Cupcakes and birthdays and pies

"Cupcakes have recently been marched to the front lines of the fat wars, banned from a growing number of classroom birthday parties because of their sugar, fat and 'empty calories,' a poster food of the child obesity crisis." And apparently folks aren't happy about the fact they can't send a bundle of cupcakes to school with their kids on their birthday. I actually think it's a good idea to prohibit birthday treats, but for different reasons. When I was little, my school didn't allow anyone to bring cakes or cupcakes or anything on a birthday. One, it was unfair to the children whose parents didn't have the finances or time (or both) to bake such treats. And two, the kids whose birthdays fell on weekends or over a holiday break were left out from hosting their own celebration. I appreciated that because my birthday was always over the Christmas break. Seems like that logic still holds, regardless of the fat content of cupcakes.

Also in the same article, I was saddened to read "that in the modern age, the cupcake may be more American than apple pie — 'because nobody is baking apple pies,' Professor [Marion] Nestle [of New York University] explained." Damn these cupcakes, for ruining the West Village, for making kids fat, for disrupting school activities, and for making people forget about the glories of pie! If Ollie's allowed to bring sweets to school for his birthday, and happens to go to school in July, I will send him with a pie! I think I'll also bake one this weekend because the greenmarket is filled with apples, and there's nothing like a nice apple pie in the fall. Mmmmm…

19 thoughts on “Cupcakes and birthdays and pies

  1. While we were not allowed to bring treats on our birthday, We did have a birthday celebration once a month and cupcakes were provided by the room mother or some other volunteer mom (usualy one of the birthday kids for the month). I personally see no problem with such all-inclusive celebrations; but realize that as with most things we feed to kids these days, cupcakes have gotten larger, sugarier, and fatter.
    But a fresh-baked autumn apple pie sounds perfect right now. I can almost smell the cinnamon.

  2. As a mom to a second grader with a peanut allergy, I can tell you there are things in grocery store cupcakes (believe me, no one is baking cupcakes, they are picking them up on the way to school) that could kill my kid faster than obesity.
    Cupcakes are allowed for birthdays at his school (all summer birthdays are celebrated in June – weekend and vacation brithdays are celebrated on the nearest Friday or Monday) but he usually can’t partake because even though all parents have been informed of his allergy, most won’t bother to read the label – or they decided “may contain …” is a risk worth taking (with my kid’s life, thanks!)
    He ends up watching the other kids eat and then worrying about cross-contamination of everything in the classroom (from all those sticky hands) for the rest of the day. Happy Birthday, Classmate!
    I know if your kid doesn’t have an allergy it is hard to understand, but it goes beyond “pc” – it is an issue of safety, and making a kid feel safe at school. Shouldn’t every kid feel safe at school?

  3. Calling the cupcake a poster child for fat adolescent America is some crazy hyperbole. Maybe I don’t live in NYC, but it’s not like there are cupcake shops on every street corner with cupcakes raining down from the skies, constantly falling into the hands of kids. I might run across the opportunity to buy/eat one at most once a month, tops.
    The real poster child and obvious bad egg of the food world for kid diets is sugary sodas (duh!). When I was a kid in the 80s none of my schools had soda available because everyone kind of knew it wasn’t a good thing to have around, now I see vending machines at every school I walk past.
    Let the occasional cupcake slide (as long as they are occasional) but take sodas away.

  4. It seems to me that the banning of the cupcake is symptomatic of a larger (and disturbing) cultural move to simply prohibit anything that might harm children. I can appreciate, and support, something like banning soda machines in middle school cafeterias, say, as they ready and cheap access to junk, all the time. But the occasional cupcake? The occasional cheeseburger? Everything in moderation has two parts–the moderation, and the everything.

  5. What I find so frustrating about all of the cupcakes that get brought to school isn’t the idea of a treat or celebration, it’s that it is not real food. Make a banana bread or even cookies- just flour, sugar, butter, etc. Not high fructose corn syrup and food dye.
    If there is no time to bake bring FRUIT!

  6. As someone who just had to bring store-bought cupcakes for my daughter’s 7th birthday party, I would note that:
    a) Our school will do a birthday party for someone whose birthday is on a weekend or a holiday on the school day nearest to it (including all those who have summer birthdays).
    b) Our school will not allow homemade “anything” as there is no ingredient label.
    So, I wouldn’t mind it going away if it means not feeding the kids tropical oils . . .

