“If all the year were playing holidays; To sport would be as tedious as to work.”-- William Shakespeare
Food is often a key ingredient of holiday parties and celebrations; unfortunately, traditional celebratory foods are often loaded with sugar and calories. How can teachers and school administrators maintain a positive, healthy, and most importantly fun environment in the classroom without condemning holiday traditions? Restricting food may result in reactance whereby children seek out forbidden foods elsewhere. Furthermore, holiday treats will undoubtedly make their way into the classroom via well-meaning parents. Instead of telling kids that these foods are bad and should not be eaten, or simply taking them away, provide them with healthier alternatives. Adding healthy foods and fun activities to birthday and holiday celebrations will expose kids to the joys of holiday time without sacrificing their health.
Another common application of food during holiday parties is to provide treats as rewards for good behavior or hard work. If a party that centers on eating baked goods, chips, and candy is framed as reward, kids are inadvertently taught that it is okay to reward oneself by indulging in unhealthy eating. This is problematic because kids are both consuming large amounts of calories at once and are learning a pattern of behavior that embraces indulgence at the expense of health. Furthermore, if unhealthy foods are regularly discouraged at school but all rules are dismissed for a special day, the unhealthy foods are being awarded a higher value. After all, the more unattainable something is, the more individuals tend to want it! Be mindful about how you talk about the celebration with students. Frame the event in its historical context or tell kids ahead of time about the fun activities that you have planned so that anticipation is built around those activities rather than eating!
While outright banning candy and unhealthy foods during celebrations may lead kids to value them more and seek them elsewhere, celebrations do not have to center on food! There are many kid-tested and approved activities that get kids moving and thinking. Find some activities idea and many yummy, healthy snack alternatives in these resources:
Healthful Celebrations in Schools—eXtension Healthy Food Choices in Schools
Create Healthy, Active Celebrations Easy Ways To Eat Smart and Play Hard with Friends and Family—USDA Food and Nutrition Services
What Schools Can Do: Ideas for Healthy Celebrations—Connecticut State Department of Education
Healthy School Celebrations—Center for Science in the Public Interest
Healthy & Active Non-Food Rewards—Action for Healthy Kids
Non-food Incentives and Rewards in the Classroom—Oregon State University
Food as Reward—Rudd Roots Parents
For more healthy celebration resources, click here!