Healthy (Fun) Foods for Classroom Parties

By , Karina Downie
Eating healthier can be hard enough for us adults, but when our kids want those fun and colorful packaged foods that are low in nutrition and high in calories, it can be hard to say no to them (and keep our own fingers out of the box once it arrives home). In our home, my husband and I make a conscious effort to keep the snacks we buy as natural and nutrient-packed as possible. Of course there are always times when we allow our sons to have “special" (mom-speak for junky) treats, but we try to limit those to truly special occasions, and not let them become a daily habit.
At our kids' school, many well intending parents bring in packaged treats and sweets to share with their child's classmates on birthdays and other special occasions. Much of what is shared are the kinds of foods that we choose not to give our children (sugary, high-cal snack foods with other additives and preservatives). While celebratory foods and sweets are OK in moderation, it seems like almost every day is someone else's birthday, which means these treats are anything but occasional.  So I am on a quest to encourage parents to bring in healthier alternatives that the kids will still enjoy.
I've created a list of 17 foods that are fun for kids, yet quick and easy for busy parents and teachers to pick up or assemble.
  • Frozen yogurt (can be topped with granola)
  • Colorful fruit cut on a platter
  • Fruit cup parfait w/cut fruit, yogurt and granola
  • 100% fruit juice popsicles
  • Pudding cups (Kozy Shack brand among some others is all natural)
  • Natural or homemade muffins
  • Pretzel sticks with dip
  • 100% fruit leathers or roll-ups (dried fruit without added sweeteners)
  • Applesauce in cups (natural or unsweetened varieties are best)
  • Pasta with cheese sauce
  • Fruit smoothies made with fruit, yogurt, etc. (One of our best class parties was a smoothie party where we made them to order for the kids.)
  • Trail mix without nuts (since many kids now have nut allergies)
  • Shaved ice with fruit juice concentrate to "color" and sweeten
  • Mini sandwiches cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters
  • Celery sticks with spread with sunflower seed butter, cream cheese, raisins, pretzels
  • Salad bar to make themselves (Believe it or not, it’s been a hit in the past—even with Kindergarteners!)
  • Fruit juice gelatin (Use unflavored gelatin and your favorite fruit juice instead of water.)
Do you have ideas to add? Let’s come together and create an irresistible master list to share with our teachers and school administrators, and keep posted in our kitchens to remind ourselves of some of the fun foods out there that can actually strengthen our kids' bodies and help us get closer to our goals of being as fit and healthy as possible. We are the best teachers for our children, so let’s work together to provide them with the best nutritional education we can. Please let us know your ideas below!
Karina Downie is the wife of SparkPeople founder and CEO Chris "SparkGuy" Downie. Like her husband, she is passionate about helping others reach their goals, while also leading by example when it comes to teaching their two young sons about the importance of healthy living. You can learn more about Chris and Karina's at-home cooking habits in "The SparkPeople Cookbook," available now.

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ERIN_POSCH 9/2/2020
thanks for sharing Report
Excellent variety of snacks for kids or adults. Report
wonderful ideas Report
Thanks Report
Wow! These are great ideas! Thank you so much! Report
Great suggestions. Report
When my kid was in grade school, we were not allowed to bring in home made treats, allegedly because of allergies and hygiene concerns... so they had to be store-boughten foods. I noticed the parties typically included the gallons of "fruit punch" which was about 5% "real juice" and the rest of it was dyed sugar water. Bleah. I got them a gallon of real 100% orange juice. I remember how shocked I was when the teacher thirstily drank her orange juice and sighed happily "It's been YEARS since I have had real orange juice!" I was really shocked. This was his Kindergarten teacher! And I've told this and similar stories elsewhere on SparkPeople. Another time, same teacher, another snacking opportunity - I brought it a bag of the Clementine oranges, as my son had just recently "discovered" clementines. He loved to peel his own and they are so easy for little kids to peel. When I brought them in, the teacher looked at me like I was crazy and I quickly explained she was NOT going to need to peel all 25 or so oranges for each of the kids - the kids could easily peel the clementines themselves and my son knew how to do it and he could help. So she accepted them but I could tell she had grave concerns and misgivings, looking at her body language. A few hours later when it was time to pick him up after school, she thanked me profusely for the oranges and said ALL the kids LOVED the clementines, they LOVED being able to peel their own and she loved not having a huge mess to deal with. So I basically brought in 100% orange juice, and when available, a bag or two of clementines for Every.Single.Party the rest of my son's Kindergarten through Fifth Grade school years, as well as the occasional cookies or cupcakes, depending on the needs of the parties (or even bananas - another popular treat, if I could get them bought on the discount Thursday at the local store, when bananas were on the loss-leader sale .15 cents a pound back then!). Report
Great ideas for healthy snacks for adults too. Report
My kids' schools don't allow us to bring in anything unless specifically listed for a party. Even then, we all have to fill out a permission slip for our kids to eat any food at the parties. It's a little ridiculous, but I also understand. Sadly with allergies and bad people in the world, it's hard to trust anything that comes from someone's kitchen / not sealed.

