class parties

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!

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!


When I talk to people about soccer snacks or class parties or more recently, candy Valentines (read: “I Have No Love for Candy Valentines“), the discussion invariably turns to how how things were when we were kids: “But we had class parties, ate candy, and washed down birthday cupcakes with cherry Kool-Aid. And we turned out just fine!”

Maybe. Rates of obesity, cancer, diabetes, and hypertension among adults may tell another story. But for the sake of debate, even if all that stuff left us completely unscathed, does that mean it will be the same for our kids?

No. Because life was different when we were growing up in the ’70s and ’80s.

How different? When we were kids…

  • We didn’t gobble up frosted cupcakes when we ran off the soccer field. We had orange slices. Or nothing.
  • Food marketers didn’t spend $10 billion marketing their unhealthy products to us. We didn’t interact with junk food manufacturers every day through online games and social networks. We saw commercials in the limited hours that kids’ programming was actually on TV.

Did I eat some junk food as a kid? You bet. And my two boys sometimes do too (read: “My Kid Likes Junk Food. And That’s Okay.”). But we can’t hide behind the notion that the now-constant availability of junk is just like it was when we were children–and that everything will be okay. Because it’s not the same. And it might not be okay. Times have changed, and so should our attitudes and practices. We need to do better for our kids.


I Have No Love for Candy Valentines

February 15, 2013

I organized the Valentine’s Day party in my son’s classroom this year. We have a lot of food allergies among the third graders–and I’m always looking for ways to reduce junk anyway–so we planned a buffet of red fruits and vegetables: red pepper strips, dried cherries, red raspberries, pomegranate seeds, strawberries, and all-fruit smoothies. My […]

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Be Bold. Take Action. Make Change.

January 5, 2013

I meet a lot of parents who are angry about how their kids are being fed. They’re mad about school lunches and cookie dough fundraisers, about sugary snacks at preschool, about doughnuts on the soccer sidelines. But only a few of these parents act on their anger. Some don’t want to rock the boat or […]

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For the Love of Cupcakes

April 19, 2012

I still remember the cupcakes my mother made for me on my 5th birthday. She arranged them on a tray and used frosting to write one letter on each cupcake, spelling out “HAPPY BIRTHDAY SALLY” ( if you look closely at the photo, you can see the little boy on the right has the “D”). […]

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A Soccer Snack Aha! Moment

April 19, 2012

What is with these parents? That’s what I keep coming back to, in my fight to bring healthier snacks to the sidelines of my community’s soccer and t-ball fields. Why are so many moms and dads not only disinterested in discussing a change in policy but also downright angry about it? Angry like I’m taking […]

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