look at me like I have three heads when I suggest healthy alternatives to the school parties. We always have the “Put as much frosting and MM’s onto the cookie” station and my kids come home nasty, tired and feeling sick. Gee, I wonder why? I have learned to DRED school parties. I won’t give up, but I do feel like I am the only one and the outsider. It is up to us as parents to show by example. Why can’t these parents get it? Many are diabetic themselves and talk about how it is so hard! Do they really want to pass this down? Thanks for your message about not giving up. You got me fired up again. I have a video in the works. If one person watches it and it changes their lives, I will have done my job. It is about the effects sugar is having on our children. Done a million and one times, but I won’t give up!
Sandra — Glad you’re fired up again–so am I! Agree, we just can’t give up. Please share the video when you’re done, I’d love to see it!
Thank you so much for your site. I am a school nurse and a mother of 2 grown children who has been finding it so difficult to ask teachers and parents to try other ways to celebrate their child’s birthday at school other than providing cupcakes, donuts (yes, glazed donuts) or sugary ices. With food allergies on the rise as well as obesity we can do so much to provide for a child’s special day than sending them in with cupcakes or donuts. A good site that gives non-food ideas for birthday celebrations at school is http://www.ohioactionforhealthykids.org. Mary Lou
Hi Mary Lou — Thanks for your comment and for the link to Ohio Action for Healthy Kids. I know how hard it can be to try to convince teachers and parents to forego cupcakes and other sugary treats on birthdays at school. One baby step might be to suggest scaling back to once-a-month group birthday celebrations. Still a lot of junk but it at least might reduce the overall amount. And perhaps parents can be urged to bring a healthier, non-sugary treat like popcorn at least. Good luck with your efforts and let me know if I can help!