Valentine’s Day is coming up and parents all know what that means: sugar, sugar and more sugar.
But can you keep the sweet in Valentine’s Day without excessive amounts of sugar?
American Heart Association spokeswoman and Parent Toolkit Expert Dr. Rachel Johnson says that moderation is key.
“Use sugar in a discriminate way to sweeten or enhance a flavor of already nutritional food,” Johnson says. “It’s very difficult to completely eliminate sweet treats. In fact when you do that, you kind of enhance the desirability, and it may end up backfiring. The big thing is small portion sizes.”
Registered Dietitian and Parent Toolkit Expert Manuel Villacorta suggested allowing your child to have small portions of sugar on a regular basis.
“I don’t know if it’s possible to cut out sugar completely from a kid’s diet,” Villacorta says. “If they never have sugar, they are going to binge when they have the chance to eat it, teaching them unhealthy habits. Keep healthy options most of the time, and develop ways that works for your kids to add a bit of sweetness to their meals.”
Keeping in mind moderation is key, here are ways to keep Valentine’s Day sweet:
Celebrate what is sweet about your child
Make a game out of the day. Write down all the things that are sweet about your child on a card or little hearts. You can hide these around the house for your child to find or you can read them around the dinner table! Make it unique and special to your family.
Substitute dark chocolate
Instead of milk chocolate, give your children dark chocolate. Johnson says dark chocolate is a healthier option than milk chocolate. It has a more bitter flavor, but your children can acquire a taste for it. In fact, Villacrota says it takes about six weeks to get used to new flavors. So don’t be discouraged if at first they don’t love it.
Valentine’s Day tea
Tea parties are great for a special day. Involve your child in decorating the table in a Valentine’s Day theme. You can use various shades of red to dress the table and make homemade name cards for each place. To keep the festive feel, try Rooibos tea, which is naturally bright red. Add a small amount of natural honey for a little bit of sweetness.
Make fun fruit treats
Johnson says Valentine’s Day is a great day to eat red fruits, which help the body fight disease and promote good heart health. Strawberries, raspberries and watermelon are all festive and nutritious options.
Registered Dietitian Rachel Lenhoff says there are a lot of ways to make fruit fun for children. “Make a fruit kabob using a straw and see if they can make a pattern,” Lenhoff says. “Have your child help you find new fruits in the grocery store they would like to try such as pomegranates, dragon fruit or star fruit. Cookie cutters are another great way to make fruit more appealing. Try a heart shaped cookie cutter for Valentine's Day!”
Involve your kids in a Valentine’s Day grocery trip
Involving kids in the planning for Valentine’s Day is a great way to get them engaged and teach them healthy practices. "When grocery shopping, look for products that have 10 grams or less of sugar per serving. Foods will surprise you with how much added sugars they contain,” Lenhoff says. “Your child will be more likely to try new foods if they are involved, so have them choose the foods and help you prepare it."
This also teaches them label-reading literacy, which is an important skill for the future. Johnson says currently the FDA does not require food labels to list added sugars. The grams of sugar listed are the total amount of sugar in food, including added sugars and naturally occurring sugars. “Look for added sugars in the ingredient list and show your kids where to find that,” Johnson says. “Make it a game and have them search for foods with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving. They get a choice and they are picking foods with less sugar!”
Homemade crafts as treats instead of candy
Kids love crafts! Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to make homemade cards for friends, family and classmates. You can make friendship bracelets with your child to hand out in class instead of candy. It’s fun and creative and has no sugar at all!
Give your children flowers
Do you like getting flowers from your loved one on Valentine’s Day? Your kids will, too! Try roses or other flowers as a substitute for candy. Plus, flowers can often last longer than candy, making a special treat for days.
Make meals festive
You can make heart-shaped anything! All you need are heart-shaped cookie cutters and your hands. Crack eggs inside cookie cutters on a pan for a heart-shaped breakfast. You can do the same with batter for heart-shaped pancakes. You can even shape meat! Take ground beef, turkey, chicken or meatloaf and shape it in a heart with your hands before it goes in the oven. Plus, your kids are more likely to eat a meal that looks festive and fun.
Talk about love
Use Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to talk about love. You can make the day special in ways that don’t involve sweets at all, like taking the time to notice the little things. Tell your kids how much you love them and smother them with hugs and kisses. Talk about what love means and why you love your family and friends. Ask your kids about the people they love. You can make Valentine’s Day a loving tradition for your entire family.