The Birthday Cupcake Moral Dilemma (and the solution!)

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I usually never know what’s going to spark a lot of conversation on my Facebook page, and the fact that my recent “birthday cupcake dilemma” quickly spawned over 2,700 comments was honestly quite a surprise! I was truly at a loss though and since I always learn so much from our readers I often turn to you guys when I need advice.

This is what my Facebook post said:

“I am in a bit of a bind (which I totally recognize is a first world problem by the way), but I would love some advice. My daughter turns 8 next week and since all the kids in her class bring cupcakes (or cookies or donuts) for the whole class on their birthday she’d like to follow suit.

Here’s the problem: The school no longer allows us to bring in homemade baked goods for the class! It has to be from a commercial kitchen and because her class is nut-free it also has to be from a certified nut-free kitchen (no cross contamination). Believe me I’ve tried and I cannot find any wholesome bakeries around here that are also nut-free. And I refuse to overnight cupcakes from NYC for a bunch of 2nd graders…not an option! The school’s ‘approved’ cupcakes from their cafeteria are highly processed and full of chemicals and artificial ingredients. It’s totally against everything I believe in to support products like that.

BUT it’s important to my daughter to be able to celebrate like her friends have. Does anyone have a viable solution or should I just suck it up and serve her class something highly processed and artificial? Yikes!!!”

In summary, these were my constraints:The birthday cupcake dilemma by 100 Days of Real Food

  • My daughter specifically asked if she could share cupcakes with her class…and as her mommy I do like to do what I can to make my birthday girls happy! If it were up to me I would probably do something other than food to celebrate at school, but again cupcakes are what the other kids bring so that’s what my birthday girl requested as well.
  • There is a (new this year) no homemade food rule at her school. Everything that’s shared with the class must come from a commercial kitchen. (You can send homemade items for your individual child only).
  • My daughter happens to be in the one nut-free classroom for the 2nd grade. This means several children in her class do in fact have an allergy to peanuts and/or tree nuts therefore no food can be brought in (on any day…in her personal lunchbox or otherwise) that has been made in a facility that also processes nuts. So purchasing cupcakes that don’t contain nuts from a local bakery is not enough. I would have to find a bakery that does not make a single product (ever) that contains nuts! Not an easy feat here in Charlotte, NC.
  • The school cafeteria sells highly processed birthday cupcakes that are certified nut-free, but they are also full of chemicals, preservatives, and artificial ingredients. I’ve seen the boxed mix that they use (they are most definitely not made from scratch). I let my kids participate and eat these cupcakes (or cookies or donuts or whatever the parent decides to bring in) when it’s someone else’s birthday, BUT the truth is I don’t like how someone else is giving my kids junk food every.single.time it’s one of the 20+ kids’ birthdays in their class. Isn’t that what birthday parties (outside of school) are for? And here’s the kicker…since I’ve somewhat dedicated my life (through this blog) to trying to influence others to cut out processed food it’s kind of a moral dilemma for me to purchase and feed total crap to my kid and the rest of her class. I normally go out of my way to feed anyone and everyone I know the most wholesome food possible – to show how good real food can be! – so it’s only natural for me to feel highly uncomfortable about violating an important personal belief of mine.

All the Advice

So what’s one to do? Ask my Facebook crew for some advice. And man were there some heated responses that frankly were all over the board. Yes, people feel emotional about food decisions – me included. Some readers suggested good non-cupcake alternatives (like fruit kabobs, all fruit popsicles or non-food items like goodie bags, pencils, and books), some suggested alternatives that unfortunately wouldn’t truly be nut-free (Whole Foods or Earth Fare bakery, Edible Arrangements, etc.), some suggested things that just aren’t realistic (like trying to make the cupcakes myself in the certified nut-free commercial cafeteria at the school), some of course suggested that I just “suck it up” and buy the highly processed stuff (unfortunately a child’s own birthday is not the one and only day throughout the year they eat junk food…it’s never really “just one day”), and some also suggested things that are honestly a little unethical (like put my own homemade cupcakes in a grocery store cupcake box). As I mentioned above several kids in her class do in fact have a nut allergy and my house is far from being completely nut-free, so for many reasons faking out the school with my own homemade cupcakes is really not an option. And as I also already mentioned my daughter was dead-set on cupcakes so the fruit and other non-food alternatives unfortunately weren’t going to do the trick. I am normally a big fan of non-food rewards and parties at the school.

