Birthdays at School: Instead of Cupcakes

The recent trend at schools is to avoid food based treats to celebrate a student’s birthday. The main reason is the rise in food allergies among students, but there are other reasons too.


Schools are trying to teach students to follow healthier eating habits. Birthday celebrations can disrupt class instruction, and teachers who already feel pressed for time can’t stop class early to pass out cupcakes.

In my class, I handle the birthday celebration in-house. On a student’s birthday, half-birthday, or the day as soon as possible after the real birthday, we sing to the student in the morning and bestow upon the child a homework pass for all academic classes to be used at any time during the school year. The student also has an honorary birthday magnet displayed on his/her locker all day. Other grades at my school have similar celebrations, but school-wide, students should not bring treats to share with the class. This is stated in our school handbook.

There are many other ways to recognize a student’s birthday without serving a cupcake. Here are a few suggestions that would work for room moms and are low cost and easy to implement.

  • If your school has general announcements to the school community every morning, announce any student birthdays. It can be fun to announce faculty and staff birthdays too.
  • The school office can distribute (special) school supplies to birthday children. Birthday pencils, school logo pencils, colorful erasers, or fun highlighters are good options.
  • Recognize the birthday student with a sign at his/her desk, a special magnet on his/her locker, a paper crown to wear for the day, or a fun “Mardi Gras” bead type necklace.

  • Give intangible treats like the option to sit at the teacher’s desk for the day, have shoes off in the classroom, be the line leader, act as the teacher’s assistant and write answers on the Smartboard, or read a book to the class. Think of special jobs in the classroom that would be considered a real coup for a student and offer that as a birthday surprise.
  • Create a homework pass that works for all classes the student attends during the day. That will give the student a completely homework free night. The homework coupon could be something that a school’s parents’ group prints and makes available to the teachers. Download and print one of our homework passes: basic or with "one night only" added to it.

  • Have students sing Happy Birthday or play a fun (short) video from YouTube on the Smartboard. My students currently like the Minion birthday videos like this one. Make sure you go past any ads before sharing with students.

If you have children who are kindergarten aged or younger, there is a higher chance that bringing a food treat on a birthday is allowed. If you are able to bring a tasty treat to school, check with the teacher ahead of time to see if there are any special dietary restrictions. Mini sizes are better. Small cupcakes like these bitty bites, brownie bites, donut holes, small individual cups of ice cream (the old school ones with the wooden tongue depressor-like spoon) are usually acceptable. Snacks should be easy to distribute to students, easy to eat, and easy to clean up. And remember, always bring an extra for the teacher.

Guest Contributor: Caitlin Tobin is a mom to two elementary aged children and a teacher. She currently teaches 4th grade but has experience working with children from nursery school up through freshmen in high school. She loves snack foods, crafty projects, and spreadsheets. She is on a mission to help the world choose the perfect teacher gift and writes about many of her ideas at