People often ask me for my opinion on classroom parties: Should we let kids eat cake?
It is a fantastic question and one that should be asked by all schools and parents. At first glance, yes, kids should eat cake. I wholeheartedly believe that cupcakes and ice cream should be enjoyed on occasion. And a child’s birthday is a milestone, fun for both child and parent to celebrate.
The challenge begins when there are 25 kids in a class, which means almost one celebration a week if spread evenly throughout the year, which we know doesn’t happen. Then pile on the parties for Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day, plus the daily desserts that many schools offer. Kids are faced with a great deal of unhealthful food during a school day.
The challenge persists when one school party includes pizza, a sugar-filled drink, popcorn, a cupcake and ice cream, as well as a goodie bag with candy. Offering so many treats as part of one celebration can contribute to an unhealthful eating habit: the belief that a party is an excuse for overconsumption. This is not a belief we want to instill in our kids.
Food and alcohol often go together. The habit of overeating to celebrate can lead to alcohol overindulgence as kids get older and parties take on a different tone. When our kids are teenagers and win a sports championship, or when they are adults and receive a promotion, we hope they will understand that celebrating does not need to be focused just on food and drink.
Teaching our children that a holiday or celebration is about spending time with friends, participating in a fun activity or being active together, instead of simply consuming food and drink, is an important and a lifelong message they can carry through their teenage years and into adulthood. So definitely let kids eat cake, just in moderation — and without all of the other stuff.
●Shift the focus from food to fun.
●Limit each party to one junk-food item.
●Have a scavenger hunt with nonfood items.
●Provide extra recess.
●Host craft and activity stations that don’t include decorating a cupcake or cookie.
●Conduct party games with nonfood prizes.
●Have a dance party.
●Read a book.
●Restrict food dyes, high-fructose corn syrup, chemicals and additives.
●Serve snacks with fun plates, napkins, cups or straws.
●Use cookie cutters to make sandwiches and other snacks more interesting.
●Fruit smoothies (whip them up on-site)
●Trail mix (parents bring the ingredients and kids make their own)
●Bananas and strawberries with chocolate dip
●Yogurt parfaits with granola and fruit
●Angel food cake topped with fruit
●Berries with whipped cream
●Lower-sugar, lower-fat popcorn
●Cupcakes without frosting
List adapted from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (www.cspinet.org).
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company.