Our friends at the Heart Foundation are on a mission to make little Kiwi hearts soar with their awesome Healthy Heart Awards, which promote healthy celebrations – overloaded with fun, not sugar – to early learning services across the country, and the kids are lovin’ it. Check out these eight brilliant ideas.
The Healthy Heart Award – Tohu Manawa Ora programme reaches around 48,000 preschool hearts every year, with around 20% of NZ early learning services taking part. Since focussing in on healthy celebrations last year, the Heart Foundation has noticed some really cool, alternative ways to celebrate birthdays – which we’re sharing with you, to inspire healthy celebrations at home!
“With so many fun occasions to celebrate throughout the year, it’s all too easy for unhealthy foods to creep onto the menu every other day,” says Nicky Williams, Heart Foundation Education Setting Programme Advisor.
If your child attends an early learning service, you’ll likely relate to the feeling that there’s a birthday (or three!) celebrated every week, with parents bringing in cupcakes for the whole class, and tucking lolly bags into the kids’ backpacks to take home. While it’s all meant with love, this overabundance of ‘treat foods’ can set kids up with unhealthy habits – that can lead to health issues later in life.
For parents, celebrating your little one’s birthday is an opportunity to put together a fun-filled event for the birthday child, and little guests, to enjoy and remember. Making sure kids are powered up with delicious, nutritious food and will make the day even more fun and memorable!
Here are 8 great ideas for celebrating children’s birthdays, from Healthy Heart Award-winning early learning services and us, that make children feel loved – without overdosing on sugar!
1. Special birthday ritual
Create a fun tradition for your child’s birthday, like putting together a special birthday tray with a china teacup, jug, and flower vase to use at birthday mealtimes. Lollipops Vickery Street in Hamilton introduced this as an alternative way to make the birthday child feel special. You can do this at home too, to build up anticipation in the countdown to your child’s birthday.
2. GARDEN OF EATIN’
Take your child to your local garden centre to pick out an edible plant like strawberries or sugar snap peas, and help them to plant it in the garden on their birthday. If their early learning service has a garden, they could pick out a plant for it – and send along seed packets for their friends to take home as ‘party favours’.
3. TUTTI-FRUTTI BIRTHDAY CAKE
Create a colourful, flavourful birthday cake, made entirely of your child’s favourite fresh fruit– like one family did for their kid’s birthday at Lollipops Vickery! Watermelon makes a perfect base, and fruits like pineapple and kiwifruit are easy to layer. You could even add a yoghurt topping, and cut fruit decorations.
4. YOUR ROYAL HIGHNESS
Build a birthday throne! At Hikurangi Kindergarten in Whangarei, they’ve introduced a special throne to acknowledge birthdays – together with their tamariki, they created a selection of unique thrones for the birthday child to choose from on their special day!
5. BIRTHDAY FRUIT BASKET
Instead of cupcakes, bring in a beautifully decorated fresh fruit basket so that your child can hand out a healthy treat individually to their friends – small fruits like mandarins and strawberries are perfect for this.
6. GET CREATIVE
At Kidsfirst Kindy Hokitika, staff have swapped in alternative celebration foods that appeal to little eyes and tummies by making them tasty, colourful and fun, like a fruit ‘hedgehog, yum!
7. DON’T EAT THE TREAT
Think about non-food birthday treats like small bottles of bubbles, colouring books and crayons, reusable water bottles, magic wands, or small children’s books –a sweet gesture minus the sugar!
8. AHOY THERE!
Themes always add to the sense of celebration. Orapa Kindergarten in New Plymouth decided to step things up by holding a pirate party, with healthy pirate-themed food like ‘pirate ship’ fruit boats and cucumber and carrot ‘swords’, just for a bit of healthy ‘me hearty’ fun! (pictured above)
(Left) The children are enjoying a piece of tutti frutti cake with Hearty!
The possibilities are endless when it comes to healthy celebrations and, thanks to the Healthy Heart Award programme, making the focus on the occasion, not the food, is becoming a vital part of many early learning services’ philosophies – setting little hearts across the country on a healthy path for life!
The Healthy Heart Award encourages healthy eating and physical activity in under-fives across three award levels: Rito (Bronze), Whānau (Silver), and Pā-Harakeke (Gold). Each level has criteria relating to policy, nutrition education, food provision, physical activity, and professional development. The programme reflects the NZ Early Learning Curriculum, and receives Ministry of Health funding.