Food is a huge part of our culture and traditions, especially when it comes to birthdays. Most people can’t imagine a birthday without a candlelit cake or some other special dessert shared with loved ones. For kids, a birthday celebration typically extends beyond the dining room table to school; however, the recent rise of overall healthy eating and food allergy awareness has led to controversial policies involving treats in the classroom. With the school year just beginning to gear up, we thought it would be a good time to explore the historical controversy regarding allergy-friendly birthdays in school while also offering advice on how to approach birthday celebrations (both for your child and for other children) in school.
The Controversy Behind Birthday Food Celebrations in School
Changing approaches to how student birthdays have been celebrated (or not) in school have raised questions for all parents, no matter what their child’s food allergies may be. The “Cupcake Controversy,” which sprung up several years ago, involved banning non-nutritious treats in schools as an effort to tame child obesity. In addition, some schools have responded to the need for allergy-friendly classrooms by banning all birthday celebrations while others have required that birthday treats be store-bought and free of major allergens, including wheat, nuts, and eggs. While these measures have caused a variety of different parent reactions, the goal has been to promote a safe and healthy space for kids.
Non-Food Ways to Celebrate Birthdays in School
To bypass stress surrounding birthdays and food allergies, some parents have taken steps to advocate for non-food birthday celebrations in school, regardless of their child’s dietary needs. Whether it’s encouraging teachers to celebrate birthdays with fun themed days such as Wacky Hair Day or Pajama Day, passing out no-homework passes or having extra recess, or bringing in trinkets like stickers, fun erasers, or pencils, there are countless developmentally appropriate ways to honor a child’s birthday in school without food.
Non-food celebrations reduce stress for parents of all children and increase inclusivity within the classroom: everyone gets to celebrate the same way. These types of treats don’t single specific students out for something they can’t control, are cheaper than providing allergy-friendly desserts for an entire class, and eliminate any risk for allergic reaction. Work with your child’s teacher ahead of time to promote a safe learning (and celebrating!) environment and see what options are available to make your child feel special in the classroom without food.
Tips for Approaching Birthday Celebrations in School
• Be familiar your child’s school policies regarding classroom food.
• Communicate clearly with your child’s teacher and inform the room parent of your child’s allergy. The room parent can relay this information to other parents, which could minimize exposure to allergens during other children’s celebrations.
• Research gluten- and/or peanut-free bakeries in your area.
• Advocate for non-food ways to celebrate your child at school.
• Provide a stash of allergy-friendly treats that can be stored in a teacher’s freezer or fridge for when your child’s class celebrates other kids’ birthdays in school.
• Double check with the school nurse to ensure your child’s medications are non-expired and accessible at school.
• Think about providing your child (or the classroom teacher) a Nima sensor and extra cartridges. Having Nima on hand is particularly useful if other kids bring in homemade treats without ingredient lists or nutrition labels.
Remember that communicating clearly and in advance is essential in making sure your child’s health isn’t compromised, especially during a classroom celebration.
How have you supported your child’s birthday celebrations in school? Let us know in the comment section below!