Sunday, May 24, 2009

School Birthday Treats: It's okay to rock the boat

For my mom who taught me it's okay to be different and for TR - who pushed me saying that sometimes things need to be said.

I am going to vent, just a little.

I am the mother of three small children - 5 years, 3 years, and 16 months old. One of the MOST important things to me in terms of their rearing, is what things go into their bodies. Yes, I know that many of my blog posts have been cookies and cupcakes - but in reality, my kids eat very little of them. (Friend JRC asked me, "How do you kids stay skinny when you bake like that?" Response, "They don't eat it.") Aside from the occasional birthday treat or oatmeal raisin cookies, my kids don't eat cupcakes and cookies on a regular basis. They don't eat candy on any sort of regular basis and I like it this way.

Friend TR is a child obesity expert and whenever I mention how I feel like a "mean" mom, always saying no to requests for candy, she reminds me, "Being a good parent is setting limits." When daughters get candy at birthday parties or holiday parties, I cringe inwardly, because I know that I'll be the one monitoring how much gets eaten and when. After a party, I'll allow one, and then I'll take the rest. Most recently however, daughter #1 had a HUGE BAG of candy from too many parties in a row, and I couldn't deal with the constant, "Can I have one candy today Mom" questions, because I just preferred not having to answer it. I came up with a solution - I offered two small gifts in exchange for the entire bag of candy. Daughter #1 agreed and voila! NO more candy. (Gave it far far away.)

Which brings me to the other point of this post. Daughters both attend the same school, and the school has a wellness policy - that clearly has not been adhered to this year. I was thrilled when I saw it as it clearly said, "No overly sweet snacks, no frosting, no candy, no ice cream" for birthday parties and general lunch rules. I was happy to see that the school was encouraging good healthy eating habits for its school. I was disappointed and somewhat dismayed however, when repeatedly, Daughter #1 would come home from school reporting how she had cupcakes, ice cream and candy for a child's birthday in class. Because it happened on more than one occasion, I figured out that the wellness policy was not being followed. I followed up with the head of the school. I asked that next year the wellness policy be more tightly followed and to make sure each teacher enforces it in her class.

When you have a child's birthday at school, it is so tempting to go out to your local supermarket and simply purchase cupcakes or cakes a sugary sweets to bring to share at school. It is slightly more difficult, but not much, to bring something healthier and equally enjoyable to school. Growing up, I remember being slightly embarrassed, because on my birthday, my mom would make a BEAUTIFUL vegetable plate and a delicious cream cheese dip. She would show up during the day at some point, and pass out vegetables and cream cheese dip to the tune of "Happy Birthday" and I would feel slightly odd. But the night before, my mom always assured me saying, "Don't worry. They are ALL going to eat it." And eat it they did. All of it. I even remember one kid sticking his face on the plate to lick up the remaining cream cheese dip after having finished all of his vegetables. I remember in those moments feeling a certain sense of pride at having brought something healthier and better and still enjoyable.

This year, after a slew of cupcakes, ice cream and candy handouts from Daughter #1's class at school, I committed to not making anything of the same for her birthday. I informed Daughter #1 that her birthday treat for her class would be a fruit mosaic and oatmeal raisin cookies (1 small one per child.) She looked at me with big round eyes, and asked, "You aren't making me cupcakes for my class?" and I said, "No, but you can help me design your fruit mosaic." And she did. She came up with the flower design, told me what fruits to put where and decided what fruits were going to be what part of the flower. At one totally personal brain dead moment, in a conversation with my daughter I said, "Oh no. There aren't any green fruits to use as the stem." Daughter looked at me and said, "Mom. Honeydew or grapes. But I want honey dew." It took me 25 minutes to put together the night before but it wasn't hard and it was somewhat soothing. The next day, Daughter took it somewhat apprehensively to school, but at pick up was beaming when she related to me that the two "popular" girls (who incidentally had brought cupcakes and ice cream for their own birthdays) said, "Wow! That is soooo beautiful!" As another side note, all the fruit was eaten. I encourage you, to please find other ways to celebrate your child's special days aside from sugar treats and sweets. You'd be surprise at the impact your small act an have on a few other kids.

