- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Now, with growing attention to the obesity crisis and increasing rate of type 2 diabetes in children, the tide is turning. Many school districts have begun to put limits on classroom parties and teachers are asking parents to provide healthy snacks.
Terri Spezzano, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor and the mother of two school-age boys, is delighted by the turnabout. She has found that, with a little creativity, healthful Valentine's Day parties can be just as fun for kids.
“Last year, I brought strawberries to my son's classroom. We can get local strawberries in California almost year round,” Spezzano said. “Strawberries are always a huge hit with kids. They're fun and shaped a little like a heart.”
Spezzano, who is also director of UCCE in Stanislaus County, manages a staff of 10 nutrition educators in Stanislaus and Merced counties who regularly visit classrooms to teach children about making healthy food choices. USDA provides funding to UC Agriculture and Natural Resources so UCCE offices around the state can offer these educational programs in schools serving low income families.
“Around Valentine's Day, they'll make strawberry smoothies, because they're pink and delicious,” Spezzano said.
Before bringing goodies to school for Valentine's Day, Spezzano suggests parents talk to the teacher. Even if conversation hearts, cupcakes, fruit punch and chocolate are permitted in the school district, the teacher may not like the idea.
“I wouldn't want to teach a class full of first graders strung out on sugar,” Spezzano said.
Spezzano advocates for healthy school parties, but she isn't opposed to allowing children to enjoy some sugary treats.
“I don't want to tell kids, ‘You cannot have sugar,'” she said. “That can lead to sneaking and hoarding and that's where we see more obesity problems.”
Spezzano offered the following suggestions for making Valentine's Day healthy and fun:
- Give out Valentine-themed pencils or erasers. “These are available at dollar stores at a really good price,” she said.
- Provide small boxes of raisins.
- For a special treat, try the new “sour” raisins.
- Serve heart-shaped pizza, offered by many pizzerias in mid-February. Be sure to pick healthful toppings like bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and mushrooms rather than high-fat “meat lovers” or double-cheese pizza.
- Cut fruit, cheese or sandwiches into heart shapes using a metal cookie cutter.
- Don't be afraid to go “back to basics” and allow children to exchange simple paper cards with a kind note, no candy needed.
UC Cooperative Extension offers two nutrition education programs. UC CalFresh provides nutrition education to low-income adults and youth. The UC Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program targets limited-resource families and children.
An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.