As a mom who works extra hard to make sure that her kids are nourished with healthy, low sugar, superfoods, it can be rather defeating when I send my kids to school and learn that they have been loaded with sugar–whether it’s because they celebrated the birthday of a classmate, won a class contest, or even just as a reward for good behavior (a topic, in particular, I am very opposed to).
It’s not that I don’t want my kids to enjoy a good celebration. I love celebrating another trip around the sun. Life is hard (especially for these little loves) and they deserve to have their entrance into this world recognized!
Maybe, though, we can rethink the traditional birthday celebration to omit sweets.
FIRST SOME FACTS
We know that sugar is naturally found in fruits and vegetables. So when I talk about sugar, I’m talking about the extra sugars that are added to foods–any sweetener added to foods or beverages by the manufacturer, the cook, or the consumer. Even the healthier ones can have a negative impact on the body.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Brown Rice Syrup
Fruit Juice Concentrates
According to the sugar intake guidelines put out by WHO (World Health Organization), a child between the ages of 2 and 18 years old should have no more than 25 grams per day (6 teaspoons). A single homemade cupcake can contain about 25 grams, one day’s daily allowance of added sugar. Anything prepackaged or that comes from a box will absolutely have added sugar in it. So substituting a muffin for a cupcake is not going to make that much of a difference.
I know. It seems innocent. But when you add that occasional cupcake (if that’s what you can call it when you’re celebrating twenty classmate’s birthdays in nine months time!) to the typical American diet, it can quickly put a child way over their threshold.
SUGAR PROPELS KIDS THROUGH WAVES OF ENERGY AND EMOTIONS
When anyone consumes sugar, it leads to a spike in blood sugar. That means there is a surge of energy. The body suddenly has a ton of fuel to use for whatever it needs to get done. A single cupcake may not leave an adult bouncing off the walls, but if that same cupcake is devoured by a child, the sugar will have an even greater impact on their small bodies.
This surge of energy does not lend itself to activities that children need to do at school–sitting, focusing, or learning new material. It also sets the kids up to misbehave because they have energy and no place to spend it. This makes it not only frustrating for the teachers but also the other students who are trying to learn.
SUGAR TRIGGERS HAPPY RECEPTORS IN THE BRAIN
It is the same receptors that are triggered when people do heroin, cocaine, and have sex. It is literally that type of a high. This is a primitive response that encouraged our ancestors to eat foods rich in energy and nutrients. Unfortunately, now that we have unlimited access to foods rich in sugars and fats, our bodies have adapted to eating food for the positive feelings we get instead of the need to protect our bodies from starvation.
It’s an addiction that prevents us from knowing what our bodies truly need, and instead, we crave sugary foods. The result is really high highs in mood and energy and then crashes of really low lows. This makes us hypersensitive to feelings of sadness and anxiety. In children, this can translate into emotional breakdowns, temper tantrums, and outbursts. As adults, we have a hard time translating our feelings. Imagine how much more difficult it is for our kiddos.
Also, on a really basic level, like with drugs, our bodies will adapt and require more sugar to get to obtain that state of bliss. That means that over time it will require more and more to reach the same level of satisfaction. That is why it gets harder and harder for you to ignore that bucket of candy at your office or pint of ice cream in your fridge. If this is established at a young age, just think for a minute about how that could impact our kids as they become adults.
YOU MAY FEEL THAT SUGAR RUSH AT HOME, TOO
If the teachers are smart they will give the kids the treats just before they head home. We all know what that looks like! Your child comes home covered in frosting with a cute blue stain around his mouth, so hyped up he’s running in circles and screaming at the top of his lungs. For me, this translates to a super huge headache with the myriad of obligations, practices, homework, and dinner that my family needs to accomplish before bed.
These are just some of the reasons why I feel so strongly that school should be a place for learning and growing precious little minds, and the last thing those minds and tiny bodies need is added sugar during the day.
Can we please rethink celebrations at school or maybe even a celebration in general?
Here are some of my favorite alternatives that you can share in lieu of sweet treats:
Bonus: Some of them also happen to be eco-friendly and affordable. I promise they will be just as exciting for the kids! Thank you, Pinterest!
- Games. This is something you can easily make one weekend with your kids. Instead of eating cupcakes they can take a break from learning and play a little game of tic-tac-toe! Plus, the kids will get to take their bags home and share the fun with their families!
- Home Made Crayons. I don’t know about you, but I have a whole container dedicated to broken crayons. This is an awesome and really simple way to repurpose those crayons and recreate them into something magical. You can buy molds on Amazon.
- Temporary Tattoos. Who doesn’t love those? These ones are super cool and the kids will get a huge kick out of them. We avoid toxins in our family, so if that is something you are conscious of in your house too, then check out. These animal ones are adorable too!
For your younger ones…
Party Hat. Maybe create a crown, or buy one, for your little prince or princess to wear all day that shouts Happy Birthday!! The whole point is to celebrate them, right? So what is a better way to make them feel special?
HERE ARE A FEW OTHER IDEAS YOU CAN TRY
- Your local dollar store and companies like Oriental Trading Company are a great resource for loads of affordable gifts and toys.
- Bright colored pencils and erasers
- Desk Essentials
- Mini Puzzles
- Coloring or activity books
- Play Dough