The no-food birthday treat conundrum — no pencils, please!

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. February 2nd.

Oh, it’s also Cooper’s ninth birthday. And, yes, every year, we joke about making him stand outside to see his shadow and all of that. Did you have to ask?

So today is birthday prep. Ray is commissioned to do the shopping. I will be working on the birthday treasure hunt clues, cursing myself all the while for starting this tradition that, come to find out, is the highlight of each of my children’s birthdays.

I will also be agonizing over what to send to school tomorrow — the special birthday treat the Cooper will share with his friends.

Yes, I said “agonizing.” Figuring out what to do is awfully hard. We are not allowed to send in food or candy. Cooper is tired of giving and receiving pencils for every occasion (frankly, so am I — we have a giant Ziplock bag of the things, enough to get us through high school, and I’m running out of space.)

He also doesn’t want to be the kid who didn’t bring in anything for his friends on his special day. He’s nine. He wants to party with his friends, if only in a limited way, because he knows that, yet again, this year we don’t have extra funds to throw him a “real” party outside of school. And he hasn’t pouted or complained about it. He’s practical, understands the reality of our financial situation, accepts it when we repeat what we have for the past few birthdays: Maybe next year. Maybe next year.

His matter-of-fact attitude makes my guilt worse, and I fret.  I can’t give him a party with his friends — the least I can do is make his time at school with those friends something of a mini-celebration, his chance to be the birthday boy for a few minutes as his friends smile and laugh and sing, if only for a few minutes of the day?

The easiest thing, of course, would be to mix up a batch of brownies. But I can’t do that, because, as I’ve ranted about before, somebody has decided that the occasional birthday treat during the school day is what is causing our epidemic of childhood obesity. (No, it has nothing to do with the lack of daily gym classes or after-school free time for kid play. Don’t be silly. It’s the cupcakes.)

I’ll probably go to the party store, figure out what I can get for 27 children that is not edible, and, instead of spending a few bucks on a box of Betty Crocker, I’ll spend about thirty dollars getting each one a bouncy ball or something.

It’s funny how, when making that no-treats-in-school guideline, no one considered the added expense to parents of a no-cupcake/candy birthday treat. Is it because I live in a wealthy town, where money doesn’t always seem to be an issue for a lot of families?  Twenty-seven kids is a lot to buy goodie bags for, even if I spend a dollar on each.

On one hand, a 120-calorie brownie that the average 3rd grader will burn off in about ten minutes of recess play. On the other, a fistful of money. Clearly, taking away the brownie is the better choice.

Sure, I can send in nothing. Or he will have to make do with the loathesome pencils. Or what he thinks of as “babyish” stickers.

In the grand scheme of things, this is not the worst pain to suffer. Like I said, Cooper’s pretty easygoing. Whatever happens, he’ll give that little lopsided smile, a small shrug, and move on. He’ll have his treasure hunt and cupcakes at home, just as kids used to do back in the time before birthdays became the mega-celebrations they are today. (Seriously, do you remember having a party with your friends EVERY year? Me neither.) About the birthday treat, well, he probably will get over it in thirty seconds. So will his friends. I know I’m making too much over this, and, having written this post, will now let it go, except to say one more thing:

I sure wish I could make the brownies.

21 thoughts on “The no-food birthday treat conundrum — no pencils, please!

  1. The debate continues – Just shared this installment on the Boston Parents Paper’s Facebook page. It calls to mind that political phrase widely used during the 1992 Clinton-Bush presidential race: “It’s the cupcakes, stupid!”

    • Ah, I remember that one! I just can’t wrap my mind around the idea that some kids are heavy because of a cupcake at school. I get so frustrated when resources and energy are spent focusing on the wrong parts of the problem. My kids have gym class once every six days — remember when PE was a daily dose? I’m not saying fewer periods of gym is *entirely* the cause of obesity, but it’s certainly a factor. Yet, we blame the birthday treat. Gah.

  2. We have a no treat rule at the Elementary school as well…but I believe it’s about allergies, not obesity. Almost every cupcake/cake/brownie treat has nuts and wheat in it, and those are the two most common allergies. While I admit it takes a lot of fun out of the day, I also have seen a severe allergic reaction first hand, and would never want to bring that on another child. As for the party–we can’t afford a big party either (my family is so large I would have to rent a hall, never mind the kids at school), so what I do is I tell my daughter and son they can invite three friends to sleep over, or I have a “park party”–that is, we all meet at the playground, the kids play and have a great time, and I bring along cupcakes, a bottle of juice, and plastic cups. My kids’ birthdays are in March, so no doubt, it’s chilly (I’m thinking of changing the juice to hot chocolate), but as long as it doesn’t rain or snow it’s fine!