Taking a Stand

My daughter is also a child though, and it’s my responsibility to raise her and teach her what I think are important lessons along the way. Funny enough one reader (on Spoonfed’s Facebook page) said she didn’t understand why people were saying for me not to inflict my own beliefs on my kids. She said “Really? Isn’t that EXACTLY what we as parents are supposed to do? Especially in this case where her ‘beliefs’ are in place to make her kids healthy.” Yes, I want to be flexible and fun and make special memories for my children (which by the way DO NOT have to involve highly processed food), but I couldn’t believe how many readers went out of their way to email me and come write on my FB wall that I should not give in because it’s important to teach my children to stand up for what they believe in. Freaking amen to that. I explained to my daughter the constraints and then I truthfully asked her if she wanted to feed her friends cupcakes that contained chemicals. She of course said “no” (that’s my girl). You see, real food is no new topic around here plus – for the most part – kids want to do the right thing. And just for the record, if more wholesome, homemade cupcakes were an option we would be all over it. This dilemma is not about never having treats – I don’t think that’s any way to live. This is about not knowingly buying and serving chemically-filled, artificially made crap to our children.

So I gave my soon to be 8-year-old a long list of ideas (thanks to the reader comments) and asked her what – if any – would be an alternative to cupcakes that she would be excited about. After some deliberation she decided on ice cream…yay! I think it is MUCH easier to find somewhat wholesome store-bought ice cream that is also nut free. Plus I learned it is okay to bring in a big container to scoop out right there at the lunch table and also share some nut-free toppings to make a sort of “ice cream bar” for the kids. We eat ice cream at home occasionally and although we make it ourselves (yum) I think store bought, all-natural, organic ice cream is a totally acceptable treat to share at a time like this! She got so excited about the idea of offering an ice cream bar that she seriously didn’t say another word about the cupcakes. As I said she is a child after all, and I am honestly just relieved that we figured out a way for everyone to be happy…me included. :)

Sponsor Shoutout

plan to eatBefore I share the pictures from her birthday at school today I want to give a quick shoutout to our meal planning sponsor, Plan to Eat! This service is different from the others because YOU pick the meals rather than having the meal planning service do it for you. So if you are trying to adhere to a special dietary need (like vegetarian, nut-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, etc.)…this could be the way to go! You choose recipes from your own collection or websites (like ours!) and organize them all into an online recipe box. You then select what meals you’d like to make for the week, and they’ll itemize all of the ingredients into one concise grocery list for you. Kiran, our Sales Manager, uses Plan to Eat to do her meal planning every week – she loves it! They are currently offering a free 30-day trial if you are interested in giving it a go.

The Details

birthday (organic) ice cream bar by 100 Days of Real Food

In addition to the nut allergies my daughter’s class also has three children with dairy allergies! So this is what we ended up bringing to school for her birthday celebration today:

  • Nut-free organic store-brand vanilla ice cream
  • Nut-free AND dairy-free organic coconut milk ice cream (for the 3 kids who can’t have dairy)
  • Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips that are both certified nut-free and dairy-free
  • Organic Florida strawberries

Some schools in our district have gone “treat-free” all together when it comes to celebrating birthdays, and I am only hoping that will happen in our school at some point. Trying to accomodate everyone’s needs today (including my own) was no small feat!

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331 comments to The Birthday Cupcake Moral Dilemma (and the solution!)

  • Anna

    A school district here in Washington just banned food from birthday celebrations. http://q13fox.com/2014/06/24/no-more-cupcake-parties-school-district-bans-birthday-treats/
    I’m hoping my district might follow suit.

  • Kinga Christianson

    My daughter just started preschool. She is only 3.5yo. This is her second week at school and today when I picked her up I found her eating birthday cupcake for lunch. I was not notified that somebody was going to bring them to school today and feed them to my child. Yes, I want her to be included in everything that her group is doing, I want her to have fun, but why, why, why does it have to mean feeding her bright food coloring and other crapy ingredients? I emailed the school and asked about their birthday sweets policy. What else can I do? Honestly, I wish they banned bringing junk food to celebrate birthdays for good. I dont want to be “that parent”, but I also dont want other parents to make decisions about what my child eats for lunch.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Kinga. I know how frustrating it can be, believe me. Some readers have said that their schools have switched to a once a month birthday celebration. This seems a good suggestion to share along with, perhaps, a list of healthier options. All that sugar hitting a preschooler’s blood stream cannot make a preschool teacher’s job any easier. :/ It may take some time but I bet you can find some allies among other parents, too. Best of luck. ~Amy

  • Ashleigh

    I love that you guys came up with a solution that made both of you happy! Birthdays are supposed to be fun, and I think that while food is supposed to be nourishing, it is also supposed to be enjoyed. Its great that y’all were able to find a fun way to enjoy a little something sweet for her special day with her classmates. And bravo for not taking the easy way out!

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