Alternatives to Candy on Valentine’s Day

Candy for Valentines Day

Has your child been asked to contribute candy to a Valentine’s Day party? We can turn this into an positive opportunity. Let’s think of this as taking a treat—a treat of any kind—rather than approaching negatively as NOT taking candy. You can just quietly send a fun treat that happens not to be food.

Crayons
Kids love crayons. Give them out in the original shape, or you could make a craft of it and use a candy mold to shape melted crayons into hearts. Our Soy Rocks Party Box gives you 64 colorful crayons to give out.

Lip Gloss
Make lip gloss. It’s easy and exciting for kids to make lip balm in many flavors and colors. Don’t call it “gloss” and you might get boys interested as well.

Bouncy Balls
A ball is a small gift that won’t cost you a lot but will get used a lot.

Pencils
A common non-candy gift for children is a fun pencil. They come in great variety (including our tree-free pencils), they are easy to decorate and personalize, and kids will use them.

Wooden Toys
We often find situations where kids might want to give small gifts, and we don’t want to create more plastic clutter of throwaway gifts. We want to give eco-friendly gifts that children will actually use. That is why we created a loot bag section in our Green Celebrations department. We have a couple of tiny toys that would be perfect for Valentine’s Day gifts: mini wooden kaleidoscopes and wooden pop tops.

Friendship Bracelets
An older child can use cotton embroidery floss to create friendship bracelets. To make it a Valentine, add a small tag with a message.

Wooden Yo-Yo
For a special friend, a red wooden yo-yo is great gift that will be played with for a long time.

The Recurring Candy Issue

Yes, it’s nice to take a positive approach. I can be tiring to think, “Great. Another holiday, another opportunity to explain why we don’t give out candy.” Sure, we don’t have to focus on explaining. We can just nudge expectations away from sugary treats to other treats.

The issue will continue to come up, though. If you want to deal with Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and all of the candy holidays all at once, if you are tired of navigating the candy and food issues, help your school or district develop policies that will make it easier not just to manage allergies but to meet nutrition goals.

A lot of schools have no-food or no-candy policies for celebrations. This makes it a lot easier for schools to manage food allergies and sensitivities. Sell them on the benefits for the school, and they might be willing to work with you.

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

Let’s Talk about Candy

Child dressed in Halloween costume eating cupcake

For parents who prefer that their children not eat everlasting gobs of sugar every Halloween, the holiday becomes a time to take a deep breath and figure out how we will navigate the choices this year. To candy or not to candy?

Switch to Better Alternatives

Within the dominant structure of treat or treat and begging for candy, or truck or treat, or school parties, or whatever is popular in your area, most options include a lot of candy.

One option is to participate but contribute better alternatives. Better alternatives to WHAT depends on your priorities. Is your family completely sugar free? Then maybe you look for sugar-free treats or natural sweets. Are you open to candy, but you don’t want to eat conventional chocolate? Then you might want to find bite-size fair trade chocolate. Organic? Plenty of that. Local? My grocery store has a dozen local chocolate choices, some organic and some fair trade.

So, the first question is: what part of the dominant celebration are you trying to avoid? Then ask how you can do that and still participate.

Or, Limit the Candy

Some parents who generally avoid sugar or chocolate or a list of other candy issues, relax the rules on Halloween. This approach avoids creating candy as the desired thing for a child, the thing they must have at all costs as soon as you aren’t looking.

The Switch Witch and the Magic Pumpkin are two ideas you can read more about in “Halloween Treat Alternatives.” The child chooses a few candies to keep then leaves the rest out for the Switch Witch or the Magic Pumpkin, who leaves a different gift.

I just said NO to candy when my children were small, perhaps less than 5-years old. Once my children were older, I let them keep what they gathered, but I limited them to one piece per day each. I don’t love this solution, but it worked those years when we participated in trick or treating with friends and neighbors.

Or, Switch Structure

Rather than accept the dominant idea that Halloween must involve candy, switch to another structure entirely. Have a costume dinner party for adults and children. Go to a maize maze in costume. Find a fun activity that celebrates the season without focusing on candy.

This is the option we choose most years. I like that this doesn’t put our choices as an alternative to candy but just removes thinking about the candy altogether.

Resources: Thinking about Candy for Children

We’ve collected a few of our past posts that you may find helpful.

Halloween Treat Alternatives

Four ways to shift focus from “Gimme Candy” to sweet memories, weird science, social activism, or community.

Sugar: 7 Reasons to Break the Addiction

Baby eating a sugar lollipopNot sure whether there is a good enough reason to skip the sugary candy altogether this year? Read through our seven reasons to avoid sugar and the studies that back up the reasons. Sugar is addictive, toxic, leads to disease, saps energy, shortens your life, and can make you stupid. How is that for reason enough?