Here are some ideas of ways you can celebrate a child's birthday in class without overstepping the bounds with sugar and artificial colors and flavors.

1. Fruit Mosaic
Here are a few samples.

This crazy artistic one was not done by me, but friend SJ who is just super artistic. I could not produce this myself. (She is also the person who first started doing these and inspired me to make these.)

This one is also done by the same fruit artist SJ.

Created by JEL for Daughter's 5th Birthday Party

I did this one for a fish themed party

This one was planned by Daughter and executed by me for her classroom party.

Made by me for Daughter's "Beary Party" (made with berries)

2. Ice cream cones (cake cones - the ones with the flat bottom) filled with fruit salad.

3. Fruit kebabs with yogurt for dipping sauce.

4. Fresh cut vegetable plate with dip (spinach or otherwise.)

5. Hummus and pita chips

6. If you want to bake something, make something small, that doesn't have chocolate.
Chewy Crispy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (only 1 per child)
Banana Muffins (make mini ones)
Pumpkin Muffins (make mini ones)
Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins (mini)
Blueberry Corn Muffins
Lemon Blueberry Ricotta Muffins

39 comments:

christao17 said...

This is an excellent post - we need to get away from the culture of "celebration = sugary foods". Fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods are a great way to celebrate a birthday or another event.

P.S. SJ is the one who suggested your blog to me. Not only is she a talented fruit artist but she knows a good blog, too!

Audrey said...

What a great post! I am mother of 5 year old and, have to admit, I probably give her more sweets than I should. I will definitely make fruit kebabs for her classroom celebration this week.

Holly@MotherIsNotConcerned said...

So glad I found this post through foodgawker. We don't have any birthdays here until January, but I'll be practicing the fruit mosaics until then. Thanks for the idea!

Maria said...

Love all of the fruit!

Carson said...

I'm so glad I found this through foodgawker - LOVE your post and the beautiful fruit mosaics. I will be making one for the next church potluck, for sure! I don't have kids yet, but when I was a child my mother raised me this way too. She loves to tell the story about the first time I encountered candy - I was given a Hershey's kiss at the library's storytime, and I didn't even know what it was - I just thought it was pretty and shiny :)

Jax said...

Hi. Great mosaics! In the spirit of spreading the word, I have linked to this post on my blog. I also borrowed one of your pictures. If you object to that, let me know and I will remove it forthwith. Thanks for the great idea.

BlueJeanGourmet said...

as a middle school teacher, I echo your sentiment and celebrate you. I'm sure it's very tough to hold the line with your kids on food (and other things!), but wow, let me just say, I can tell you which of my students have parents who set & hold firm boundaries and which don't. it affects EVERYTHING.

I often bring treats for my students and struggle with the same culture of sugar & junk...you've inspired me to do a fruit mosaic & some small cookies for the last day of school next week! thank you.

Karen H. (kthaman) said...

I found this blog post with Google. My daughter's birthday is this week and I too dislike all the high-sugar foods that are brought for parties. I love the mosaic examples and I will definitely be trying this for her! Thanks again for sharing your point of view.

Sara said...

Wow, those fruit pictures are amazing! What kid wouldn't want to eat that? :)

Joanne Choi said...

Thanks to all for being supportive! It's great to see that other people share the same sentiment and are willing to try something new. I hope my kids are invited to parties that you are throwing!

Jamie said...

another fruity idea is to puree different fruits--add honey to sweeten if needed--and layer them into little paper cups. freeze 30 minutes before adding each layer and add a popsicle stick after first layer is set. i like to use peaches, kiwis, and strawberries to make it colorful.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this. Now I have to figure out how to render Spiderman in fruit!

http://stonemaven.livejournal.com/

Anonymous said...

I love your blog and this post is excellent. Wonderful photos and inspiration!

Linda said...

I absolutely LOVE this idea.. however, how are you going to give this to the children?

I mean.. when it's all on a big plate, do you each give them something like a paper cup to scoop up the fruit, or do you give them pre-made little dishes or..?

