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Beyond Cupcakes, Cookies, and Potato Chips: Planning Healthy Classroom Celebrations

Caitlin Dong works in National Public Relations and Communications for Kaiser Permanente and has been involved with nonprofit youth organizations for many years.

When I think back to elementary school, the two things I remember most vividly are playing games with my friends during recess and fun classroom celebrations, whether for birthdays or holidays. More often than not, these celebrations featured soda, chips, and colorful cookies and cupcakes.

Fast forward to the present, when there is a much greater emphasis on serving healthy food in school. Since most children in the U.S. spend around six hours a day in school and consume as much as half of their daily calories there, there’s a growing recognition of the need to make school an environment that supports students in making healthy choices.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 represented a major step forward. It gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools and provides additional funding to schools that meet the updated nutritional standard for federally subsidized lunches. The Obama administration finalized implementation of the act in July 2016 with Smart Snacks in School. The rule specifies that all snacks sold to children during the school day must meet the same nutritional standards as school breakfasts and lunches.

Since the snacks served during class parties aren’t sold to students and are typically provided by teachers or parents, these foods aren’t required to meet the Smart Snacks rule. But by working together, teachers and parents can plan events that support healthy eating.

Healthy yet tasty

Here are some drinks and foods kids like that are healthy too:

  • Beverages: water, fat-free or low fat milk, fruit smoothies, fruit slushies, silly water
  • Fruits and vegetables: sliced fresh fruit or vegetables, frozen fruit or fruit cups, frosty fruits (freeze your own fruit), dried fruit, fruit or vegetable skewers
  • Whole grains: whole-grain crackers, whole-grain bagels, low-fat or air-popped popcorn, graham crackers, baked whole-grain tortilla chips
  • Proteins: fat-free or low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese, hummus, nut or seed butter, trail mix made of nuts and dried fruit (check for student food allergies before serving any nut products)

Try them out and see how students (and teachers and parents) receive these healthy options.

Active fun

Perhaps what my classmates and I enjoyed even more than the food during school celebrations were games and activities both inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers would hold relay races and kickball games for the entire class, and teachers would participate too. Some teachers also hosted dance parties or themed parades around the school. These activities got us up and moving.

Other non-food celebration ideas include:

  • Allowing students to choose prizes such as pencils, erasers, stickers, puzzles or small toys
  • Hosting a special dress day such as pajama day, mismatched-sock day or crazy hair day
  • Giving shout-outs to students for exemplary behavior or recent accomplishments such as staying on task or being a great helper

Find more ideas for celebrations that support student health.

Even without soda and junk food, classroom celebrations can be healthy, active and fun. Experiment and see what works best for you and your students.

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