Our schools have a program where you can give money to buy new gym equipment instead of bringing in food for your kid's birthday. So, like $10 buys a jump rope, $15 buys a soccer ball, etc. They give the kids recognition for the purchase over the loud speaker. It's a nice idea...still not quite as exciting for kids, but it's creative! :) Report
Great ideas. If only the school district would allow this we may try it next year. They are much more stringent on what we can offer kids. The list keeps getting shorter and shorter and the "homemade" option no longer exists. EVERYTHING has to be purchased from a short list of items supplied by the school cafeteria manager either from the store with seal in tact or through the school food service company. Report
wow this is great Report
When I was a room mom, I bought an orange for each child and decorated like a jack-o-lantern. The kids loved it, and I found a healthy treat for my son's class. Although I've only been with sparkpeople since April 2010, I've tried for years to take healthy snacks. Even my homebaked cookies (oatmeal raisin, or ginger snaps w/ whole wheat flour) had less sugar because some of my sons' friends were diabetics. Celery sticks with cream cheese and raisins (we also used to do peanut butter & raisins (not good for peanut allergies) but they were well received by students, teachers and parents alike.
I am a teacher and like these ideas. If it isn't a birthday, it is a holiday that some parent wants to bring in treats. I teach students with emotional disabilities (most have experienced trauma such as abuse, seeing terrible violence in their young life, etc). Celebrations are very important to help them develop skills such as empathy, positive thinking, anger management and the like. I try to help the students find something to celebrate every day. (Not always with food.) For many reasons, most have already been mentioned, it is better to not bring in home made items. When a student brings something in for me, I tend to "save it for lunch" or take it home to "share with my husband"
Anyway, in order to avoid the homemade issue, talk to the teacher and see about bringing in store bought items that will create the homemade snack in the classroom. In this way, all ingredients are visible. Teacher and parent helpers are watching hygiene, pets are at a minimum, children are learning skills.
My class invited the older ED class down one day last year and we all made smoothies. While students were taking orders and making the smoothies, the other students were watching an educational, but engaging movie. I forget which one, but probably Bill Nye or Sooper Puppy. In this way, all were entertained, my students were able to serve other students, and we were healthy! Report
the schools in our area now require that things be bought at the store; nothing can be brought in -- but these would all be neat ideas for parties. Report
I am so thankful that my son's birthday is in the summer before school starts. I have to agree with GoHusker about the schools requiring the store bought stuff. My son acts up after having foods with red dye, and the icing on the store bought cupcakes - are you kidding me? I love the list though even if some of the ideas won't work because of the store bought rule (although having seen some people's homes, I can kind of understand it). (I knew someone who let their cat eat some topping off of a pie and then fixed it and served it anyway - yuck). Report
These are great ideas, but here are a few other thoughts. I went to a conference last week where ideas were given for food-free treats in classroom celebrations. There are so many allergies and food sensitivities - gluten-free, dairy, nuts, etc. How about bringing each student a pencil, stickers, or those silly bracelets? Another idea was to have the student bring in a guest reader - a parent or grandparent to read to the class. Some schools have the students donate a book to the library - that book will have their name in it. Let's get creative!
