Mr. Zee = The New Birthday Cupcake?

by Bettina Elias Siegel on January 15, 2014

My kids are in middle school now, which means we’ve mercifully moved past the annual dilemma of what to bring to class to celebrate their birthdays.  But for a long time, the topic of classroom birthday cupcakes loomed large on this blog.  Over the years, I’ve shared with you:

  • My utter hypocrisy in quietly bringing donuts to school for my son’s birthday, even while I loudly complained about other parents loading my kids up with junk.  (“Outing Myself“)
  • My plea to Lunch Tray readers (“Don’t Make Me Eat My Words“) to share their non-food suggestions for my daughter’s birthday, to which you responded with incredible creativity and enthusiasm.

Happy Birthday Cupcakes with candles and white background

That list doesn’t begin to do justice to the number of times I’ve talked about classroom birthday treats here on TLT, where I’ve sparred with with readers who thought my kids just needed more “backbone” to resist classroom treats, or who thought I must be a weak parent and even ”anti-freedom.”  (You can see a semi-complete list of classroom-treat-related posts in the “Related Links” below.)

So, given the centrality of the birthday treat issue on The Lunch Tray, it was with great delight that I read this message sent to me last week by a friend and TLT reader:

My daughter . . . had her birthday yesterday. The tradition is that a parent comes in to share a favorite story and baby pictures.

OK, let’s pause here for one second and give some big kudos to this school for instituting such a charming tradition, one that’s actually meaningful to kids and  doesn’t involve food at all.  Now, to continue . . .

Instead of having me read a story. She decided to have a showing of the Mr. Zee’s story for her second grade class. The kids enjoyed it. A girl or 2 cheered when the brave girl took a bite of the apple.

 Squeeeee!  :-)

Obviously, this story makes me happy because it means my little rhyming kids’ video about healthy eating, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory,” is actually resonating with my intended audience, and that’s incredibly gratifying.

But this story also proves what I hear from parents so often.  It takes courage (and sometimes a lot of push-back from your kids) to go against the sugar tide, but when we bring non-food treats or find other ways of celebrating classroom birthdays, we are almost always pleasantly surprised to find that it’s really the adults, and not the kids, who feel that a birthday celebration at school just isn’t legitimate without junk food.

Don’t believe me?  Check out this smash hit birthday celebration, shared by School Bites, where only fresh fruit was served, or this junk-food-free party described by Caron Gremont of First Bites.  Kids are even happy with no food at all (my preferred approach in the classroom), as I saw with my own eyes here and here.

So, have you pulled off a successful classroom birthday celebration with either non-food or healthy food treats?  Help other parents out and share your stories with us here!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Sally Kuzemchak January 15, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Thanks, as always, for being honest and candid about how hard it is to navigate this stuff as a mom–balancing a child’s expectations/wishes with your own feelings about the larger issue can be very tough. I love the food-free approach and am so happy my kids’ school doesn’t allow food for birthdays. I polled parents on my Facebook page about food alternatives for celebrating in the classroom and got a ton of great ideas as well. I put them in this post: http://www.realmomnutrition.com/2013/10/28/10-food-free-ways-to-celebrate-school-birthdays/

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Bettina Elias Siegel January 15, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Thank you for sharing those, Sally! I can tell from the key words people use in Google searches that lead them to my blog that LOTS of parents would like to go food-free or serve healthy birthday treats and they need help! Your post is a great resource.

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Stephanie January 19, 2014 at 9:57 am

While our school does encourage the celebration of life, (the earth goes round the sun, photos and stories by parents), the front office continues to be inundated with those nasty store bought, colorful cupcakes… But there are also many parents who bring fruit trays, chocolate dipped strawberries and the like!
By far the best school birthday celebrations for my daughter have included a giant watermelon and/or giant jars of giant kosher pickles! The only time we’ve actually done the cupcake thing at school was at the spark park after school. That event was open to all the kids in the park who had parental permission. It included 75 cupcakes, 3 huge watermelons and 3 industrial jars of pickles. Pickles and watermelons went first… And I’m a damn fine baker… So the cupcakes did not suck (lol!) it’s just the kids really just wanted the other options… Moms wanted the cupcakes!

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