Everyone loves a good party, and elementary schools are no exception. By celebrating birthdays and holidays, schools are able to create a stronger sense of community. Unfortunately, most school parties center around treats like cupcakes, cookies, candy, and sugary drinks.

As a long-time dietitian, I’ll be the first to assure you that these foods, in moderation, are okay. However, the sheer number of school parties has turned unhealthy treats into a staple of students’ diets rather than the exception. What if we made school parties healthier?

The Benefits of Making School Parties Healthier

The biggest benefit is simple but profound: healthy children learn better. Research shows that good nutrition is linked to better behavior and academic performance for students. Learning about healthy nutrition is also an important part of students’ development. Throwing healthier parties gives everyone the chance to put those lessons into practice, which can have a tremendous impact on students’ habits (many of which will last a lifetime).

There are so many fun ways to celebrate while supporting healthy bodies and minds—it just takes a little creative thinking. Here are six easy ways to make parties and celebrations healthier at your school.

1. Take the Focus Off the Food

Don’t make food the center of the party. Leading up to the event, hype up the activity or game students will play. A fun snack can still be offered at the party, but don’t make it the focus. This simple shift in the way you talk about the party builds a different type of excitement and expectation. Snacks and refreshments should complement the fun, not be the main event.

2. Plan a Special Game or Activity

Games and activities provide the perfect opportunity for children to socialize and have fun together. They’re also an easy way to get kids moving. Coordinate with the gym or go outside and play a game of kickball or freeze tag.  If the weather isn’t nice enough, try a game of musical chairs, freeze dance, or balloon volleyball. Any game that gets students out of their seats and playing together is ideal.

3. Provide a Creative, Healthy Snack

Party snacks give students a chance to do some hands-on learning about food and nutrition. Plan a party activity that allows them to make a healthy snack together. Party snacks can also expose children to new foods, which encourages healthy eating habits. Pinterest is a great resource for healthy snack ideas. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated. Just look for creative ideas that show how food can be nutritious, fun, and delicious!

4. Get Students Moving

Plan a party activity that gets the children moving. Celebrate with an extra recess, more time in P.E., or an outdoor scavenger hunt. If the weather isn’t good, you can’t beat a good, old-fashioned dance party. Play some fun music and let the students show off their moves. How often do they get to dance with their teacher?

5. Learn Something New

Use celebrations as an opportunity to teach students something new. Highlight a particular culture and build a party around those traditions. You can also use parties as an opportunity to teach children a fun, new skill.

6. Do Something Good

Instead of throwing a party, organize a community service event. Involve the children in identifying a need and let them plan a service-based activity. This gives them an opportunity to work together while making an impact on the world around them. Children love any chance to help, and community service teaches so many valuable life lessons.

School celebrations are the perfect opportunity to engage children in activities and behaviors that promote a healthy lifestyle. And shifting the focus away from unhealthy snacks to fun events centered on physical activity, music, art, or games will go a long way towards helping students develop healthy habits.

So let’s put a new spin on school parties. Let’s show students that parties can be good for our minds and bodies while still being a whole lot of fun!