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EfshariBari Birthday

With cake – but with less snacks and sweets with lots of saturated fat, sugar and sodium: more and more preschools and schools are already celebrating healthier birthdays

Healthy birthday, Image: Gal Dern

Why is it important to celebrate healthier birthdays?

Try to remember the last birthday party you attended at a preschool or school. Did it have a table full of snacks and sweets in addition to the traditional birthday cake? Now imagine that the event is repeated almost every week, every time a different boy or girl celebrates their birthday. Although for the family, the event occurs “only once a year”, it is almost a routine occasion. Because of  this, you should change to healthier parties, leave the sweets out but keep the cake in.

Video: Efsharibari birthday

Celebrating birthdays at school or preschool is an important symbolic event for parents and children alike. An EfshariBari study, the National Project for Active and Healthy Lifestyle, conducted by the research team of the collaborative social marketing program at Tel Aviv University's Department of Communication, found that there was a trend across the country to celebrate birthdays with healthy refreshments, and more parents, teachers and preschools than ever supported this – for health and social reasons.

Restricting candy in preschools is important because children, from early childhood, are exposed nowadays to a plethora of processed sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages in many homes and outside of them. Moreover, children are frequently exposed to sophisticated commercials that promote sweets and snacks. Therefore, one of the important challenges to promoting children's health is the acquisition of healthy eating habits from early childhood, which include enjoying healthy foods and avoiding the habits of consuming processed sweets. A healthier birthday party at a preschool, especially given that it is celebrated throughout the year and has an important symbolic meaning, is an important opportunity.

How do you celebrate a healthier birthday?

As part of the research conducted at Tel Aviv University, personal interviews were conducted with 150 parents and preschool staff from 40 different preschools, and varied ideas on how to celebrate EfshariBari birthdays arose:

For example, one of the ways is to celebrate birthdays during breakfast at preschool, so the birthday food is actually breakfast and not sweets and snacks that have poor nutritional values. Others told about birthday celebrations that emphasize the children’s experience or those that are centered on games and songs, where the birthday child is “king” or “queen” for the day, and more. What was important was serving the birthday child with a cake and blowing out the candles to mark the occasion.

The numerical data further supports healthy celebrations: an internet survey of 1005 parents of preschool children aged 3-6 found that many parents (92%) supported serving sliced fruit on birthdays, 86% were in favor of cutting up vegetables as a birthday treat. About two-thirds of parents supported a birthday party that would only serve cake, or a celebration where snacks that are considered healthy would be served. It was also found that about 43% of parents opposed serving sweets and 34% objected to serving snacks on birthdays.

Celebrating birthdays, the EfshariBari way

  • Celebrating during breakfast at preschool.
  • Serving healthy snacks (sliced fruit and vegetables).
  • Celebrating with a cake only, which emphasizes the experience and the uniqueness of the birthday girl or boy.

File ready for printing poster (Hebrew)

How to promote a healthier celebration

  • Say most parents are in favor: first, it is important to change parents' perceptions of the support of others. The survey findings show that parents have a “reduced estimate” of other parents' being in favor of healthy birthdays. Hence the conclusion that this is important and can be changed, and to show parents that in fact there is broad support for healthier birthdays.
  • Setting expectation at the start of the year, including information sheets: preschool staff and parent related the importance of setting expectations at the start of the year, both orally and with a written information sheet including detailed instructions that the parents can take home.
  • Fruit and vegetables served in an attractive way: fruit and vegetables can be sliced in different shapes and be served in different ways. For example, watermelon hearts, cucumber stars or different shapes made out of strips of cucumber and carrot. Some serve sliced fruit or vegetables separated in clear cups so the children can make their own combinations.
  • One cake: one cake will usually suffice for all the preschool children. There is no need for large slices. This way, the children enjoy both the healthy snacks and the birthday cake. Cakes can be decorated with fruit slices.
  • Active games and dancing: celebrations that focus on games and dancing and put the children and activities in the center and not the snacks.
  • A present for the preschool itself for all the children to enjoy: instead of individual goody bags, some preschools have adopted the practice of getting a present for the preschool which everyone can enjoy.

ירקות ופירות חתוכים בשלל צבעים. צילום: גל דרן

Fruit and vegetables in a variety of colors. Image: Gal Dern

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