Every February, Valentine's Day offers a bright spot to break up the long, gray mid-winter. But along with the hearts, cupids and flowers, the annual celebration of love also brings the opportunity to overindulge in sugar.
"With all its chocolate treats and sweet desserts, Valentine's Day can put a dent in your family's healthy eating plans," says Otoniel Santiago, a clinical dietitian with the Get Up & Go program at Children's Health℠.
But with a little effort, you can avoid the holiday-related sugar overload. Instead of showering your kids with heart-shaped sugary candies or assorted chocolates, take simple steps to celebrate this Valentine's Day with health in mind.
Why does limiting sugar matter for kids?
A diet that's high in sugar can eventually lead to obesity, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes – as well as an increased risk of heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends kids consume less than 25 grams of sugar – roughly the equivalent of six teaspoons – per day. However, many kids regularly consume more than this. While a special treat every now and then is okay, it's good to be aware of just how much sugar is in your child's diet and to take simple steps to reduce their sugar intake.
Healthy Valentine treats for kids
If you plan to serve a sugary treat this holiday, consider chocolate-covered fruit. You can try chocolate-covered strawberries, grapes, orange slices, bananas or even pineapple. It's a simple, easy treat that will appease everyone's sweet tooth – while including a healthy serving of fruit at the same time.
Santiago suggests this recipe for easy, homemade chocolate-covered fruit. "It takes only a few ingredients and just 10 minutes to make," he says. You can make it with your children, which can be a fun way to involve them in the holiday.
Easy, healthy chocolate-covered fruit recipe
- ½ cup sweetened carob chips
- 2 tablespoons of coconut oil
- Fruit of your choice: Strawberries, grapes, orange slices, bananas or pineapple
- In a small bowl, melt coconut oil and carob chips in the microwave or in a saucepan over low, simmering water.
- Stir the mixture until completely smooth.
- Use a skewer to dip the fruit, one at a time, into the chocolate. Twirl the fruit to coat all sides with chocolate.
- Set the chocolate-covered fruit on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or wax paper.
- Sprinkle on any toppings of choice – such as colored sprinkles or crushed nuts.
- Leave for 10 minutes, or until chocolate hardens.
For additional healthy Valentine treats, try these recipes for Valentine peanut butter cups or chocolate-dipped strawberry cream sandwich cookies.
Sugar-free ways to celebrate Valentine's Day
Rather than making the holiday only about sweets, find other fun ways to make Valentine's Day special. "While holidays are often celebrated with food, there are many other ways you can help your children enjoy the spirit of love and friendship," says Santiago.
- Create sugar-free Valentine's goodie-bags. Instead of candy, give young children a gift bag with stickers, bubbles, Play-Doh, coloring books and crayons. Older kids, tweens and teens might enjoy a bag of healthy snacks like granola and dried fruit with "coupons" to pick the game or movie at the next family game and movie night.
- Make Valentine's cards. Take time as a family to create homemade Valentine's cards with construction paper, stickers, glitter and other items around the house. You can send these to grandparents, neighbors or other loved ones who may need some cheer. You could also consider making a large batch of cards to share with residents of an assisted living facility near your home.
- Watch a Valentine's-themed movie. Snuggle up on the couch and enjoy an age-appropriate Valentine's or "love"-themed movie together as a family.
- Have a craft night. Pile together around the kitchen table and make heart-themed art. Use Valentine-themed paper or cards to create a collage. Or, cut out and decorate hearts of all sizes from different colored construction paper. Your creations can brighten your fridge for the rest of the month.
When celebrating the holidays, it's important to prioritize moderation. Remember that at its "heart," Valentine's Day is about celebrating love – not sweets. Allow yourself a small bite or two of chocolate, and then spend the day enjoying time with the ones you love most.
Learn more about the health risks of a sugary diet and see five simple ways to reduce sugar intake.
Interested in learning more about healthier habits for your family? Read more about pediatric weight management programs that include Get Up & Go, COACH, bariatrics and nutrition clinics.
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