Healthy Classroom Celebrations
Starting with Halloween and continuing through December, the opportunities for indulgence are abundant. Between family celebrations and school parties, the amount of sweets available can be astounding. Some parents will say, “It’s just a cupcake” or “Let them have their class party.” I agree that kids should have their celebrations and there’s nothing wrong with an occasional treat, but the reality is parties at school occur frequently and are dominated by excessive trays of cupcakes and cookies, bowls of candy and chips, and large bottles of juice and soda. To make matters worse, these celebrations contradict what students are learning in health lessons promoting healthy behaviors. The good news is, kids can have classroom celebrations and balance healthy eating if parents and teachers make some modifications.
Serve fewer unhealthy foods. This is a great place to start – by serving more fruits, vegetables and other healthy snacks. Knowing that other parents will be providing sweets, make sure you provide a healthy option. After years of working in many classrooms, I know that when healthy foods are available, kids will eat them.
Modify the standard fare. Instead of regular cupcakes heaped with frosting, serve a smaller, mini cupcake or healthier yet, offer mini muffins which don’t require frosting, decreasing the sugar by more than half. Instead of candy, offer fruit dipped in chocolate and serve water or sparkling water infused with strawberries, cucumber, oranges, lemon or lime. For homemade baked goods, substitute applesauce for half of the oil or butter; replace half of the white flour with whole wheat flour; and decrease the sugar in the recipe by one-third to make a healthier version of cakes, cookies and other desserts.
Create a sign-up sheet. Talk with your child’s teacher and offer to create a sign-up sheet that includes one or two sweet treats, along with healthy options, such as fruit salad, vegetables and dip, fruit and cheese kebabs, and cheese and crackers. The teacher can specify which foods parents should bring, helping to control the number of sweets and unhealthy items. Another option is suggesting the teacher ask students to bring a non-dessert dish that is part of their family holiday traditions.
Have a cooking activity. Kids get excited when they’re involved in food preparation, so a cooking activity is always a big hit. Parents bring the food supplies and the students assemble their own masterpiece. For example, a yogurt parfait bar with a variety of chopped fruits, flavored yogurts and dry cereal allows students to create a unique, healthy treat. Other options include making fruit kebabs, fruit salad, graham crackers with cream cheese and toppings, fruit and cheese kebabs and many other food creations that are fun and healthy.
The previous suggestions are examples of classroom celebrations that emphasize food as the main event. It is even better to offer art, music, storytelling or outdoor games and activities as the primary focus, with food as the complement. Offer to organize activities and round up parent volunteers to support teachers in shifting the focus away from food.
The holiday season is also a great time to focus on community outreach. Instead of throwing a party or in addition to having a party, classes can contribute to a worthy cause. Making holiday cards for military personnel, singing to residents at a nearby nursing home, collecting supplies and making art to give to a homeless shelter, collecting toys for animals at the local shelter or holding a food drive can be educational, rewarding and fun.
Jill West, R.D.N., is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified health coach with a private practice in Lafayette. She works with women, families and student athletes helping them make lasting changes that improve their health and performance. Jill is a professional speaker and author of the book 400 Moms. To learn more, call 925-310-5545 or visit www.jillwestrd.com or www.400moms.com