Should Birthday Treats at School Be Banned?

In an effort to help kids become healthier, schools are starting to look at how many sugary snacks students are getting during the school day, including birthday cupcakes.

Moms Talk is a weekly feature on all Lehigh Valley Patches in which local parents, caregivers and other members of the community are invited to share opinions and advice on parenting topics.

This week’s Moms Talk question relates to birthday treats at school:

in Emmaus is in the middle of a . As part of the effort, the school has forbidden “traditional” birthday treats such as cupcakes, for the month of March. The school is instead encouraging parents to substitute “healthy” food treats, such as yogurt-covered raisins, or even send in non-food items like stickers or erasers to mark the special occasion. While Lincoln’s ban on sweet birthday treats is currently only a month long, schools across the country have eliminated birthday treats for a variety of reasons. We want to know what you think:

Should schools ban birthday treats?

Our Moms Council members include: 

  • Lisa Amey of Upper Milford Township is a stay-at-home mom to an 8-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. A past president of the MOMS Club of Emmaus and longtime member of MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers), Lisa is an Independent Consultant for Arbonne International. 
  • Lisa Drew of Emmaus is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer, wellness and fitness coach with more than 17 years of experience. She is the mother of a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy.
  • Jennifer Elston of Emmaus has almost two decades of professional experience in child development and counseling. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful girls. Together with her husband, Chris, she owns Christopher Elston Photography.
  • Jeanne Lombardo of Nazareth is the mother of a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. She’s new to the Lehigh Valley, having moved to Nazareth from Bergen County, NJ in January.
  • Lisa Merk of Lower Macungie is a stay-at-home mother of four boys – a 12-year-old and 6-year-old triplets. Lisa is a past president of the MOMS Club of Lower Macungie East. In her “spare” time, Lisa teaches piano to school-age children.
  • Zoila Bonilla Paul of Bethlehem is a stay-at-home mom to two girls – a 5-year-old and a 14-month-old. Zoila is a member of her local “moms’ club” and says she is “well-versed in the fun that children can bring.”
  • Beth Sharpless of Emmaus works part time in a local emergency department as a nurse and part time from home as a customer support specialist. She has two children -- a boy who is almost 2 and a 5-year-old girl. She says they love spending time outdoors and dancing.
  • Jennifer Willenbrock of Nazareth is mom to two beautiful daughters, ages 5 and 6 weeks. She was previously employed by Catholic Charities, where she worked in a girl’s group home in Philipsburg, N.J.  

If you would like to become a part of the Moms Council and/or have ideas for future Moms Talk questions, please email jennifer.marangos@patch.com.

