5 min read

Experiencing a ‘sense of belonging is one of Maslow’s foundational hierarchy of needs.1 This sense of belonging directly links to a child’s development of confidence and self-identity.

One way that educators promote social connection is through rituals and celebrations that both help build cultural practices within the early learning and child care (ELCC) context and honor the cultural practices of the child.2 Events that involve food and eating are important parts of the daily routine in which educators and children participate within ELCC settings.3

celebrations help build a 'sense of belonging' 

Birthday celebrations and special events can be great opportunities to build a sense of belonging while also promoting healthy habits consistent with your child care centers’ well-being priorities.4

Four ideas to celebrate while including nutritious foods and active play.

1. Healthy food can be flavorful and fun!

A key well-being message is to serve nutritious food.5 The balance is to prepare and present food in a healthful way. Some ideas for healthy celebration snacks include:6

  • Fruit platter
  • Watermelon balls
  • Cheese cubes
  • Mini sandwiches (whole wheat bread with cheese or turkey)
  • Trail mix made with whole-grain cereal, nuts and dried fruits
  • Veggie strips or veggie chips with healthy dips such as hummus
  • Healthy savory muffins (e.g. spinach and cheese muffin with whole wheat flour)

2. Eating can be a hands-on experience.

Children usually are more willing to eat food they prepare themselves.7 Consider incorporating hands-on experiences that make healthy food a fun activity. Ideas for food activities include:

  • Make your own Yogurt Parfait (layering yogurt with fresh fruit and granola)
  • Make your own pizza (using whole wheat dough, tomato sauce, cheese, turkey and plenty of fresh vegetables)
  • Fruits crafts: Fruits can be cut into shapes that fit the theme of the party using cookie cutters or be made into fruit kebabs

3. Keep it simple with drinks

Make water the drink of choice and create the celebration feelings by

  • Infusing water with fresh fruits such as oranges, lemons or strawberries.
  • Serving water in colorful cups that match the theme of the celebration.

4. Balance the focus of the celebration and get moving.

Including active play and fun activities that get children moving spreads out the focus of the celebration. Include some celebration activities tied to the event with theme based:

  • Obstacle course
  • Tag
  • Dance party
  • Ball tossing
  • Musical chairs
  • Treasure hunt

Developing a sense of belonging for children is an important role for educators and this goal needs to be balanced with goals of healthy eating. Developing nutrition policies where the ELCC’s local educators and parents are equal partners in developing these policies will ensure that they are acceptable and implemented as planned.3

Look at your center’s nutrition policy to see if it includes any guidelines about celebrations. Check out our CHEERS Blog Why are Nutrition Policies Important?  for more suggestions and ideas.


  1. Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological review, 50(4), 370.
  2. Governmnent of Alberta (2013) Make a plan for special days. In: Healthy eating for children in childcare centres Retrieved March 15, 2023
  3. Fernandes, C. S. F., Schwartz, M. B., Ickovics, J. R., & Basch, C. E. (2019). Educator perspectives: selected barriers to implementation of school-level nutrition policies. Journal of nutrition education and behavior, 51(7), 843-849.
  4. Johansson, E., & Berthelsen, D. (2014). The birthday cake: Social relations and professional practices around mealtimes with toddlers in child care. Lived spaces of infant-toddler education and care: Exploring diverse perspectives on theory, research and practice, 75-88.
  5. Canada’s food guide:
  6. Alberta Health Services (2019). Healthy celebrations for young children.
  7. DeJesus, J. M., Gelman, S. A., Herold, I., & Lumeng, J. C. (2019). Children eat more food when they prepare it themselves. Appetite, 133, 305–312.

About the Author

Joyce Hayek was a practicing dietitian in Lebanon with over 9 years of experience in nutrition counseling and teaching. She has been engaged in community nutrition and public health projects with the IOCC, specializing in the area of child health and wellness. She went completed her PhD in Health Promotion at Maastricht University, Netherlands and currently holds the position of Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Health and Physical Education at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta.