Do Kids’ Birthdays = Pizza & Cupcakes?

I’m a divorced and remarried dad of a 10-year-old-boy.  Since he lives with his mother 2/3 of the time, I only have 1/3 control over what he eats. I teach him all I can about food when he is here. My wife (Natalya), who is a food educator and passionate supporter of local agriculture, does the same. We hope that he takes our lessons home when he leaves and makes the best eating decisions he can.

Our three-year-old is a different story. We make most of her meals, take her grocery shopping, slice toy wooden vegetables together with dull, plastic knives. She knows the word organic and can name our farmer, whom she sees weekly at the farmers market (Jorge). But even her feeding isn’t always within our jurisdiction. Last fall she started daycare and, while the school does stress healthy eating, banishing fruit drinks and juices and insisting on water, and having a no-cookies policy, they still equate children’s birthday parties with pizza and cupcakes. With two classrooms of toddlers there are sometimes even four birthdays a month.

Now, I don’t object to pizza and cupcakes once in a while (as long as they’re quality goods). Tasty, filling, treats. But what my wife and I do object to is the equation of pizza and cupcakes with celebration and also the frequency with which this now occurs.  These days, our daughter rejects her homemade lunch for fast food about once a week. And birthday is now synonymous with “pizza and cupcakes” as though they are the only way to celebrate.

They’re not.

I believe that there are other ways to celebrate special occasions at school and would be happier if celebrations were imaginative rather than the mindless distribution of fatty, salty, sugary treats. How about a special outing? A visit from a magician or other performer (music is always a hit)? If you do insist on distributing goods, how about a small toy, a ball even.

Time after time we’re told, but little Jimmy wants pizza and cupcakes, so it has to be.  This begs the question: why would Jimmy want it this way if you hadn’t established that this is the way it is?

Parents have a tiny window in which to imprint messages about healthy food and celebrations. When childhood obesity is at such a sorry state, why would we choose to message it this way?