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 Makes: 8 servings
This recipe from "Bean Appetit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun With Food" uses 1/2 cup of a healthful flour blend; store the leftover blend covered in the refrigerator. You'll need 8 lollipop sticks.
For flour blend:
3 cups each: whole wheat flour, unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups wheat germ
1/2 cup flax meal
4 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
4 teaspoons milk, plus a little to soften cake
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chocolate chips
1 cup melted semisweet chocolate or white chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flours, wheat germ and flax meal in a bowl. Measure 1/2 cup of the blend into a mixing bowl. Store remainder in an airtight container in the fridge for other uses.
Add brown sugar, cocoa powder and baking powder to the bowl; mix. Add water, oil, 4 teaspoons milk and vinegar; mix to blend. Fold in chocolate chips. Spoon into 8 mini-muffin pan cups; bake until tests done with a cake tester, about 12 minutes. Cool.
Unmold cakes into a bowl; form each cake into egg-shaped ovals (mix with a little milk if needed to soften cake). Carefully slide a lollipop stick into each. Dip each pop in melted chocolate; decorate with sprinkles. Set on parchment paper until shell hardens, 10 minutes. Wrap; tuck into baskets.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 209 calories, 48% of calories from fat, 11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 28 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 37 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
Cinnamon almond-meal shortbread cookies
Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 20 minutes Makes: 24 cookies
3 tablespoons each: butter, non-hydrogenated butter substitute
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup each: sifted oat flour, almond meal
Heat oven to 300 degrees. Blend butter and butter substitute in a medium bowl with a mixer. Add sugar, vanilla and cinnamon; beat until creamy, 2 minutes. Add oat flour and almond meal; beat until the dough sticks together.
Form the dough into small balls; place on greased baking sheet. Slightly flatten the balls; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Wrap cookies; tie with ribbon for Easter baskets. Freeze any extras in freezer bags.
Nutrition information: Per cookie: 96 calories, 57% of calories from fat, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 8 g carbohydrates, 2 g protein, 18 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
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