Holidays such as Easter, Halloween and Christmas — occasions almost defined by indulgent eating — test parents who spend the other 362 days of the year ensuring their kids are eating right.
They'd rather not hand over a basketful of jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and candy bars, undoing all their good parenting. Yet, depriving their kids of a childhood past time seems harsh.
So how do parents allow their kids to chomp on candy without losing their parental dignity? Registered dietitian nutritionists Vandana Sheth and Wesley Delbridge with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offer some advice.
Use a small Easter basket and fill it with small candies.
This means fun-size candy bars instead of full-size, something Sheth said, "can make a huge difference" when it comes to lowering a child's added sugar intake. Federal guidelines, said Sheth, allow about 120 calories per day in empty calories — such as candy — for children 2 to 8 years old. Note: A Jelly Belly jelly bean contains four calories, a Cadbury créme egg has 150 calories, and two fun-size Snickers have 160 calories.
"Try to choose a small-sized (Easter basket) so that there is not too much room for sweets," Sheth said. "Select a few sweet treats and keep them fun-sized."
Delbridge said to keep kids from overeating, parents should, at the outset, set some parameters around the candy.
For his child's Easter basket, Delbridge includes a note from the Easter Bunny, telling his son how much he can eat on the first day and the days afterward. It also asks the boy to share a specific amount with other kids.
It's a method, notes Delbridge, that puts purpose behind the candy. The responsibility, because it comes from the Easter Bunny and not his parents, arrives with weight.
Tie the candy to physical activity
Candy doled out based on a child's physical activity can add fun and exercise to Easter.
Delbridge said candy could be given out based on the amount of time a child spends outside or doing chores. Candy can be made part of a scavenger hunt. Or, he said, pieces of candy could be added to a bag of cereal and grains to serve as trail mix for a hike.
Sheth suggests filling plastic eggs with non-food rewards and organizing an egg hunt.
Make homemade treats
Homemade Rice Krispies treats, cheese, yogurt, smoothies and shaped fruit are options, said Delbridge.
On Easter, as well as other holidays with lots of sweets, Sheth advises parents should ensure kids are getting their regular meals and snacks throughout the day.
Add non-food items to the basket
Stickers, pencils, Legos and art supplies make good fillers, Sheth said.
A general rule on how much:
Delbridge did not offer a firm suggestion as to how much candy parents should give their kids in their Easter baskets. He said there might be room for indulgence, but generally, Easter candy should run out after two to three weeks.
"It's a matter of paying attention to your kid, knowing how they're going to react," he said. "It's a live-and-learn process."
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