How Are Families Going Sugar Free?

A spiral of sugarThese are baby steps to break the sugar addiction for a whole family. It isn’t holiday focused, but there are good and important steps you can incorporate into a changed holiday if you are ready to make the break.

Dark Side of Chocolate

The Dark Side of Chocolate is a documentary about child labor and slavery in the cocoa industry. Fair trade or skip it. You won’t find chocolate so sweet when you see this story.

Chocolate — It’s About Dignity and Sustainability

Child with Chocolate

I wrote this post about the good reasons to choose fair trade, sustainable chocolate a few years ago. There are so many more choices now. If you want to make change, you do have options.

My Conscious Choices, Your Conscious Choices

Reasons to create your own candy-free Halloween traditions vary: health, social justice, environmental sustainability, and so on. Not all of us make the same choices, and that’s OK. If you want help thinking through whether now is the time to make those changes, ask yourself the five questions in this post. There are no right answers. You are the only one who knows if now is the time for change.

Image © Poznyakov | Dreamstime.com

Halloween Treat Alternatives

Reverse Trick or Treating cards with fair trade chocolate

Reverse Trick or Treating cards with fair trade chocolate

Before our children are developmentally able to focus on consequences, it’s up to us to help them see alternatives to immediate choices. We can shift focus from GIMME CANDY to things and ideas that will still satisfy in other ways.

I usually welcome my children to have a small amount of Halloween candy. My son has started to realize that he feels very emotional when he has too much sugar. He doesn’t like the feeling of being out of control, so he limits his own candy consumption. His self regulation is a step in the right direction, but I still do what I can to help out. This year, I have more ideas how to divert the candy stream without the result of sad little faces of children deprived of non-nutritive food-like substances.


1. Gifts from the Magic Pumpkin

Nature Mom recently told me the story of the Magic Pumpkin that visits her house each year.

“I had been able to swap out my kids’ collected loot for the first 2 years, but my 5-year old started to catch on last year. So, we changed our tactic and told her we had learned that if we left her collected candy out at night for the Magic Pumpkin to eat, he would leave her something else in its place.

“The idea came from another parent, and I was amazed at how well it went over. We let her pick 3 candies to keep for herself, and she left the rest out for the night. When she fell asleep, we swapped out her candy for a Halloween story book and hair ties.

“I’m hopeful she’ll want to try this again come Halloween. Last year my 4-year old was a willing participant. I think the key is to make the goodies left by the Magic Pumpkin as fun and enticing as candy might be. I love this idea because you can tailor the treats or gifts to your own children.”

Shifts focus from GIMME CANDY
to SWEET MEMORIES OF A NICE HOLIDAY


2. Candy Experiments

If you know your child will end up with a bag of candy, and you want to lower the sugar impact, consider diverting the candy from the usual hand-to-mouth race. You could teach them a little science.

Candy Experiments can lead you through dissolving, melting, baking, smashing, cracking, and otherwise destroying candy in the name of science. You can use a coffee filter and dyed candy for chromatography. Dissolve Skittles to determine color density to make a pretty rainbow of unnatural dyes. And, those with patience can watch chocolate bloom as the fats separate out into little circles. They explain not just the what and how but the why.

If you are in Washington, D.C., this weekend, join them at the USA Science and Engineering Festival to see some of these experiments for yourself.

Shifts focus from GIMME CANDY TO EAT
to WHAT IS THIS STUFF, ANYWAY?


3. Fair Trade Chocolate

I love chocolate. I don’t love the labor issues that come with chocolate. I worry about treating children with a food that other children have suffered to produce.

So, this year my family is Reverse Trick or Treating with a kit we ordered from Global Exchange. When my children go door to door, they will give an information card to people at the first 15 houses so they can learn about fair trade chocolate. There is a piece of chocolate attached to each card as well. Yes, our neighbors expect this kind of thing from us!

Shifts focus from GIMME CANDY
to I CARE ABOUT OTHER CHILDREN IN THE WORLD


4. Family Party

I have been informed by my son that not only will we be having pumpkin soup for Halloween, we will be having orange rolls and sloppy buffalo joes. After one year, this has become a requirement. I’m thrilled to see that his focus for the day is on nutritious food.

In my fantasy world, I also make homemade candy. About a month ago I made a mild, homemade licorice with fennel from our garden. It tasted great (to both adults) and looked wonderful.

That’s the good news.

