Editor’s note: This is a guest blog by Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

American children in general have poor eating habits. Today, only 2 percent of children meet healthy eating guidelines. Specifically, they don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables or whole grains. We know that healthy kids learn better, so what better place to provide students with the opportunity to learn about healthy eating than school?

The usual celebratory foods – cupcakes, candy, cookies – are more and more being eliminated from the food environment at school. While there is no harm in the occasional sweet treat, these foods are being eaten more often than is appropriate for a healthy diet and some schools are taking action to eliminate them from school celebrations.

Birthdays and other celebrations are the perfect opportunity to teach kids that eating good food can be fun and exciting. Here are some suggestions for making school celebrations healthier:

Good choices
These choices are great because they provide better nutrition and less sugar than traditional treats:

  • Angel food cake with fruit
  • Low fat yogurt or pudding
  • Waffles or pancakes with fruit
  • Cereal trail mix (low sugar cereal with dried fruit, pretzels, etc.)

Better choices
These options can be made without added sugar:

  • Fruit kabobs
  • Smoothies
  • Yogurt parfaits

What if the focus of school celebrations shifted from food to the cause for celebration? Choosing activities and games not only keeps food from being the “main event,” it can be an opportunity to incorporate some activity into the day. Here are some fun ways to celebrate without food or at least without food being the focal point:

  • Plan special celebratory activities. Perhaps the birthday child chooses a game or activity for the class.
  • Instead of food, give out stickers, pencils, erasers or other fun giveaway items.
  • Create a special birthday opportunity. The birthday child gets to sit in a special place, lead the line, start an activity, choose a story or assist the teacher.

Let’s teach our children healthy habits early and often. They will learn better now and be better future citizens of our nation if they are healthy and well.

Learn more about how LiveWell Colorado, Kaiser Permanente Colorado and partnering organizations are shifting the food culture at school.

Andrea Groth is a Senior Wellness Consultant for Kaiser Permanente Colorado with 18 years of experience in her field.