    • Sandy, what a great alternative to a party! And, if I had known that this Feb. 2 was going to be so nice, I would’ve also planned an outdoor something. Alas. I understand what you’re saying about allergies — and we do have nut-free classes at school — but I’m certain that this rule is not about that. Thanks for your excellent comment!

  3. Ugh. It’s also just – do we really need more goodie bags? You eat the brownie, you enjoy it, and then it’s done – this situation means more junk, more consuming, more plastic in the landfill forever, who needs to encourage that? I actually really get annoyed with the whole goodie bag thing……Always wondering how long I need to let the plastic bag of plastic junk float around the house before I can surreptitiously put it in the trash while no one’s looking. In nursery school, because of allergy concerns, they banned cupcakes, but the kids used to wear a special birthday crown all day. I wonder if there is a grade school equivalent for that? The nice thing was, it wasn’t material, or edible, but marked the bday kid as special. Couldn’t they have a five minute dance party at the end of the day to your favorite pop song or something? That would be fun. Well, I’m too old to know what third graders think would be fun, but maybe someone should ask them.

    • Yes! I would much rather have my kids eat a cupcake (or donuts seem to be a popular birthday treat at their school) than bring home a bunch of stuff from the party store and, like you, wonder how long I have to see it before I can throw it away without their noticing!

  4. We don’t have this issue where I live but I so dislike the plastic junk people stuff into goodie bags. I don’t know if this will have any appeal for you but one year we did sunflower seeds. I bought a couple of packets and then repackaged smaller numbers into little envelopes we made ourselves, personalised for each child. The challenge was that they take them home, plant them, track their progress and next year, on the same date, we see who has what. Some kids didn’t get into it, but others really did – they were bringing photos to school, comparing notes and so on. At one point, the teacher started tracking stem height on the whiteboard. And we still have a lovely stand of sunflowers in our back yard :). If sunflowers aren’t your thing, I guess there are all sorts of other seed-y possibilities… just a thought!

  5. I don’t know if it works for you, but I volunteered on my kid’s birthday, reading a story. She turned 8. I took off work time to do this (I don’t normally volunteer in the class during the work day). So it was special. My daughter gave out pencils that she customized with felt and googly eyes into animals, and personalized label on it for each child. Her class has food for birthdays, but she chose to do the custom/home decorated pencils so her 2 friends (gluten allergic and milk allergic) could participate equally. I know you said no pencils, but the item can be a craft or homemade. Ours weren’t expensive but had a homemade touch to it. don’t know what 4th grade boys like. My other daughter has allergies and I’m so appreciative when the parents send a non-edible treat so she can safely participate. While we keep “safe” food for her at home, a mistake did occur at school….with her being given a brownie in error, which was a safety problem for us. So your schools policy would have protected her from that. I hope your son enjoyed his birthday! Best wishes. I understand your point about cost and I so appreciate your understanding.

  6. I am happy to see the no food celebration at schools. I am currently trying to have our district adopt this policy and is has nothing to do with childhood obesity.
    As a mother of a child with life threatening food allergies I find each birthday celebaration another cause for stress in my sons life and my own. Each holiday, birthday, etc… he is excluded from friends. Every celebration should be inclusive of all class memebers with “no child left behind.” Borrowing that phrase from our government, I find it applies to more than academics and all aspects of our childs lives should be that way.

  7. Hello! I found this post when searching for ideas for my daughter’s Kindergarten class to celebrate her birthday. Does anyone have ideas for activities? I’m thinking I will go and play with the kids or read a story. Freeze dance? Charades?

  8. We are having this same issue for the first time at age 8. Every other year we have been able to bring in cupcakes and now they make the change? We don’t know how to handle it because like cooper, we think stickers and pencils are lame and babyish. I sure wish we could make the brownies too. Should have just shown up with them and asked forgiveness later, much easier!