I didn’t roll it in sugar or flour as the recipes all suggested. So, follows the bad news. I put some of the licorice in mason jar—and it all melted into a solid mass that is far to hard to even extract from the jars. I had saved a small jar to give Nature Mom when I saw her last week, but it is such a sad, solid, sludgy mess that I didn’t want to embarrass myself with it. (She won’t even know this unless she reads the post!)

So, I would take homemade licorice if I: 1) made it fresh, or 2) gave in and rolled it in flour or sugar. I’m thinking I’ll stick with the homemade orange bread rolls with tiny green bread stems.

This year, we will be taking our nutritious holiday food and spending the Saturday night before Halloween with a group of families who (we hope) will enjoy our contributions to a big dinner. Rather than a planned raid of the neighborhood, we’re off to have fun.

Shifts focus from GIMME CANDY
to COMMUNITY FUN

Halloween Treat Alternatives

Reverse Trick or Treating cards with fair trade chocolate

Reverse Trick or Treating cards with fair trade chocolate

Before our children are developmentally able to focus on consequences, it’s up to us to help them see alternatives to immediate choices. We can shift focus from GIMME CANDY to things and ideas that will still satisfy in other ways.

I usually welcome my children to have a small amount of Halloween candy. My son has started to realize that he feels very emotional when he has too much sugar. He doesn’t like the feeling of being out of control, so he limits his own candy consumption. His self regulation is a step in the right direction, but I still do what I can to help out. This year, I have more ideas how to divert the candy stream without the result of sad little faces of children deprived of non-nutritive food-like substances.


1. Gifts from the Magic Pumpkin

Nature Mom recently told me the story of the Magic Pumpkin that visits her house each year.

“I had been able to swap out my kids’ collected loot for the first 2 years, but my 5-year old started to catch on last year. So, we changed our tactic and told her we had learned that if we left her collected candy out at night for the Magic Pumpkin to eat, he would leave her something else in its place.

“The idea came from another parent, and I was amazed at how well it went over. We let her pick 3 candies to keep for herself, and she left the rest out for the night. When she fell asleep, we swapped out her candy for a Halloween story book and hair ties.

“I’m hopeful she’ll want to try this again come Halloween. Last year my 4-year old was a willing participant. I think the key is to make the goodies left by the Magic Pumpkin as fun and enticing as candy might be. I love this idea because you can tailor the treats or gifts to your own children.”

Shifts focus from GIMME CANDY
to SWEET MEMORIES OF A NICE HOLIDAY


2. Candy Experiments

If you know your child will end up with a bag of candy, and you want to lower the sugar impact, consider diverting the candy from the usual hand-to-mouth race. You could teach them a little science.

Candy Experiments can lead you through dissolving, melting, baking, smashing, cracking, and otherwise destroying candy in the name of science. You can use a coffee filter and dyed candy for chromatography. Dissolve Skittles to determine color density to make a pretty rainbow of unnatural dyes. And, those with patience can watch chocolate bloom as the fats separate out into little circles. They explain not just the what and how but the why.

If you are in Washington, D.C., this weekend, join them at the USA Science and Engineering Festival to see some of these experiments for yourself.

Shifts focus from GIMME CANDY TO EAT
to WHAT IS THIS STUFF, ANYWAY?


3. Fair Trade Chocolate

I love chocolate. I don’t love the labor issues that come with chocolate. I worry about treating children with a food that other children have suffered to produce.

So, this year my family is Reverse Trick or Treating with a kit we ordered from Global Exchange. When my children go door to door, they will give an information card to people at the first 15 houses so they can learn about fair trade chocolate. There is a piece of chocolate attached to each card as well. Yes, our neighbors expect this kind of thing from us!

Shifts focus from GIMME CANDY
to I CARE ABOUT OTHER CHILDREN IN THE WORLD


4. Family Party

I have been informed by my son that not only will we be having pumpkin soup for Halloween, we will be having orange rolls and sloppy buffalo joes. After one year, this has become a requirement. I’m thrilled to see that his focus for the day is on nutritious food.

In my fantasy world, I also make homemade candy. About a month ago I made a mild, homemade licorice with fennel from our garden. It tasted great (to both adults) and looked wonderful.

That’s the good news.

I didn’t roll it in sugar or flour as the recipes all suggested. So, follows the bad news. I put some of the licorice in mason jar—and it all melted into a solid mass that is far to hard to even extract from the jars. I had saved a small jar to give Nature Mom when I saw her last week, but it is such a sad, solid, sludgy mess that I didn’t want to embarrass myself with it. (She won’t even know this unless she reads the post!)

So, I would take homemade licorice if I: 1) made it fresh, or 2) gave in and rolled it in flour or sugar. I’m thinking I’ll stick with the homemade orange bread rolls with tiny green bread stems.

