Healthy SChool Celebrations

Promoting A Healthy School Environment

Birthday parties and holiday celebrations at school provide a unique opportunity to help make healthful eating fun and exciting for children. Schools can take advantage of classroom celebrations to serve food that tastes good, is nutritious, and provides students with an opportunity for nutrition education experiences.

But It’s Just a Cupcake…

Typically, foods for school celebrations include cupcakes, candy, cookies and soda. So what’s the harm? There is nothing wrong with an occasional treat, but unhealthy choices have become the norm rather than the exception. Parties, treats used as classroom rewards, food fundraisers, vending machines, snacks and school stores constantly expose children to high-fat, high-sugar, low-nutrient choices.


Overall, our children’s eating habits are poor. Only two percent of children meet all recommendations. Most children do not eat enough fruits, vegetables or whole grains. Obesity rates among children are on the rise, with serious health consequences. Constant exposure to low-nutrient foods makes it difficult for children to learn how to make healthy food choices. By providing students with nutritious choices wherever food is available (including the classroom), schools can positively influence children’s eating habits.

Benefits of Healthy Celebrations

Healthy Kids Learn Better

Healthy school lunchResearch clearly demonstrates that good nutrition is linked to better behavior and academic performance. To provide the best possible learning environment for children, schools must also provide an environment that supports healthy behaviors.

Provides Consistent Messages

Providing healthy classroom celebrations demonstrates a school commitment to promoting healthy behaviors. It supports the classroom lessons students are learning about health, instead of contradicting them. Healthy celebrations promote positive lifestyle choices to reduce student health risks and improve learning.

Promotes a Healthy School Environment

In order to positively change eating behaviors, students need to receive consistent, reliable health information and ample opportunity to use it. Healthy celebrations are an important part of providing a healthy school environment.

Creates Excitement About Nutrition

Children are excited about new and different things, including fun party activities and healthy snacks. School staff and parents need not worry that children will be disappointed if typical party foods aren’t served in the classroom. Holiday treats and traditional birthday parties with cake will still be available at home.

Protects Children with Food Allergies

When parents send in food, it is difficult to ensure the safety of children with food allergies. Schools can protect food allergic children by providing nonfood celebrations or, if food is served, obtaining it from known sources such as the school food service program. Birthday parties and holiday celebrations at school provide a unique opportunity to help make healthful eating fun and exciting for children. Schools can take advantage of classroom celebrations to serve food that tastes good, is nutritious, and provides students with an opportunity for nutrition education experiences.

How-To’s for Happy Healthy Parties

Schools can help promote a positive learning environment by providing healthy celebrations that shift the focus from the food to the child. Choose a variety of activities, games and crafts that children enjoy. When food is served, make it count with healthy choices! Parties can even incorporate a fun nutrition lesson by involving children in the planning and preparation of healthy snacks. Try these ideas for fun activities and healthy foods at school parties and other celebrations.

Activities to Celebrate the Child

  • Plan special party games and activities. Ask parents to provide game supplies, pencils, erasers, stickers and other small school supplies instead of food.
  • Create a healthy party idea book. Ask school staff and parents to send in healthy recipes and ideas for activities, games and crafts. Compile these ideas into a book that staff and parents can use.
  • Give children extra recess time instead of a class party. For birthdays, let the birthday child choose and lead an active game for everyone.
  • Instead of food, ask parents to purchase a book for the classroom or school library in the birthday child’s name. Read it to the class or invite the child’s parents to come in and read it to the class.
  • Instead of a party, organize a special community service project, e.g., invite Senior Citizens in for lunch, make blankets for rescue dogs, etc. Involve parents in planning the project and providing needed materials.
  • Create a “Celebrate Me” book. Have classmates write stories or poems and draw pictures to describe what is special about the birthday child.
  • Provide special time with the principal or another adult, such as taking a walk around the school at recess.
  • Create a special birthday package. The birthday child wears a sash and crown, sits in a special chair and visits the principal’s office for a special birthday surprise (pencil, sticker, birthday card, etc.)
  • The birthday child is the teacher’s assistant for the day, and gets to do special tasks like make deliveries to office, lead the line, start an activity, and choose a game or story.

Healthy Food Ideas

  • Low-fat or nonfat plain milk, 100% juice, water, flavored/sparkling water (without added sugars or sweeteners), sparkling punch (seltzer and 100% fruit juice)
  • Fruit smoothies (blend berries, bananas and pineapple)
  • Fresh fruit assortment, fruit and cheese kabobs, fruit salad, fruit with low-fat whipped topping
  • Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, apricots, banana chips), 100% fruit snacks
  • Vegetable trays with low-fat dip, celery and carrots with peanut butter and raisins
  • Whole-grain crackers with cheese cubes, string cheese or hummus
  • Waffles or pancakes topped with fruit
  • Pretzels, low-fat popcorn, rice cakes, bread sticks, graham crackers and animal crackers
  • Bagel slices with peanut butter or jam, fruit or grain muffin (low-fat), whole wheat English muffin, hot pretzels
  • Ham, cheese or turkey sandwiches or wraps (with low-fat condiments)
  • Low-fat yogurt, squeezable yogurt, yogurt smoothies, yogurt parfaits or banana splits (yogurt and fruit topped with cereal, granola or crushed graham crackers)
  • Quesadillas or bean burrito with salsa
  • Low-fat tortilla chips with salsa or bean dip
  • Trail/cereal mix (whole-grain, low-sugar cereals mixed with dried fruit, pretzels, etc.)
  • Nuts and seeds

*Check for food allergies before serving

Source: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

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