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The elementary school where Jennifer De Laura’s son attends first grade in Novato, California, banned edible party treats. Now when the time comes to celebrate a birthday or holiday, students can bring in a gift for the class, such as a board game, puzzle, book, or arts and crafts supplies. Even if your kid’s school isn’t ready for a gift-only policy for classroom parties, you’ll probably agree that taking the focus off of junk food is a good thing—and if you’re a room parent, there are plenty of ways to go about it. For example:

  • Craft recycled. Collect items that might otherwise end up in the trash and make them into seasonal party crafts. “Create pilgrim costumes out of paper bags for Thanksgiving, make shoebox mailboxes for Valentine’s Day cards, or paint designs onto burnt-out light bulbs to make decorative Christmas ornaments,” says Danielle Bobish, a mom of one and event planner in New York who puts together kids’ parties.
  • Teach a skill. When Bobish was in elementary school, the students in her class learned how to knit, working a little every day to complete their own ski hats by the end of the term. During a class party, get kids started on a simple project like knitting a scarf or cross-stitching a pillow—they can continue on their own either in or out of the classroom.
  • Make moderation fun. If food is an option, take the opportunity to show kids the importance of moderation. Bobish suggests playing the Big and Little Game, which works especially well with younger kids: Take a snack (try a healthy option like fruit skewers with dark chocolate dipping sauce or crudités with dip in cupcake liners), and “show them what’s too much and what’s the right amount,” says Bobish.

You don’t have to have cupcakes to have a sweet time at classroom parties—and eschewing them will probably make room for other fun activities. While De Laura was initially sad about the treats ban at her son’s school, she soon saw the bright side: “For my son’s birthday we sent him in with an oversized book about Ferdinand the bull, and I’m excited that the kids will have something fun to use for years to come.”

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