Action for Healthy Kids shared that everyone loves a party. Who doesn’t love an excuse for cupcakes? But did you know that your child could easily consume a third of their daily calories in one classroom birthday celebration? Birthdays, holidays and other school celebrations are great opportunities to promote a healthy lifestyle, provide consistent messages about healthy eating, and offer extra physical activity.
No one has to be seen as the food police, though. We’re here to tell you that it is possible to plan events that emphasize healthy foods and align with classroom lessons—and even shift the focus and plan non-food events centered around physical activity, music, art, and games.
- Let students come up with healthy party ideas and ask parents to share ideas for activities, games, and crafts.
- Have parents bring simple trinkets or games (like pens or fidget spinners) instead of cupcakes for birthdays.
- Have a dance party. Let students select the music, and invite the principal and other school staff. Kidz Bop is a great resource for kid-friendly versions of popular, high energy tunes.
- Get students involved in planning and preparing for celebrations—let them make decorations and favors and choose the games.
Make it stick: The school health team or a group of students can work together to create a healthy classroom party guide to distribute to parents. You can also work with school leadership to implement a healthy classroom party policy that replaces food with activity.
Party Alternatives & Food-free Celebrations
- Give children extra recess time instead of a party.
- Celebrate by organizing a special community service project. Invite senior citizens for school lunch, collect goods and make cards for sheltered families, or organize a project outside for Earth Day.
- Arrange a treasure hunt around the classroom. Provide a special non-food treat at the end. Use a theme that ties into what the kids are learning in class.
- Hold a teacher vs. student or parent vs. student activity.
- Birthday Boosters: Suggest other gifts for the birthday child, like being the teacher’s helper, wearing a special crown or badge all day or choosing a game or activity for the whole class to play.
- Healthy Halloween: Kids will get plenty of candy around your neighborhood. Students will enjoy dressing up and trick-or-treating at school for trinkets, toys and other fun non-food items.
“A parent said to me, ‘Are you the cupcake police? You’re the one that’s here making sure that nobody brings cupcakes!’ That allowed a great unique opportunity to have an honest conversation with her and say, ‘No, I’m not the cupcake police. I think you and I want what’s best for our students. If they’re getting five to 10 cupcakes a month and not being active, did you know that really affects how they are learning in the classroom?’ She said no, I encouraged her to join the wellness team, and she did!”
– Maritza Gutierrez, Thornton, CO
- When food is offered, make sure fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and water are on the celebratory menu.
- Check your school’s wellness policy or school improvement plan to see if they contain any guidelines or goals about food for birthdays, celebrations and family events. If they don’t, find out what it would take to address this issue.
- Remember to discuss the topic with other parents and your school health team and get your principal’s buy-in. Check out Make Change Happen for tips on engaging school leaders.