And this really isn't a list for teachers - it's a list for parents who bring in the treats. Report
Wow, SO true, when my kids were small, it drove me crazy that I'd make them healthy food like this and then at school, they would get loaded up on JUNK! This is a great list to give to teachers. I think that schools today are a lot more healthy food minded than they were 10 or 15 years ago, and would respond favorably. Report
This is a great list! Two months into the school year, I've already seen birthday treats come home that I normally wouldn't hand my child. We don't have restrictions against homemade products, as long as they're nut-free, so I'm figuring on making mini-muffins when it's my turn. Report
Really good ideals, I watch my grandson after school and he really likes smoothies which I throw all kinds of fruit in it and he really likes it, along with peanutbutter sandwiches. Thanks for some new ideals. Report
I do not have children, but I try to make healthy items for myself and those I work with. So I have made mini-muffins, which are great for people to grab and go. I also make mini cookies, basically pop in the mouth and move on. I have cut down the sugar in them, and nobody complains about them not being sweet enough, but rather they keep coming back by the counter to get another. Report
Recently my daughter was in the dilemma of what to send for her son's birthday. The school wanted cupcakes but did not allow homemade. She spent 22 dollars to bring those cupcakes from the bakery when she could have made them for 3. No homemade food allowed at school. She is a single Mom supporting three boys and it was a really tough call. Disappoint her son or spend way more than she could afford. She bought them. Then, they had something going on that afternoon in the gym and didn't even give them to the kids until dismissal the next day. All in all a lousy experience. Report
Well homemade snacks are no longer allowed in school due to allergies. I would have love the smoothies idea too! Being a mom use to teach I would have loved if a mom came in and wanted to make smoothies. Seriously, we could have had a lesson in following directions, understand mixture, etc....
However, even if I could convince my children to choose one of these snacks, (it is their special day so they choose not me) it would still happen because other children b-days.
I limit the "junk" snacks because if I cut them out I believe it would backfire on me. They would look at "junk" snacks as special and want them even more. This happen with fast food joints. If they had it at all it was once (tops twice) per month. And now when there is a special occasion that they can choose where we eat they usually choose a fast food place. Ugh! So much for getting them to realize that "junk" food is not good for you because they see it as "sooo good" it must be a treat for a special occasion. :( Report
These are great ideas. Our school doesn't allow food for birthdays, but if they did I'd be sure to try some of these out:-) Report
Homemade snack mix (you choose the mix), natural "fish crackers", Variety of apples cut into wedges, Smiley face pizza ( 1/2 whole wheat english muffins, veggie cream cheese, shredded carrots & spruts (fot hair) pinapple chunks & grapes cut in half (for noses) and tomato wedges or red pepper slices (or if you want to make it in to nutrition lesson, you could do turkey pepperoni, or mini canadian bacons cut in half)... children love eating what they make and in my experiance they will try new things, take pics of kids with their creation, and it will be something they will remember forever! Hummus and carrots, salsa and baked tortilla chips (bake your own), tortilla almond butter, and banana wrap ups, homemade oatmeal or molasses cookies, homemade pumpkin or carrot muffins, walking salads (lettuce leaves, sunflower butter, raisins) my new fav ready treat are apple snapz (apple crisps available at target), any treat you can think of that goes along with a season or a story will, be something kids will try! When I taught preschool, I was surprised what kids would eat when they make it themselves, or when you give it some fun hook. This summer, I served apple slices rather than apple dippers like my freinds did with their classes. None of the children seemed to miss the DIP! Plus the rest of the week, they decided to have apple with their other snacks! Report
Wow! this is a great list. Snack time is where I fall off the wagon. I have 4 kids and I watch another one after school. I am so glad that I see some snacks that won't derail my diet, establish healthy choices in my kids' diets, and won't be a source of headache to get them to eat it! Report