Gerry Kranz March 19, 2012 at 03:16 AM
People, the idiots have already taken over. So many kids have "allergies" and "-isms"....did you ever stop to think that mother nature had it right, and the weaker of the species were meant to be culled from the heard early, if even by a peanut-oil fried twinkie? At least the anaphylactic shock is quicker than creeping diabetes.
tamarya March 19, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Having a child in school, school violence and bullying are bigger concerns than if my kid eats a cupcake for a party.
Sue Wigfield March 19, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Jefferson Elementary has had the "no birthday treats" rule in effect all year. Made me sad not to be able to make special treats for my daughter's last birthday as an elementary student. We were offered the option of healthy snacks or pencils/stickers. We thought about choosing the latter, but it felt really strange buying gifts for everyone else on her birthday. Ended up making bags of popcorn (pre-approved by the teacher, of course). I must agree with the previous posts- if you are feeding your children healthy foods at home, an occasional birthday cupcake is not going to harm them.
Lee Snover March 19, 2012 at 11:59 AM
This social engineering is ridiculous. We literally have "food police" in our schools. At many schools the taxpayers are covering the cost of school supplied breakfast and lunch and sometimes even dinner! Our local municipalities are on the brink of bankruptcy. And on top of all this, we're going to stop kids from eating a cup-cake or a piece of candy once in awhile? These are little treats just about every kid looks forward to, that break up the monotony of the daily routine. The Government and Bureaucrats need to back the heck off!
Gina huczko March 19, 2012 at 12:07 PM
Brought a healthy treat for my daughter last year because that was the rule, and she was really bummed out when all of her friends brought in cupcakes for their birthdays. This year, we did not follow the rule...oops! It is such an important day and I wanted her to feel special!!!
WRVinovskis March 19, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Brad is right. It's about a balanced, nutritional diet. If you eat well on a regular basis, there is always room for a special treat like cupcakes or dessert.
Beth March 19, 2012 at 12:27 PM
My question is-if so many people feel that these rules are so silly, why don't people try to change them? Maybe they have and we just don't hear about it, I'm not sure. But, as someone once said (the jury is out on who), "if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything". I know there are bigger things to stand for, but if the responses are generally all the same, why are the schools doing this?
MS March 19, 2012 at 12:29 PM
I think we lost focus of what is truly important for our kids. We let this little stuff cloud our everyday lives and we forget that most importantly our kids need our love and attention, they need to know we are there for them in any circumstance.....this whole snack and cupcake thing is just stupid. They want to ban this in the class room but have monthly fundraisers at local eateries that push ice cream and sweets.....where is the logic? By the way, had a great time at Mcdonalds last week for LMMS, lots of families were out WITH their children sharing fast food and milkshakes!
melissa brown March 19, 2012 at 12:44 PM
I try to be careful with how much sugar and snack foods my kids eat. They have just started preschool, so we haven't encountered this issue much yet. Last week I had plans to take them out to get ice cream in the afternoon. The weather has been so nice and I thought it would be a fun treat. When I dropped them off I noticed a mom bringing in cupcakes. While I don't mind if my kids eat an occasional sugary treat, I felt like cupcakes and ice cream were too much for a regular day. I skipped the fun I wanted to have with my kids because someone else brought cupcakes. After I got over my own disappointment for skipping the fun I had planned with my kids, what bothered me the most is that my son was too full from the cupcake, juice and crackers (juice and crackers are the snack provided by the preschool) he'd had for snack to eat his lunch. All the sugar in his system on top of not eating lunch made for a downward spiral of an afternoon. Not at all the fun I had been hoping to have with my kids. On the one hand I agree to let the kids be kids and enjoy a special treat, but I also wonder why it's okay for another parent to decide that my child should be given food I'd rather them not eat? If a classroom celebration is the only way a child celebrates his or her birthday, then yes, it sure is a special day to share with others. But don't most kids have other celebrations for their special day, with their closest friends and family?
melissa brown March 19, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Given all that, I'm not sure where I will stand on the issue when it comes time for me to suggest to my children that they bring in something other than cupcakes to celebrate their birthdays with their classmates. Here is a link to a blog that I enjoy reading on occasion. The blogger is definitely anti-cupcake and I appreciate many of her points regarding the issue. http://www.thelunchtray.com/a-passionate-dad-defends-in-class-birthday-treats-and-i-respond/
Courtney March 19, 2012 at 12:56 PM
