10 Food-Free Ways to Celebrate Birthdays At School

10 Food-Free Ways to Celebrate School Birthdays {from Real Mom Nutrition}

I love cupcakes as much as the next person. I have sweet memories of the birthday cupcakes my mom made for me when I was a child (read “For the Love of Cupcakes“), and I’m sure that some years, she brought those cupcakes to school.

But for better or worse, cupcakes at school are on their way out. High rates of food allergies mean homemade cupcakes aren’t safe for everyone anymore–and concerns about how much junk food kids are getting  (and how frequently they’re getting it) are making more parents uncomfortable with this tradition.

Recently, a friend told me about the way her daughter’s preschool celebrated birthdays without cupcakes–and I liked it so much, I shared it on Facebook (it’s #1 on the list below). Lots of people chimed in with even more ideas, and so I wanted to share those here. These suggestions are geared toward younger children in preschool or elementary school. Maybe you can suggest one of these at your child’s school too!

Food-Free Ways to Celebrate Birthdays At School:

1. Bring in special party napkins (or party hats) to use with the usual school snack.

2. Get a special “recess pass” and choose the main activity the class does at recess time.

3. Bring in your favorite book and the teacher will read it to the class.

4. Give a gift to the class, such as a book (write an inscription inside), a toy for the play area, or a game.

5. Be “VIP of the week”: Make a timeline of your life, have your parents read to the class one day, and have other students interview you about your favorite things.

6. Get a card from the class. All the students sign it saying what they like most about you.

7. Have your name read over the morning announcements.

8. Get a special sticker or crown to wear at school all day.

9. Have your parents provide a special craft for the class that day.

10. Pick out of a birthday prize box that includes fun pencils, temporary tattoos, stickers, and small toys.

Thank you to Facebook readers who provided ideas for this list. If you have one to add, I’d love to hear about it!

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  1. says

    I LOVE THIS. I am all for this. I’ve found my people! Even though I’m a doctor, I sometimes feel like the lone voice at preschool, asking for healthy snacks. It’s so true that we do not need junk food to make a child feel special on her birthday. You are doing such awesome work here.

  2. says

    I did fun post-its from Target last year for my son’s class. They seemed to like that. There was also a girl who did mini hand-sanitizers from Bath and Body that were silly scents. Even my son liked that.

  3. David says

    In both my boys’ classes, we would send in small non-food gifts to share with their classmates: pencils, crayons, sticker books, etc. Both boys were in classrooms that were trying to move away from cakes or candy, mostly because of allergy concerns as you note above.

    • says

      David–That’s a nice idea to bring little things in for the class. I do think more classrooms are moving away from outside food–it’s simply too risky with so many food allergies.

  4. Marlo says

    My kid school does not celebrate birthdays with food treats because of food allergies. One of the way they let the kids celebrate is by picking a theme for the class on their birthday. Such as pajama day, favorite team jersey day, hat day, or crazy sock day are just a few that we have had this year! It’s cute and the kids love it.


  1. […] Appeal to their love of increasing their instructional time. “Elaborate birthday parties are eating into instructional time and excluding some of our underprivileged students. Maybe we could phase out the cupcakes and encourage some other ways to recognize students on their birthday. I can send you a great PDF from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.” (Here’s a great list from Real Mom Nutrition.) […]

  2. […] Some par­ents may be up in arms about cel­e­brat­ing with­out cup­cakes and other junk, but there are many spe­cial ways to rec­og­nize a student’s birth­day with­out load­ing up the class with sugar and arti­fi­cial dyes. With food aller­gies and dia­betes dra­mat­i­cally on the rise, I per­son­ally think non-food cel­e­bra­tions are the way to go–what kids really want is to be rec­og­nized on their spe­cial day. (SEE A Healthy School Birth­day Party–But Did We Really Need the Food?). Need ideas? Check out Real Mom Nutri­tion’s 10 Food-Free Ways to Cel­e­brate School Birth­days. […]

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