  7. The poor cupcake!! Sure, Elizabeth, if you buy Little Debbies they’re full of high fructose corn syrup, but a homemade cupcake can be delicious! Has anyone checked out the blog Cupcake Bakeshop? Cheryl’s cupcakes are certainly something any foodlover could support.
    Focusing on keeping processed junk foods out of the hands of kids–fine. Nixing cupcakes from birthday celebrations? Silly. (There may be other good reasons for not allowing treats, like the class issues Meg mentions).

  8. Meg, the homemade pie isn’t dying anytime soon…Chris’ cousin Sofia (11) hates cake and cupcakes and requests (and gets) a homemade apple pie for her birthday every year! And we had a homemade blueberry pie for Chris’ birthday this year.

  9. This whole thing is just silly. I was in grade school in the mid eighties, and we always had classroom parties – for birthdays, Valentines Day, Halloween, etc. No one complained, and no one in my class was obese. And if parents don’t want their kid to have a cupcake, then send them to school with an alternative snack. Also, if parents are concerned about obesity, then they should just feed their kids better – take responsibility instead of blaming others. Having an occasional cupcake or sweet will not make a kid overweight.

  10. Just a note on the survival of apple pies. I was in Vermont this weekend, where I had excellent apple pie at the Peru Fair (as well as great food at the fair’s famous pig roast) and a second serving of pie at the Amherst Chicken Pie supper. So at least in Vermont, people still make apple pie.

  11. i don’t know what the fuss is all about. kids should eat more sugar. cupcakes are great. i eat them with milk and i’m lactose intolerant. cookies. pies. whatever. desserts are great.

  12. Scott’s post about not being allowed to bring anything without an ingredient label to his daughter’s school is really interesting. It addresses Jen’s concerns about her son being exposed to peanuts in a good way, but seems horrible in every other way. Most likely the cupcakes are filled with trans fatty oils, HFCS, and preservatives. Yuck. The more I think about it, the happier I am with the way my grade school handled the situation. Kids can eat the cake at birthday parties, they don’t also need to eat it in school.

  13. Jen,
    You sound very angry, and I am not sure why? You better ban everything! There are so many other items that could have possible nut traces in them. My daughter only eats what I provide for her. I have a list of birthdays and party dates and I send her something just for her that day. She told me that other people should not miss out because of her allergy. My daughter is only 5 and she knows it is her responsibility to be careful. I am very proud of her. I guess I raised her to be considerate of others. Maybe you should think like her.

  14. The last preschool party I was involved with required a “healthy treat”. The parent brought american cheese slices (the individually wrapped ones)! Not exactly healthy. I would rather feed my child a cupcake any day!
    By the way….most kids won’t eat apple pie. Mine didn’t until they were about 10 or so. Dumb kids.

  15. Sofia’s first grade teacher had a June party for everyone to celebrate the school year’s end. Her September letter about not celebrating birthdays in class covered your well taken points. We wish it were a school policy as birthday celebrations are now in full swing in 2nd grade. Maybe one has to learn that “feeling left out” lesson early in life?? Cupcakes are yummy. How about learning to just eat one?
    With more “12 month” school schedules, Ollie may just get to bring that July apple pie to school some day.

  16. Yesterday i bought cupcake from Mrs.Beasley’s store at and got good discount on my purchase …..

  17. I ended up joining a CSA this year and got a fruit share. Being in Virginia, we have one thing when it comes to September and fruit: Apples. Hundreds of em. All different types.
    So I’m going to (attempt) to make Apple Pie. It might be “Apple Slosh” but it will consisit of pieces of crust, apple, and cinamon and nutmeg. Oh yes.
    Apple pie… Apple sauce… Apple cobbler. What else?

  18. I’m in agreement with Jim about the doctrine of moderation. As soon as you ban something, it becomes forbidden fruit, imbued with the luster of the thing we mustn’t have, and kids (and adults) go crazy for it. This is why dieting with a “forbidden” foods philosophy doesn’t work.
    As an advocate for healthy public school lunches, I do think soda machines should be removed from school buildings, and that fresh meals, as opposed to frozen processed crap, should be served to kids — that way they might actually begin to develop a taste for real food rather than synthetic garbage. But banning any and all sweets, even on special occasions, will only cause them to sneak MORE sweets into school — and the rest of their day as well. Helping them to understand that treats are just that, rather than either the mainstay of their meals OR something entirely verboten, is the road to healthier, more balanced nutrition.

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