Even though I offered to make a homemade, all organic birthday treat to send to school for my daughter's birthday (even offered to send a list of ingredients), I was told no. The school doesn't celebrate any birthdays with treats. When my daughter (who recently turned 8) came home she told me that her class sang to her, which was a treat because they haven't sung to anyone else this year. I guess letting little kids celebrate and be little kids once in a while is passe. (For the record, I've made my objection known- especially because the kids can buy all kinds of junk in the cafeteria- doritos and strawberry milk- but I can't send an organic cupcake. The world is upside down and it's ridiculous.)
melissa brown March 19, 2012 at 01:02 PM
I think that if the school environment was one where the kids didn't have such easy access to junk food from vending machines, and even the school lunch line, eating a cupcake for each of your classmates birthdays would be a wonderful occasional treat. Maybe it's not the birthday cupcake that needs to be banned, but the vending machines, cereal and other non-nutritious foods that the school sells that should be banned.
Lisa Merk March 19, 2012 at 03:51 PM
I can argue either way on this topic. My children's school already has this policy in effect - not only are we allowed no sweet treats, we are in fact allowed NO TREATS in school, not even a fruit......the only thing they were allowed to bring in were Valentine Candy and they were NOT allowed to have ANY of it before they returned home. It makes me so sad that I can't make cupcakes (I had visions of pigs and mice and baker's men for theme!) for them and bring them in to share with their friends, BUT on the other side of this - there are many children with diabetes and allergies in their class and this eliminates exclusion of those kids. This is the way it's going, not much we can do about it - so I guess this is just one thing we'll have to accept.
Bob Linney March 19, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Does anyone think about the kids who's birthdays are during summer vacation??? They are left out of this type of celebration their entire childhood!!!
Josh Popichak (Editor) March 19, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Good point (and I should know: http://patch.com/A-jp68). I believe the month of August has more birthdays than other, statistically.
Katja Kruppe March 19, 2012 at 05:13 PM
What sounds more of a concern is that they only do it for the month of March. That would probably make some March birthday kids feel left out or treated differently. My son's school doesn't allow cupcakes for birthdays at all. I don't think they have a place in the classroom anyway. There are enough cupcakes and sweets at the actual birthday party. Let the parents be able to control what their kids do and don't eat.
Katja Kruppe March 19, 2012 at 05:16 PM
You can still make the cupcakes and send out invites. Make it a picnic in the park after school... so they get to enjoy a cupcake (if their parents allow it) and much needed space and place to climb and play and be active. I for one am for more activities in school for the kids over limiting snack/ treat/ food items like fruits.
Katja Kruppe March 19, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Melissa, what if there are two kids in class with a birthday on the same day? What if there are 10 birthdays in one month and none in another. An occasional treat becomes a bit of overkill. Courtney, you are the one who gets to let your child be a kid and feel special after school and on the weekends. Imagine 20some 1st graders on a sugar high. I am speaking for my son here only, but when he eats sugary treats, he is instantly high and harder to control & able to concentrate. Organic or not, it will give these little angels enough energy to turn into devils. Think of the teachers who often have to handle an entire classroom by themselves. I too object to doritos and junk at the cafeteria, but I can control that by packing a healthy lunch and not sending in money to buy junk. I also don't buy junk outside of school, so it would not even come up as a "need to buy" item when picking his lunch.
Jennifer Elston March 19, 2012 at 05:55 PM
I like the idea of improving the nutritional values of school lunches and snacks, but I think a small treat to celebrate a birthday isn't outrageous.
Center Valley Citizen March 19, 2012 at 06:01 PM
I am a parent of a first grader at Hopewell Elementary in the Southern Lehigh School District. The "no treats or outside food" rule has been in effect since at least last year when my daughter started. Though, it is my understanding that the rule is more intended to prevent allergen exposure to those who may have, say, a severe peanut allergy. I can't imagine that a school with a cafeteria that serves Dominoes Pizza, Ice cream, cookies, chocolate milk, etc is so worried about he obesity problem in this country. I agree that we should teach our children to make healthy choices. 85% of my kitchen and pantry at home is comprised of organic, whole food options mainly consisting of lean meats, vegetables and whole grains. However, I do send my 1st grader with $1 in her bag every Thursday when the school has "Ice cream day". In teaching our children how to make healthy choices, teaching smart choices and moderation is part of that. An all or nothing approach - "no junk at all, ever" - is nearly as bad as the parent who feeds her kid over-processed junk every day, too.
Deborah Stauffer March 19, 2012 at 07:13 PM
I agree, kids should be allow to have occasional treats. School lunches leave much to be desired, so I send my kids in with their own lunch. In fact, our school says they can bring in a heathly, peanut free snack to eat during the day. Of course, my son comes home and complains that all the other kids are eating chips, etc. I think that schools should increase active time to combat obesity. Our school only has 15 minutes of recess, and my kids report that they get yelled at for running. They only have gym once a week.
BethTwp March 20, 2012 at 01:32 AM