  9. I’ve just been faced with this… my son’s birthday is the first one of the school year. I’ve sent in watermelon in the past (cut up, provided cups, forks, and napkins), but school is no food this year (even no snacks) due to allergies. Having a LO with food allergies, I fully support taking food out of the classroom, but dollar store items add up (even at a dollar/kid, that’s $30) and are, well, cheap. I have no idea what to do!! So here I am searching the web… 🙂 Not much good yet. Everyone just says hit the dollar store. Though I did see one mom say she was able to get jump ropes on clearance and had some cute saying, “Jump into 1st grade by celebrating Elise’s Birthday”. I don’t think I’ll find 30 jump ropes though.

  10. I also miss the days of bringing in cupcakes, but that’s probably because that’s what was done when I was in school. I’m not fond of the changes, but I’m not upset about it either. It’s always interesting trying to find ways to celebrate birthdays at school. I have multiples so throwing a party every year means inviting at least 45 people. Pencils are overdone and I hate cheap party store things that people just throw away. For one of my kids I bought clip boards and covered them in Hello Kitty and Phineas and Ferb fabric. With discounts it was less than $1 each for 25. The kids loved them and its something they can use.

  11. Here’s an interesting idea for a classroom birthday favor …. burn a CD of music your child selects …. a pack of 50 blank CDs at Target is about $15. That’s 30 cents per CD. .30 x 25 kids is only a $7.50 investment plus the time to burn the things.

  12. I understand all points of view. I understand food is a very sharing social experience. I am a school nurse and see how the children with food allergies ,diabetics, cystic fibrosis, lactose intolerant kids are left out with food treats. And you say…what’s the difference in one brownie…well 30 treats a year may not seem like much, but then you have all the holidays and other special occasions that are celebrated and all the attempts to get kids to perform or conform using food for reward. Combine that with the striping away of recess and PE time because of education regulations to meet the “common core.” Many times teachers do treat the birthday child in a very special way through elementary school. They frequently are given the choice of extra recess, a no homework pass, a special book sent into the classroom by the child to be read to the class and offered to the classroom’s special library…I think it is our own busyness that makes us feel we need to send things in for the class. It is our own special treatment of our children that really matters. If we don’t make them feel special on a birthday, no matter how many brownies, pencils, stickers, “goody bags” go around, they will not feel special on a birthday or any day for that matter. There are other food treats like fruit kabobs, 100% juice pops, that are the same so that “special” situations do not need to draw attention to the few children who have to be excluded. But in the end, we make our kids feel special not the material things we provide.

  13. I just thought of something! My twins will be 6 (end of March) so they are in Kindergarten and their school has a no food/candy policy. The teacher suggested making a slideshow of baby pictures and reading a favorite book. Instead of goody bags, I’ve decided to buys small flower pots from the 99 cent store, a bag of potting soil, and a pack of flower seeds. I think it will be a nice alternative. This way the kids get to take something home and if taken care of, it will grow into a pretty flower that will hopefully last the summer.

  14. I love the idea of volunteering in the class to read a funny story or play a game.
    For my daughter’s b-day today, I brought in a case of waterbottles and googly eyes. I got yellow paper from the workroom. The paper and eyes are to make a minion out of the waterbottle. Simple. Cool. Fun. Healthy. Affordable.

    But, it seems that part of the conundrum here is to make it special enough to compensate for not having a party outside of school.
    So even though this post is a few yrs old, I just wanted to address that. You can have a fun kid party that is not expensive! Have it at home. Invite a handful of friends. Play a few games your son will like. For instance:
    Shooting down a cup pyramid w/ rubber bands
    Building something with legos in a set period of time to show off to the other friends there (or a challenge in teams to build the tallest freestanding structure in a certain # of minutes)
    Guessing game where a category is chosen (letters of the alphabet, NFL teams, candybars, etc.) and the person in the middle holds a waterbottle cap full of water. They go around the circle w/ people guessing things. Whoever guesses the one the person in the middle picked gets splashed
    Serve cupcakes at home.
    Kids even like decorating their own cupcake– it saves you time from frosting them all & is an opportunity for them to be creative.
    Afterwards you can watch a funny movie, set up mini golf challenges in your backyard it it’s warm enough, or do soda bottle bowling in a hallway. You don’t have to spend a lot or rent a venue– he’ll just like having friends come celebrate.

  15. If I win this lottery I am funding your sons birthday parties until he’s 18. I feel exactly the same way and I’m in EXACTLY the same boat. Your a wonderful writer and I hope you write more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s