It’s understandable that parents who look to instill healthier family eating habits rue holidays such as Easter, when candy often takes center stage, especially for the kids.
It might be tempting to scrap the idea of giving out Easter baskets, but certified nutritional specialist Andrea Langston recommends a few twists on the holiday tradition that can create a happy middle ground.
"I just encourage focusing more on some of the healthier options and introducing things that kids can do rather than just things they can eat," said Langston, owner of Thrive Nutrition and Wellness, in the Bialek Chiropractic office in Snyder.
She recommended the following tips.
Shift the focus away from food. Supplement a few edible treats with a new jump rope or sidewalk chalk – things that encourage kids to get outside and get moving! Stickers, books, and coloring books are other great options.
"When people get to the point where they can switch over to a non-food-related basket completely, some parents will give their kids a basket full of things to support one of their child’s favorite activities. If they have a kid who likes to help in the garden, or go fishing, or help in the kitchen, or whatever, they can give them gifts that supports those healthy habits,” Langston said. “It really encourages creativity and shows them how important it is to cultivate those hobbies.”
Include the Easter bunny’s favorite food. Kids may be more receptive to the veggies since they’re coming from the Easter bunny and not mom or dad, Langston said.
"When you use whole carrots, with the greens, it's such an unexpected thing. Maybe you even include a stuffed Easter bunny. That's a great way to start a conversation about real food, why we eat those types of foods and why balancing them out with other things in the Easter basket is important."
Check ingredient labels. Choose sweets without: trans fats; harmful sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and aspartame; MSG; food dyes; artificial flavors; preservatives such as sodium benzoate, BHA, BHT; and ingredients you do not recognize. The shorter and simpler the ingredient list, the better.
"A lot of conventional candies you'll find in the candy section of a store are going to be full of a lot of those dyes and high-fructose corn syrup and that kind of stuff,” Langston said. “Looking in a health food store or organic section is going to help eliminate some of those additives that aren't great.”
While traditional candy is fine when eaten occasionally and in moderation, she said, eating them regularly can lead to mental health and weight-related disorders.
Choose healthier ingredient options. Those might include sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, natural fruit juices and natural colorings made from foods such as beets, carrots, and turmeric.
Get real. Include treats made from real food. For example, nuts and seeds coated in dark chocolate, dried fruit, chocolate-dipped fruit and unsweetened shredded coconut all provide sweetness and are tasty, as well as contain nutrients.
Make your own. If you can, make your own treats so you know exactly what is in them. You can make simple cookies with fresh, whole food ingredients such as bananas, oats, dates and nut butters, and wrap them in festive paper or use Easter cookie cutters to celebrate the season. They will satisfy expectations for sweets, and you can feel good about what you’re giving.
Langston provided the following recipe for one of her favorites.
Inside Out Almond Joys
- 4¼ oz dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cacao, chopped)
- 1 tsp coconut oil
- 1 cup almonds
- ¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
Microwave dark chocolate and coconut oil in a large glass bowl at 50 percent power for 30 seconds at a time until melted. Stir well to combine. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Add almonds to the melted chocolate and stir to combine. Use a spoon to drop small, even clusters (containing about 4 to 5 almonds each) onto the parchment paper. The number of clusters you make should be equal to your serving size.
Sprinkle coconut on top of each cluster. Transfer to the freezer until the clusters are set, about 15 minutes.