OH MY GOD..just listen to you all! How ridiculous you nay sayers sound about giving a treat in school for a child's birthday...how about knocking off the "who has a bigger and better birthday party"? Let kids be kids... and while we are at it, why worry about treats when we have commercials on tv that tell you parents to make sure you have a meal or two at your table with the whole family! Now there's a worry.
BethTwp March 20, 2012 at 01:33 AM
Oh but Lee, don't forget many young parents love rules and more rules...
Lisa Amey March 20, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I like the fact that in this effort, Lincoln has added several days of a salad option for lunch, and that all kids are bringing in healthier snacks. But I agree that this should be an ongoing effort, not just one month out of the school year, motivated by the challenge to win the $1000 prize.
mandy March 21, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Actually its October, the first week of October to be exact. Count back and it leads to New Years Eve....
Katja Kruppe March 22, 2012 at 12:35 AM
I think what most people don't take into consideration is that times have changed. When we were children, most foods were not over-processed and stuffed with hidden chemicals and sugars. From the cereal in the morning to the "low fat" yogurt for snack to the "organic dinner out of a box" we offer our kids, all have sugars in it and if not that it's another form of sweetener. The FDA even approved chemical sweeteners that don't have to be on the label of processed organic products, so you would never know if you or your child consume it. So while I can somewhat control what goes into my child, I would also like to have a say in if or at least the knowledge that extra treats were served. How many of your kids come home to really tell about their day in school? The most you get out of them is "good" in response to the question how was school. If they eat school lunches, they often have long forgotten what they ate by the time they get home...so in my opinion the "nay-saying" is far from ridiculous.
Beth March 22, 2012 at 12:30 PM
I have to argue that homemade cupcakes from when I was in school to now, probably have similar ingredients. We can hoover all we want, but a cupcake for someones birthday that someone made at home? Sugar is sugar is sugar. I say let them have a treat once in a while. We seem to be trying to control our childrens' lives so much that I fear when they have to have control, they aren't going to know how to do it.
Katja Kruppe March 22, 2012 at 12:41 PM
My argument wasn't about the homemade cupcake brought in but the food we and our kids consume every day. If anyone thinks that only treats and sodas are responsible for the increasing obesity rates, you are fooling yourself. Leave the cupcakes to parties outside of school. They are also a disruption of the everyday school schedule and with the amount of students in a class, that would almost be a weekly disruption. My son's school doesn't allow for them and we have not missed it. The kids still celebrate their b-days and invite each other.
Beth March 22, 2012 at 01:07 PM
I totally agree with you regarding the food we and our kids eat everyday. I think there is way too much junk out there. My kids are not in the public schools yet, so I have not had to face that challenge and I don't look forward to it. I agree there should be more healthy options out there for them, but lets face it-most unhealthy food is cheap and not everyone has the means to buy the healthiest options all the time. I just know that when I was young (although my birthday is after school lets out) I would look forward to having a treat for someone elses birthday. And, I think it's nice to be able to have that kid in the spot light for just one day. I am not a teacher, so I don't know what kind of disruption a birthday celebration has on the class. I just think it's a shame that we are getting away from what was the "norm" for us and headed toward a new "norm", thinking it will make a dent in the obesity epidemic-because it won't. What will help is increasing the kids' activity levels, limiting their time behind a brain draining electronic device, and getting outside to actually play with the kids.
Katja Kruppe March 22, 2012 at 01:41 PM
I don't think that unhealthy food is always cheaper, a bag of apples cost no more than a big bag of chips or pretzels. It's a matter of convenience and the choices we have grown accustomed to over the years. And the food industry has made sure that we come back for more and more of it by hiding ingredients in it that will make you crave these foods and allow you to eat more at a time. About having kids in the spotlight; they do students of the week, artist of the week and so on; in my opinion that is a much fairer way to make a child feel special and include all kids that have birthdays outside of school days. My son's school has done special days like a Thanksgiving Feast for example, where the teachers & parents also provide food to the class; another way to have a special treat every now and then and not being forced to enact it almost every week. And not every parent is as actively involved in their child's life, so some kids might not be sent in with treats on their b-day at all, making the kid stand out in a negative way. Someone said the class sang a song for their child, I like that idea and I think that's how we celebrated each kid's b-day back in my school days in (East)Germany. So indeed, I cannot compare to what used to be "the norm" in the US, but just based on the comments on this page alone, it seems that every school handles it differently and there truly is no "norm"


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