How do we celebrate without cake, sugar or food? Is it possible? Think of any celebration and I bet the mental picture includes food. Because special and sugary foods are a fun and easy way to celebrate!
Big celebrations like Christmas or Thanksgiving have very specific foods we anticipate enjoying. But even smaller celebrations pretty much always have food associated with them.
Can you think of the last time you celebrated a win that did not include food? Especially sugar?
And let me be 100 percent upfront with you here—I am NOT saying that food or treats SHOULDN’T be a part of celebrations. Especially birthdays or the little league championship. Food is an important part of our cultural expression and brings us together in important, happy ways. And delicious, yummy ways.
But what if food or sugar wasn’t the ONLY way to celebrate some things—like report cards and promotions and great sportsmanship?
I know, I know—WHAT DO WE EVEN DO IF WE DON’T GO OUT FOR ICE CREAM?
But here’s the problem: by only celebrating with food, I am teaching a kind of emotional eating to my children. Did you ever think that emotional eating as a response to happiness could be a problem? I didn’t! But it is a very slippery slope to eating as a RESPONSE to happiness to eating to GET THE FEELING of happiness.
I realized there might be a problem with our go-to trip-to-the-ice-cream-store-celebration when we had a particularly great week as a family. People had awesome auditions, and reports cards, and performance reviews and no cavities at the dentist. It was amazing! The wins were coming in by the day, so we certainly didn’t anticipate that we would make multiple trips to the ice cream store! In retrospect, I suppose I could have just held off for one trip on Friday and let everyone get double scoops.
But I didn’t, so now we are faced with the question of: how many times should you go out for ice cream in a week to celebrate things?
Like, what’s a reasonable number?
I have thought about the problem of food-as-celebration for awhile now because my family celebrates everything with food. I honestly didn’t know that:
a) there was a problem with it,
b) there were simple, non-food, and non-sugar ways to celebrate.
And then when I started to think about it, I got kinda stuck. If we didn’t go out for ice cream, what could we do?
So, I wracked my brain and the internet for something that would be as simple and awesome as ice cream. (Okay, there is not much out there that is better than ice cream, so I had to find things that wouldn’t make me sad to not have ice cream. Also, we are not ‘let’s go on a hike to celebrate’ kinda people. (Also, also, that’s just sad. I mean, come on…)
But I did come up with some ideas that I hope will help us all set our waffle cones down and back carefully away from the scoop shop.
5 ways to celebrate that aren’t food
Use a celebration plate.
You’re going to eat dinner anyway, so this doesn’t count as a food-specific celebration. Let the celebrated person use the fancy or fun plate set aside for just such an occasion as them getting a small (but important!) role in the school play. I found some cute plates on Etsy and Amazon, or more crafty-types could easily make their own.
Take a bow.
Nothing feels better than a little recognition from the people you are closest to. Set aside a few minutes for family or friends to encircle the person celebrating and tell them what a good job they did. Call out the ways you saw them choose to work hard at this thing they won (studying instead of playing, getting up early, brushing thoroughly, etc.) A few minutes of support and recognition is a great way to celebrate a win together!
With a little planning, you can set a goal as a small reward.
When you set the goal (or help your kid set theirs), name the reward you’ll get when you accomplish it. Since you already know what the reward is going to be, it doesn’t occur to you to involve food to celebrate. You know you get to order that thing you have your eye on or your kid knows they get an hour of video game time, uninterrupted. Or they get to have a friend over for a sleepover. Or someone gets a chore-free Saturday. Put the goal on a note on the fridge to keep it visible everyday.
If it’s a bit of a bigger goal, plan for a reward you would love that is a bit more of an experience.
Like going to see the movie you’re excited about in the fancy theater. Or take an evening for yourself to read a book wherever you want (bubble bath or that hip coffee place). Take a girlfriend to that exhibit or show you both want to see. This is a great way to celebrate with a small group of people who have been cheering you on.
Think of something you routinely deny yourself and do it.
Like, binge watching that one show. Or getting the car cleaned at the good car wash. Or the massage you keep thinking about. Make a list of these things, and the next time you have a small win, go ahead and do one. Go wild! Get the extreme package with Nu Car Smell!
Sometimes a trip to the ice cream store is in order.
And since you don’t do it for every small win, it feels pretty special.
A celebration is a chance to take a moment to recognize good things happening in the midst of busy lives. They deserve their moment. And having the skill of knowing HOW to celebrate those moments beyond going out for ice cream is an important one. It creates the ability to pay attention to what each person in your family specifically loves to do, or what motivates them beyond food.
Yes, food can make us feel happy, but it’s not the only thing that can. And it’s not the only way to celebrate.