Celebrating Special Days without Cupcakes at School

There are so many ways that make the school that our kids go to different than the school that we went to. I took peanut butter and jam sandwiches for lunch and my friend took tuna fish—we shared and traded half–for-half. My mother sent boxes of assorted Timbits for the whole class on my birthday. It was all good.

It’s not like this anymore.

Food and diet are hot-button issues for parents these days. Many of us have children on special or restrictive diets because their health and wellness require it.  These includeallergies and intolerances as well as those on special diets that regulate behavior.  There are others that are on all-natural, sugar-free, vegetarian, or vegan diets because the parent believes it to be the right choice for their child and their family.

The values that we want to see include inclusivity, respect and honour. Really, I think that these are the values that we all want to see instilled in our children and their environment. When you send treats to school for your son or daughter’s birthday, these pillars shake and slowly but surely begin to crumble. This is not about nuts—peanuts, tree nuts or seeds of any kind. I think that we’re all on board with the nut-free policies that have been implemented to protect and safeguard the health and well-being of children affected by these anaphylactic allergies.

Here’s the thing. When you send treats to school to celebrate a birthday or occasion or holiday like Valentine’s Day, Halloween or Christmas, those values that we hold dear and true—inclusivity, respect, security, safety and honour—are at risk.

The treats might be nut-free, but that’s not enough. A quick question on Facebook reveals a list of some of the allergies, intolerances, and dietary restrictions that might be present in your child’s class:

Red dye, nuts, eggs, raw fruits and vegetables, pineapple, shellfish, latex, soy, dairy, coconut, whole grain, strawberries, sesame seeds, corn, avocado, wheat, gluten, sugar, oats, bananas, peaches, sulpha, raw fish, potatoes, birch, chocolate, bacon, red pepper

These lists are not sent home at the beginning of the school year. It has to be enough to know that they exist. It has to be enough to know that what you are sending may not be safe enough, healthy enough or inclusive enough.  A look at the list above list shows that not everyone’s version of healthy is the same.  One kid feeling left out because they can’t eat the cute cupcakes, cookies or donuts, is too many.

Some scenarios to consider:

  • Jack’s feelings will be hurt because he can’t eat the treats with all of his friends.
  • Emma eats the treats even though she knows that she is not supposed to and goes home sick to her stomach. Maybe because she ate something that didn’t agree with her or maybe because she knows how mad Mama would be if she knew.
  • The supply teacher didn’t know that Sophia is not supposed to have dairy.
  • A group of kids get mad at your kid because Kaden was upset that he didn’t get to have the birthday treats.
  • The teacher is distracted because the kids are distracted dealing with the fallout of “to eat or not to eat.”

This can all be avoided.  In order to protect the health and needs of ALL students in your child’s class and school, as parents, we need to find new ways to celebrate special days.  Here are some to consider:

  • Non-food treats—pens, pencils, erasers, and stickers. All students can use more of these.
  • A donation and presentation of a new book, board games or activity for the class for a rainy day lunch or recess in honour of the birthday boy or girl.
  • A donation in honour of your child and his or her class to an organization special to them. If they’ve been studying animals—The zoo or if they’ve been learning about Terry Fox, donate to his foundation. These are meaningful causes.
  • Show and Tell for the birthday boy or girl where they share a special birthday memory, what they loved about their last year and what they’re looking forward to for their new year ahead.
  • Send all of your child’s favourite foods for lunch, include a card in their lunchbag “can’t wait for your birthday dinner and cake tonight.”

So much has changed since my friend and I traded and shared our sandwiches. What remains the same is that as parents, we want the best for our kids and the ones that they sit next to.


Originally published at Yummy Mummy Club