Having a party for kids with mental and behavioral health issues is like asking to get kicked in the face. Literally. These kinds of kids can’t handle excitement and just so they’re sure you’re aware of their affect (fancy word for mood!) regulation deficits, they may just try to kick you in the face, bite you on the knee, spit phlegm, or maybe just scream obsenities at you in 45 minute intervals. As an expert in little people leg deflection, I decided to take my chances and throw them a party anyway. In the mental health arena, however, you don’t get to just attend a fancy party simply because you have totally loveable dimples. No, you have to earn your way into these shindigs.
To promote healthy eating habits, I set up a reward system which encourages the students to eat a serving of fruits and vegetables every day at lunch. For every serving eaten, the students were allowed to initial a special chart that contained 800 teeny, tiny boxes. A student could earn double boxes for ordering salad for lunch. Aside from the fact that we had to tell some students what their initials were and the daily conversation about what actually constitutes a fruit or a vegetable (no, Timmy, a tortilla is not a vegetable), the chart was a raging success. They loved being able to write their names in the boxes each day and seemed to take a lot of pride in choosing healthy foods. Kudos to the kid who choked down the vegetable he detested the most, a tomato, just so the class could further chart progress.
We did small rewards for every hundred boxes that got filled in and I promised something EPIC when they made it to 800. I wanted the rewards to expose them to new foods or teach them cooking skills, so mostly we sampled unusual produce such as turnips, butternut squash, or mango and had cooking activities in which they made homemade apple sauce and cinnamon honey buns. For one event, a good old fashioned dance party was in order (it was over before it started. They couldn’t handle it). But, like I said, I promised something EPIC for the big 800. The day they initialed that last box, they all looked at me expectantly with wide, wonderous eyes. Crap. I had no idea what the heck the epic event was actually going to be. Being the quick thinker that I am, I assured them that the epic reward was in the midst but it required some additional planning and would be announced at a later date. To buy myself time, I bribed them with coupons they could earn for demonstrating “event ready behavior.” I seriously talk to them that way. They are sooo therapized.
With a tight budget and no ability to take a field trip (there goes the trip to the farm idea), I racked my brain trying to think of something that would be truly special. Finally, it hit me. What’s more trendy right now than cupcakes? I knew I wanted to do some sort of cupcake party but I still wanted to expose them to foods they don’t normally get to eat. That’s when I had the idea to serve everything in cupcake liners nestled atop silver, glistening cupcake stands. With the help of the staff (thank you Ms. Lindsay for the cupcake stands!) we created a menu and set to work at planning our party. Our menu included fresh cantelope, strawberries, pineapple, fruit dip, tortilla roll ups, spinich squares, carrot “pots”, all natural chocolate chip cookies, and cream puffs.
I decided to make the carrot pots but this wasn’t without it’s challenges. The original idea called for carrots with sprigs of parsley tucked into the ends to resemble carrots as you would find them in a garden. These carrots would then go into a mini terra cotta pot filled with hummus. Like every other classroom in America, it seems, we had a student with allergeies to nuts, eggs, beans, and soy. That meant no hummus. I wanted to recreate “dirt” so I used a combination of cocoa puffs, raisins, and chocolate chunks for the base of the carrots. They turned out freakin adorable! The kids, being the cute little sugar vaccums that they are, did not immediately gravitate towards my much slaved over carrot pots. Once I told them they didn’t have to actually eat the carrots, they seemed more willing to add it to their selected items. I was also impressed by how many kids went back for seconds, thirds, and fourths of fruit, and also of the kids so willing to try the spinich squares (which were FANTASTIC, thanks again Lindsay!) Maybe if we all flood Lindsay’s facebook page with messages, she’ll be gracious enough to share her recipe with us. She even healthified it for our munchkins.
These carrot pots would be a super cute idea for Easter. Easter baskets tend to feel more special when they are individualized and include more than the standard lot of speckled eggs and neon marshmallow puffs. I think it would be a neat idea to include one or two of your child’s favorite Easter candies and some other personalized items based on your child’s interests. Some ideas include:
A gardening basket filled with pots, seeds, and other gardening supplies. Heck a chia pet or herb garden would be cool in here.
A cooking basket filled with an apron, mixing bowls, measuring cups, spatulas, and ingredients for a special treat.
A sports basket with basketball, soccerball, lawn games, or other activities.
A craft basket filled with crayons, markers, colored pencils, and other art supplies.
Also, don’t forget the Easter egg hunt! My sister (who could win the most creative mom EVER award) had a neat idea in which you put puzzle pieces inside of the plastic eggs instead of candy. Then once the kids have found all of their eggs, they have a puzzle they get to put together! Sweet!
Hope everyone has a hoppin’ good Easter! Enjoy all the springtime fruits and veggies that are starting to come in season!
Also, check out these awesome websites for FREE nutrition resources available to parents and educators!