Food and Celebrations

Catherine Lippe, EYN Partnership Registered Nutritionist

Easter eggs, birthday cakes, Christmas selection packs, oodles of sweets at Halloween. Why is it that so many celebrations seem to have high fat, high sugar foods at the heart of them and how does this impact what we are teaching children about food?

Recent research carried out by Loughborough and Birmingham universities reveals that using foods as treats or rewards can lead to emotional eating in children. Whilst Easter eggs and pick and mix at parties aren’t necessarily rewards, they are often referred to as treats and I worry about the associations children make as a result of us serving food in this way.

We know that 1 in 5 children start reception as overweight or obese and data from the national diet and nutrition survey tells us that kids are eating too much sugar and not enough vegetables. With the obesity epidemic a key priority, isn’t it time we started thinking not just about what we feed children but also what we are teaching them when it comes to food?

I’m not suggesting avoiding these foods altogether, restricting foods can be just as damaging, but wouldn’t it be nice if we were able to create a more balanced approach?

Here’s a few reasons why I think it’s worth changing our approach to the frequent consumption of foods that are high in fat, sugars and salt at celebrations

Improves health and wellbeing
There is a wealth of evidence linking good nutrition to improved concentration, learning and behaviour as well as physical development. Promoting healthy eating at times of celebration may help support a healthy lifestyle.

Consistent message
For early years’ settings particularly, it’s important to set a good example. Having a healthy celebrations policy that is consistent with other health policies demonstrates a continued commitment to good nutrition. Ensuring a robust whole setting approach to healthy eating will support the nutrition messages settings are teaching their children and families rather than contradict them.

Creates excitement about healthy alternatives
At times of celebration children are excited about exploring new things. Presenting healthy foods and snacks in a new and interesting way can encourage children to try new foods. Fun games and activities, as well as songs, are just as much a part of celebrations. Putting the emphasis on these instead of food will result in a memorable and enjoyable occasion without the use of ‘treats’.

Avoids putting parents in a tricky situation
Asking parents not to bring foods from home on birthdays and celebrations can avoid issues around food choice, cultural beliefs, food hygiene, allergies, and cost. It eliminates any competitive element and means that one child’s birthday will not be celebrated in a vastly different manner to the next.

By shifting the focus away from foods high in fat sugars and salt it is possible to celebrate an occasion or make a child feel special on their birthday whist maintaining a balanced approach.

Here’s some ideas to help:


  • Use a birthday crown, badge or sash for the child to wear whilst the class mark the occasion by singing happy birthday
  • Have a birthday train or mascot that delivers a special badge or sticker for the birthday boy or girl
  • Make a playdough or papier-mâché cake. The child can still blow out the candle and be sung to so the ritual remains.
  • Ask parents to donate a book to the class. The class can read the book together and sing happy birthday afterwards

Celebration Food Ideas

Other celebrations or religious festivals such as Easter, Ramadan, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas

  • Organise a treasure hunt where children have to search for tokens. They can exchange their tokens for a small toy, pack of crayons or stickers at the end
  • Play special games, do craft activities or sing songs that are relevant to the occasion
  • Plan a simple cooking activity with the children such as fruit kebabs or pitta bread pizzas to be eaten at snack time
  • Make decorations or cards linked to the festival to display in your setting or for children to take home
  • Create a healthy party idea book where staff and parents are asked to send in ideas for their favourite party games, craft activities or healthy recipes
  • If you’re having a party where food is being served make sure there is a balance of food which is in keeping with your food and nutrition policy. Give parents a list of suggestions and make it clear what is not allowed if they are bringing food from home.
  • So let’s get creative and find more innovative ways to mark special events without always relying on food, particularly unhealthy ones!

If your setting has more ideas to add to this - get in touch. 
We’d love to hear from you.


Catherine Lippe is a Registered Nutritionist based in Surrey, specialising in paediatric and maternal nutrition. Catherine has over 10 years’ experience working in both the public and private sector. She has previously worked as a Community Nutritionist for the NHS and has experience of working with over 55 Early Years settings across the London borough of Newham, supporting settings to improve all aspects of their food provision and eating environment.
The EYN Partnership would like to thank Catherine for contributing her expert thoughts and personal views on this issue. Please note, that if you have any questions regarding the above as it relates to children in your care, please contact your healthcare professional for guidance.