clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Ask an Expert: Healthy school celebrations

Q. It seems like every day there is another birthday at my child’s school where my child receives a giant cupcake with 2 inches of icing and a sugary drink. I don’t want to be the seen as the party spoiler but I don’t want my child given 30 of these cupcakes during the school year. He is only 6 and over his time in elementary school, he will have consumed approximately 150 cupcakes. What can I do? Diabetes runs in our family and I worry that my child will have it, too.

A. There are many parents (and teachers and staff members) who share your frustration with calorie and sugar-laden birthday celebrations. For this reason, many classrooms, schools and districts are moving away from food-based birthday celebrations.

Here is a list of reasons, from janitors, teachers, nurses, parents and staff members who have come to favor non-food celebrations.

Reasons for non-food birthday celebrations

Non-food birthday celebrations:

  • Have been found to just as fun and special for kids;
  • Are easier for teachers (fewer logistics to coordinate with parents and students) and parents;
  • Mean less class disruption (some teachers report that having sugary treats causes students to be more disruptive);
  • Ease the financial burden for some parents who struggle with the cost of purchasing food/drinks for 30 kids;
  • Make it easier to involve all students, even those growing numbers of students with food allergies, diabetes or with other health-related issues;
  • Make it easier for teachers to make healthy food choices (one teacher found herself gaining weight with all the birthday treats that her students wanted to make sure she ate);
  • Model healthy institutional behavior for kids at school;
  • Reduce waste and are good for the environment;
  • Create less mess for janitors;
  • Make at-home food celebrations with family and friends even more special.

In lieu of non-food birthdays, schools are coming up with innovative party ideas. Here are a few:

Non-food party ideas

  • positive thing about the birthday child;
  • Students donate a book from their personal library to the school library with an inscription from them;
  • The birthday child wears a crown or a cape, or a special sticker indicating it is their birthday;
  • The birthday child gets to pick a game or an activity or select more recess time for his/her class to be outdoors;
  • The birthday child receives a handwritten card from the other students with a birthday wish;
  • The birthday student receives a pencil from the principal.

These are a few ways to celebrate children in a way to makes them feel special. While cakes and cupcakes were synonymous with birthdays in my generation, today there is a movement to find alternative ways to celebrate kids without the added health burden.

Changing the birthday celebration culture

Begin by scheduling a meeting with your school principal. Ask if he/she would allow you to conduct a short survey (in conjunction with your PTA, School Wellness Team, Advisory Group) to determine if there would be support for alternative birthday celebrations. If so, maybe start with a small pilot in a few classrooms with willing teachers.

Share some alternative celebration ideas other schools are doing, along with the benefits of non-food celebrations. Most parents, staff and students will readily support non-food birthday solutions when understand why non-food birthday celebrations make more sense for kids, teachers, schools and parents.

Learn more

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.