Valentine’s Day is an exciting, fun holiday for kids, but it can leave parents dreading the inevitable sugar rush from all of the sweet treats at school. If you want to provide quick, healthy Valentine’s day snacks for your child’s classroom, look no further. Pediatric Dietitian Emma Rueth, UnityPoint Health, gives us her top six picks of store-bought, pre-packaged, non-nut snack options for on-the-go families, plus a bonus recipe at the end. Here is her list of Valentine's Day treats for kids that’ll make parents feel more at ease about what their children are chowing down.
Healthy Valentine's Day Snack Options
- Popcorn. Popcorn is a whole grain and naturally gluten free. While being gluten free isn’t necessarily healthier, it’s important for children with gluten allergies. Rueth suggests BoomChickaPop because it comes in many fun, interesting flavors.
- Hershey’s Kisses. Dark or milk chocolate could be a good choice for Valentine’s Day. These are on-theme and come in the perfect size for portion-control. The serving size is seven Kisses, but Rueth recommends offering each child two to three kisses instead of the full serving.
- belVita Bites (chocolate or mixed berry). Rueth likes belVita Bites because they are cute, little cookies in a perfectly portioned bag. At 230 calories per bag, the treats are a nutrient dense snack, providing fiber and protein from whole grains.
- Enjoy Life, Soft-Baked Minis. These cookies come in a variety of flavors and are completely allergy-friendly. They're made with brown rice flour and some natural, fruit sweeteners. While these cookies may be slightly more nutrient-rich than some other standard, store-bought cookies, they are still a treat. Rueth says that’s why it’s great that they come in single-serve bags.
- Candies with natural flavors. Some candies are colored with naturally-derived pigments from fruits and vegetables, instead of the conventional artificial food colorings. Candies with natural flavors are a great option for parents worried about artificial food dyes. While these natural dyes may offer a small amount of antioxidants, it is important to remember that these “natural” candies are still candy, and the first ingredient listed is sweeteners.
- Non-edible gifts. It’s always a good option to choose non-edible options, when possible. Most kids love fun pencils, eraser and straws just as much as a sugary food options.
Valentine's Snacks to Avoid
The only candy Rueth would classify anything with trans fat (partially hydrogenated oil) as the worst option for Valentine’s Day treats. Luckily, Rueth says trans fat is no longer much of an issue because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires manufacturers to remove added trans fats from foods, as of June 2018. The change is occurred because trans fats increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Teaching Your Child Moderation
Rueth says she would only recommend giving your children a limit on Valentine’s Day treats for the leftover candy after the holiday itself. Offer your child two to three small pieces of candy as a daily “budget” and allow them to choose when they eat their treats. She says it’s OK if they eat it all at breakfast, just make sure to also have a healthy breakfast to go with the candy.
“There is evidence to suggest children who have regular access to sweet treats are more likely to eat them in moderation. Threat deprivation can lead to eating when not hungry, begging, whining and even sneaking treats, which can later cause an association of treats with guilt,” Rueth says.
Another Healthy Classroom Treat for Kids: Fruit
Fruit is the best option for a healthy treat because it fits the sweet category while providing a healthy source of fiber and vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Rueth says fruit is also naturally pretty low in calories, which means you can have larger portions.
“Two Hershey’s Kisses has about as many calories as one cup of whole strawberries. Any red or pink fruits could go well with the Valentine’s Day theme. Strawberries even kind of look like hearts,” Rueth says.
Rueth recommends having some fun with the fruit at home or in the classroom. Cut hearts out of watermelon or cantaloupe for Valentine’s Day or or different shapes for other holidays throughout the year.
Healthy Valentine's Snack Recipe
If you don’t want to purchase store-bought snacks for the classroom, there are plenty of healthy, delicious recipes to make at home with your child. For a healthy Valentine's Day snack or dessert, Rueth suggests these dark chocolate pretzel clusters from fellow registered dietitian Ellie Krieger.
“You can even add other ingredients of your choice, like dried fruit, crushed peppermint stick, or nuts and seeds. Using dark chocolate (70% or more cacoa) means you get more antioxidants. If dark chocolate is too bitter for you or your little chefs, try making these clusters with half milk chocolate and half dark chocolate. Also, get festive by topping the dessert with pink, white and red sprinkles,” Rueth says.
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