Again.. what a great idea.. I'm all for healthy snacking and eventhough many people will say: "But kids won't eat that, they want candy!" in reality that's just not true at all.. kids love fruits and veggies.. if only we'd give them with a happy face ;)

Greetings from the netherlands!

Joanne Choi said...

Linda - I always have little bowls or little plates and after the kids have ooh-ed and- ah'ed over it - I just take a bit spoon and start scooping fruit. They love eating it!

Anonymous said...

Love the mosaics.. I was looking for a new idea. In the past I have done carrots/celery and ranch, apples with yogurt or a fat free caramel sauce. The kids snarf it all up!

stonemaven said...

THANK YOU for this post. I'd seen this back in September and commented on it then. I used it on my son's birthday in December. I just "re-discovered" your blog on Tastespotting and wanted to let you know how well this worked out for me.
Here's Spiderman!

http://stonemaven.livejournal.com/13315.html

Joanne Choi said...

Stone Maven - your spider man was awesome...may I have a photo to link back to your site?

buy viagra said...

When I went to school, always had lots of fruits, but never in the form of animals or things. I find it very funny

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Lisa said...

Great post! our school only allows store bought foods and their idea of "healthy" is sad, its anything under 100 calories which includes snack packs of oreos, etc, even 2 tbsp of whip cream is listed as a snack???? your post inspired me to do mini fruit parfaits layered in clear cups for a dramatic presentation. i was going to put a stick type cookie in them, but am going to try to find the little drink umbrellas instead!

LydeeC said...

I was just told by my son's preschool teacher, that in our state, our laws prohibit anything that is made. EVERYTHING has to be bought *sigh* that really put a downer on me as far as a budget - it is far less expensive to make a fruit platter than it is to buy one. None the less, I think I'll protect the pancreas of every child in the classroom. It literally makes my kids sick when they eat too much sugar (thank God, and my 4 year old will not eat an entire treat if it is too sugary!).

Thank you for the lovely ideas

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catb said...

I'd like to attempt this for a book and breakfast at my son's school. I was wondering though, how far in advance can you do this so the fruit doesn't turn all funky looking? will spritzing with lemon and covering w/ plastic wrap let me do it the night before?

thanks for all the cool ideas!!

Joanne Choi said...

Catb -

I always do mine the night before. Apples and pears have a problem with turning brown so I've actually made a snow man mosaic dipping them in lemon juice and stuff. But berries actually hold up REALLY well as do citrus fruits, grapes and melons. You don't need to treat them and you can make them the night before on a tray, cover in plastic wrap and it is still great that next day. :)

Shannon said...

I absolutely love this idea. This has really inspired me to stick to healthy choices even for her birthday (a time when I thought that I might have to give in).

Joanne Kim said...

Found your site thru Silliesmile... I wanted to make one of these for my son's school birthday party. Is it easy to transport? I worry that all the fruits will shift during transport and end up looking nothing like what it was supposed to be. Any tips on making sure it gets to the final destination the way it's supposed to look? I was thinking of lining the bottom w/ papertowel (so that it's less slippery and the fruits don't shift around)

sophie said...

That Mickey Mouse mosaic is my favorite! You got creative and skillful hands!
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Another A said...

Unfortunately, our school policy is no home made food for school parties. Only store bought is allowed. This is great however for home parties. My son's birthday party is coming up in a week. I am going to try this.

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Tracy said...

Thanks for all these great ideas!

Hohocel said...

Really?I can rock the boat?!

Anonymous said...

What a great idea! Today was my 3 yr bday. I did the heart adding her initial and number 3, she loved it! And I was told at daycare that all kids enjoyed the fruit ;) I alsosrnt her with ice cream cones full of jelly fruit "candy"!

Mama-Bug said...

I wish I could send something like the fruit kabobs to school with my son for his birthday! Unfortunately we are not allowed to bring anything that wasn't store bought and packaged for classroom treats. This is really limiting and every child who has had a birthday so far has brought cupcakes (one brought cookies.) My son's birthday is this coming Friday and I am driving myself crazy trying to come up with something less-sugary to send in!

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