This year, we will be taking our nutritious holiday food and spending the Saturday night before Halloween with a group of families who (we hope) will enjoy our contributions to a big dinner. Rather than a planned raid of the neighborhood, we’re off to have fun.

Shifts focus from GIMME CANDY
to COMMUNITY FUN

Old-fashioned Licorice with Fennel Flavor

Homemade licorice

Homemade licorice

Last Wednesday, I cleaned up my overgrown herb garden. I have a whole winter’s worth of mint tea, the fresh sage went into turkey dressing that I’ll be eating in about an hour, and the fennel seeds and leaves my children convinced me would make nice licorice.

My cleaned up fennel plants

My cleaned up fennel plants

Licorice is usually made with licorice root and anise seeds. Because of the potential side effects of actual licorice root (raised blood pressure, edema, and toxicity to liver and cardiovascular system), it made sense to me to use a substitute that has common culinary uses. Fennel seed is also used medicinally to prevent gas. A licorice-like fennel candy makes a nice after dinner treat.

Fennel is much more mild than licorice, so you will need to make a very strong infusion of fennel. I used both seeds (dried for a few days then crushed to release their oils) and leaves (crushed into powder). Next time, I’ll make it stronger.

Fennel seeds I picked last week

Fennel seeds I picked last week


Infusion of Fennel

1/4 c. fennel seeds, crushed
2 Tbs. fennel leaves, powdered
1 c. water

Pour boiling water over the seeds and leaves as for tea. Cover immediately and leave until room temperature. Strain.

I left the infusion overnight then boiled it down a bit to try to concentrate the flavor. Because I added the liquid to a syrup, I wish I had boiled it down more. The whole process would have been faster if I had concentrated the flavor in less liquid.


Fennel Syrup

1 c. blackstrap molasses
1/4 c. oil (I used canola/rapeseed)
1 c. liquid (my fennel infusion)
3/4 c flour, sifted

Makes about 12oz of licorice.

Mix molasses and oil in a heavy saucepan. Add liquid and mix. Use a candy thermometer to bring the mixture up to soft ball stage (~230-245 degrees F).

Long before the syrup reached soft ball stage

Long before the syrup reached soft ball stage

It took me about 40 minutes to bring the syrup to soft ball stage because of the amount of liquid I added. Reduce the liquid, and the process may be faster for you.

Once my slightly fennel-flavored molasses mixture held together in a ball when dropped in cold water, I removed from the heat.


Licorice Dough

Remove from heat. Add flour 1 tablespoon at a time but quickly. The longer the syrup is off the heat, the less time you will have to shape the candies.

The amount of flour you need may vary depending on humidity and temperature. When the mixture forms a thick dough that becomes difficult to stir, put a spoonful in your hand. (Be careful! It could still be quite hot.) If you can roll it in your hands without it sticking, it’s ready to roll out.

Mixing flour into licorice syrup

Mixing flour into licorice syrup

Now, move fast!

Use a heavy metal spatula to scrap all of the mixture onto your working surface before it can harden onto the pan. (I didn’t.) Break off a couple of tablespoons at a time and roll in your hands to make 1/4″-3/8″ wide ropes.

Licorice ropes about 4 to 6 inches long

Licorice ropes about 4 to 6 inches long

I had helpers, and we still lost about 5% of our mixture on the edges of the pan due to our slowness.

We used the candy stuck on the pan to try a version of the licorice water that my children have wanted to try from the Just William stories thinking might work better than the version with modern, store-bought licorice. Around the time of rationing during World War II, licorice was one of the few sweets that children could get, and they got creative in making sweet drinks. It was horrible, according to the children. I think they just don’t have a concept of how what is sweet has changed over time.

Once you have all of the licorice in ropes, use kitchen shears to snip them into ½” pieces. These look just like the licorice I used to buy as a child.

Cut homemade licorice

Cut homemade licorice


Reviews

My daughter very diplomatically asked if she could finish her fennel licorice later and said that it was probably a very adult taste. She’s probably right. The flavor is intense. This is not the hard gelatin goo that generally passes as licorice. With the only sweetener being reduced molasses, it is a bit bitter but it tastes great to me. My husband said it’s kitchen magic.

To make the flavor more palatable to a child, you may need to use sugar or some other sweetener. Many recipes recommend rolling licorice ropes in powdered sugar to keep them from sticking to one another, and that would lighten the flavor a bit.

Or, help your children develop a taste for less sweet treats. That’s my plan. One little piece of fennel licorice after dinner will seem like a treat. Both children have agreed that it would be easier to see a small piece as a flavorful treat.

As the season of horror and candy (and horrible candy) approaches, I’ll post a few ideas how to deal with the onslaught and avoid the sugar jitters.