(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Health-conscious parents of preschoolers can rejoice as new Education Ministry recommendations for preschools outline how to enjoy healthy birthday celebrations.
The Efshari Bari (Healthy is Possible) program started as a pilot project during the 5775 (2014-2015) school year in order to help children acquire tools to adopt healthier eating and exercising habits.
The goal this year is to expand the program to include every preschool in the country.
According to the recommendations, parties should not be completely devoid of sweet foods.
“It is desirable and possible to host parties at preschool where there is a balance between the amount of candy and healthier foods,” the recommendation from the ministry read. The balance between the two is an attempt to help children make good decisions regarding healthy food at other events and in their everyday lives.
Education Ministry data show that over a quarter of the children in Israel are overweight or obese, which can affect their health in both the short and long term and also affects their self-image and social connections.
Many preschools have as many as 35 children to a class, which means that they are constantly having parties – often laden with junk foods and soft drinks.
The Education Ministry is advising preschool staff to discuss the initiative with parents at the beginning of the year to engage the parents and create clear policies regarding what food will be provided at the celebrations.
The guidance from the ministry is to have a birthday cake as a symbol of celebration but to ditch the junk food and sweet drinks that often come alongside the cake. Instead, the ministry advocates that schools instead provide students with an array of health food including fruits, vegetables, whole wheat sandwiches, vegetable muffins, and casseroles.
Water should replace soda, the guidelines state.
To deal with the issue of gift bags, often full of yet more unhealthy foods, the ministry recommends that the child himself becomes the center of attention at the party, rather than the vast amounts of junk food that have become the traditional focus. To encourage physical activity, the ministry recommends dancing with the child as an additional means of enhancing the celebration.
Irit Livne, supervisor for school health at the Education Ministry, emphasized that developing healthy eating habits and physical activity at a young age helps children adopt these habits. The habits, once established, can last a lifetime.
“The preschool staff has an important role in promoting eating habits both in the routine and at special events such as birthday parties,” said Livne.