Sure, kids want chocolate and jelly beans, but an overload of sweets serves no one well. Shaping an Easter basket that's full of fun, minus some of the sugar, is easy.
We asked three experts for ways to lighten up: Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer at Weight Watchers International, is one of the experts behind the company's just-launched "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right: The Food Solution That Lets Kids Be Kids" (Rodale, $21.95). Melissa Halas-Liang is a Los Angeles-based nutritionist and founder of SuperKids Nutrition, a Web site. And Shannon Seip is co-author of "Bean Appetit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun With Food" (Andrews McMeel, $14.99).
Celebrate spring, not sugar
In addition to being a religious holiday, Easter marks the beginning of spring. Fill much of the basket with small toys geared to getting the kids outside, suggested Miller-Kovach. Bouncy balls, balsa-wood airplanes, yo-yos, soap bubbles, even ribbon-wrapped seed packets and mini gardening implements.
"And then get out there, and run around with them! Make it a family affair," she said.
The fun is in the hunt
If you're planning an Easter-egg hunt, hide trinket-filled eggs and hard-cooked eggs that the kids have dyed and keep the focus on the fun of finding those. Halas-Liang reminds parents that "kids are just as happy to search for colored eggs filled with stickers and toys" as they are to hunt for chocolate eggs.
Bulk it up with fruit
As virtuous as it may make us feel to purchase candies made with alternative sweeteners, or to bake carrot muffins rather than chocolate, the experts say sweets are sweets and should still be limited.
"There is nothing essentially evil about a chocolate chip muffin or essentially virtuous about a carrot cake muffin," said Miller-Kovach.
"When planning your Easter baskets, choose sweets you and your children like — just fewer of them," agreed Halas-Liang.
Still, Halas-Liang said chocolate-dipped fruits and cello-wrapped muffins and cookies can add bulk to the basket, taking up more space than foil-wrapped chocolates.
Fruits also provide a little tummy-filling fiber for your kids. Seip suggests white-chocolate-dipped strawberries with fruit-leather-decorated faces:
"Put in a lollipop stick in the bottom, and you've got yourself a Bunny Hop Pop!"
She also makes unusual lollipop Easter-egg cakes. We've included her recipe, plus Halas-Liang's cinnamon-sugar sprinkled almond meal cookies. Both are, ironically, egg-free.
Lollipop Easter-egg cakes
Prep: 45 minutes
Cook: 12 minutes
Building a better Easter basket
Experts share a few tips for boosting the health factor
An Easter basket doesn't have to be packed with unhealthy treats. (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune)