We all love a good celebration. Friends, fun, and food are the key staples to any good party. Parents not only want children to have a good time and make good memories, we also want them to succeed and have long, happy lives. The foods children eat impact the way they feel and function in everyday life, this is especially important in the educational setting. According to a Vanderbilt University study, emotions affect eating habits and the connections between food and emotions are often formed in early childhood experiences. For parents it is important to help children establish preferences for healthy foods so that if they develop emotional eating habits, they select healthier options, despite the emotional state. Another study, conducted by the Cleveland Clinic found that “foods affect powerful mood-modifying brain chemicals” and that there are two main neurotransmitters that affect our minds. The first is “serotonin…enhances calmness, improves mood and lessens depression” and “dopamne and norepinephrine which enhance mental concentration and alertness.” These two aspects affect children’s classroom behaviors by increasing their ability to sit without getting restless as quickly and retain the information teachers are presenting. Having the ability to retain information can increase test scores. These two neurotransmitters are found in carbohydrates and foods high in protein. When looking for ways to celebrate holidays and special events, try some of these ideas to not only bring the celebration but to also to help keep children functioning well in their academics.
- Birthday bash – have an ice cream party but instead of bringing the usual toppings, bring fresh fruits. Carbs will be found in the cones and regular toppings, the extra protein is hiding in the fresh fruits.
- Turkey Time – thanksgiving and fall festivities are when pumpkins, squashes and many other veggies are abundant. Try roasting veggies which can highlight new flavors in familiar vegetables. Make the vegetables into crispy chips, dippable sticks or spice things up with a pumpkin pie (instead of cupcakes). Pastas are often used as carbs; try replacing pastas with a spaghetti squash which is high in energy-building starch.
- Bring on the luck – time to celebrate spring time and often the color green is used for celebration! For a fun activity with your children, set up a “green buffet” with the parents in the classroom and have each family bring their favorite healthy green snack to share with the classroom. Children can then vote on which was their favorite. Many green fruits and veggies provide a lot of protein. Turn them into a fruit pizza for that zip of energy from the carbohydrates.
- Winter chills – wintertime is always filled with many holidays! From Christmas, New Years Eve and Day, Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day and more, school celebrations abound. Bring some healthy choices into the holiday by providing a frozen treat of blended fruit popsicles or fresh veggies and a hot chicken (to get that protein in) dip, or fruit and dark chocolate dip.
- Heritage Carnival – to celebrate the diversity of the classroom have the different families bring food that is special to their culture or lifestyle. Many cultures eat more rice, beans, fruits, vegetables and fish than are common the average American diet. These are all healthy ways to incorporate food into the classroom without having to include all the sweets. Rice, tortillas, beans and greens provide a lot of proteins and carbs and when adding a bit of ethnic flair, we can show children a variety of ways to eat these healthy foods.
Being able to bring cultures together, give children a new experience and include food in the celebration provides the fun with the health that parents are wanting to supply for their children. It’s also important to remember that sweets and special goodies are not a bad thing, but moderation is the key. Its important for children to get a diverse experience when it comes to classroom celebrations. Most classrooms depend on the parents to supply the goodies for these festivities, so the responsibility of keeping our children healthy turns to parents when it comes to special events. We can make the fun twice as good when we add foods that will stimulate growth and development!
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Sarah Ransom, University of Tennessee FCS Extension Agent
Buck, C. A. (2013, January 24). Feeding Your Feelings: How Emotions Affect Eating Habits. Retrieved September 1, 2015, from Health & Wellness from Vanderbilt University: http://healthandwellness.vanderbilt.edu/news/2013/01/feeding-your-feelings-how-emotions-affect-eating-habits/
The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. (2009). Eat Right. Retrieved September 1, 2015, from Cleveland Clinic: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/healthy_living/hic_What_We_Eat_Affects_How_We_Feel