By Megan Boyle, Editorial Director and Dawn Undurraga, Nutritionist
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and let’s face it: your kids will eat a lot of sugary treats come February 14.
Thanks to school, team and neighborhood parties, many kids spend Valentine’s Day surrounded by candy and baked goods, most of which parents provide.
So how can parents help kids enjoy the special occasion without overdoing it? What treats will kids love to taste, with fewer stomach aches or sugar crashes? And what goodies meet party policy?
(To protect kids with allergies, some classrooms insist on only store-bought treats, while others, sensitive to family funds, require homemade. Ask your child’s teacher before deciding what treat to bring. Take special care with nuts.)
Whether making treats at home or purchasing them at a store, relax this year with these helpful tips for choosing Valentine’s Day sweets that are just a little bit healthier. Your kids won’t even notice.
1. Make simple swaps
While we won’t claim these are healthy, some options are better than others.
Homemade: baking at home gives you more control over ingredients as well as how much you use.
- Baked goods: use applesauce instead of oil
- Cake topper: coat treats with yogurt icing instead of frosting
- Whipped cream: whip fresh cream yourself
Store-bought: these choices contain less added sugar, so they have fewer empty calories and are better for teeth.
- Chewy: chocolate-covered dried fruit instead of caramels, licorice or taffy
- Chocolate: dark chocolate instead of milk or white chocolate
- Sucker: frozen fruit bar instead of lollipop
The good fat, protein and fiber in nuts slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, moderating sugar highs.
- Crunchy: chocolate-covered nuts instead of hard candy
- Candy bar: filled with nuts instead of solid chocolate
Visit EWG’s Food Scores database to learn more about your favorite products.
2. Add fruit for color and flavor
Valentine’s Day is the perfect occasion for a red or pink treat, but how can you achieve this festive look with without serving kids questionable artificial colors?
Use fresh fruit. Strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, cherries and pomegranate seeds all make healthy and tasty fillings, toppings or garnishes. You can also stir them into batter or dough for color throughout your dish; try adding a splash of beet juice to turn your cake a lovely Valentine color.
- Parfaits: alternate layers of fruit and whip cream in clear containers
- Fruit pizza: cover lightly frosted sugar cookies with a pattern of fruit
- Fruit kebabs: serve alone or dipped in melted chocolate, whipped cream or ricotta. Freeze them for a cooler treat. Cut fruit with a heart-shaped cookie cutter for extra flourish.
- Strawberry shortcake with lots of berries, a mini angel food cake and a dollop of whipped cream
- Red apples with chocolate or peanut butter and chocolate dipping sauce (top with chopped nuts, not candies)
- Chocolate-covered strawberries (these are easy to make at home, too)
3. Stuff your sweets
Fill your treats with nuts or fruit for a flavor-packed nutritional boost. These healthy ingredients take up space – in the sweet as well as your child’s stomach – otherwise filled by less nutritious ingredients.
- Cupcakes: when pouring batter into each cup, stop halfway to add chopped strawberries, then fill and bake.
- Cake: add a row of raspberries, held together lightly with frosting, in between layers
- Cookies: sandwich fruit, rhubarb compote or nut butter between thin chocolate or vanilla cookies or heart-shaped apple slices
Store-bought: not for everyday indulgence, these are preferable options to standard party fare:
- Hershey’s Kisses with almonds or hazelnuts
- M&M’s with peanuts or almonds (they’ll be free of artificial colors within the next five years)
- Coconut macaroons
4. Focus on presentation
From television to the grocery store, food advertisements target young kids, so your little ones probably have an opinion about which foods will taste good before they even take a bite. Bypass those pre-conceived notions with some simple decorating tricks.
- Plate unwrapped sweet treats on a holiday-themed platter or doily
- Wrap goodies with festive food-safe tissue or bags
- Garnish with fresh berries or dried fruit
5. Keep portions small
This is the easiest tip of all. Serving decadent chocolate brownies? Cut the squares 25 to 30 percent smaller. Buying candy? Look for options with small serving sizes. Seek out brownie bites and mini cupcakes. Your kids won’t even notice.