by Leah Buchbinder, HSC Graduate Student Intern
Chocolate. Sweetheart candies. Cupcakes with pink frosting.
It must be Valentine’s Day!
Valentine’s Day is a time to tell people how much you care, which often means giving cards and candy to friends, family and classmates. Like Halloween, it often comes with classroom celebrations – and of course lots of sugar! People often ask, "what’s the harm in an afternoon party and the occasional treat?" Providing unhealthy food in the classroom contributes to poor eating habits by associating food with reward, and compromises classroom learning because unhealthy treats often mean students are less focused. Most schools have wellness policies that encourage healthy classrooms, and parties with unhealthy food send mixed messages to students.
Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be all about the treats; you can enjoy the holiday and reinforce healthy habits for students by focusing on sweet activities and healthy treats instead.
Here are some ideas:
Don’t make food the main event: Schedule the party for after lunch, when kids aren’t as hungry. Refreshments should complement the fun.
Plan activities to keep kids occupied:
o Have students write a positive comment to each classmate.
o Make it a dance party with music and encourage everyone up and show off their best moves.
o Make cards for family and friends, or as a community service project to send to people in the hospital.
Give inexpensive treats: Candy may seem like the only inexpensive gift that you can get for the whole class, but you can instead give out heart erasers, personalized pencils, stickers, magnets, bubbles, or small toys.
Have healthy food alternatives: It can be hard to be the only teacher who doesn’t allow snacks in the classroom. When you’re picking snacks to serve, don’t serve more than one sugary item at the party, and limit the amount to one sweet per student. Select food for fun and flavor and serve food with themed plates and napkins. Provide healthy pink and red foods such as strawberries, watermelon or red peppers. Use cookie cutters to cut fruit into heart shapes.
We shared these ideas and more at a recent training of Fit to Learn, HSC's new professional development program to help teachers make healthy messages a regular part of the classroom experience. Stay posted for more ideas throughout the weeks ahead! We'd also love to hear about your experiences and ideas for healthy classroom celebrations.
Happy Valentine’s Day!