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Keep kids healthy with Valentine snacks, crafts

By Kaitlyn Byrne
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE – With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, parents and teachers are looking for healthy snacks and creative crafts to entertain children at holiday-themed parties.

Brent Fountain, associate extension professor and human nutrition specialist with Mississippi State University Extension Service, said children’s Valentine’s Day parties usually consist of a variety of cupcakes, brownies and cookies, but better planning can allow for healthier options.

“What usually happens is that everyone brings the same type of food, and you end up having several varieties of junk food to take home,” Fountain said. “Through better coordination between the parents, you can make sure you have a wider variety of foods available. Plan two or three sweet options and then have healthier items available, such as fruit and vegetable trays. ”

Portion control can help keep children from overindulging on sweets, Fountain said.

“For those making sweets, make them smaller. Children often want just a taste of the foods,” he said. “Typically they will consume less if the sizes of the foods are smaller. Also, use small plates for the party. Big plates tend to entice people, including children, to get more. Smaller plates help kids make choices about what to get and what not to get.”

Even though Valentine’s Day goodies are typically candy and chocolate, Fountain said there can be healthy alternatives.

“Instead of frosted cupcakes, you may choose to try oatmeal muffins or bran muffins,” he said. “These will offer more fiber than cake, and by skipping the frosting you reduce the calories provided by simple sugars.”

Fountain said pairing fruit and vegetable trays with low fat and low sugar dips can increase selections. He said good fruit choices include apple slices, grapes, pineapple and berries. Good vegetable choices are celery, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli.

Alana Cecil, director of Independence United Methodist Church Preschool, said instead of handing out chocolate or cookies as party favors, children can create homemade crafts out of recycled materials to give to classmates.

“At IUMC Preschool, we like to use any type of recycled materials we can find leftover in the classroom craft closet to make creative crafts,” Cecil said. “We found a good use for broken crayons by melting them into heart shapes for Valentine’s Day.”

To make hearts out of melted crayons, Cecil said all it takes is broken crayons, an oven-safe heart-shaped mold, a cookie sheet and an oven.

“Just preheat the oven to 250 degrees, fill each mold with the crayon pieces and bake for about ten minutes,” she said. “Once the hearts have cooled, you can place them in festive baggies with ribbon to make a cute Valentine’s Day-themed party favor.”

For a quick, easy craft in the classroom, Cecil suggested making pipe cleaner hearts.

“Have the children place pony beads onto the pipe cleaner, and be sure to leave at least a two-bead length on each end to twist the ends together,” she said. “Once you have tied the ends together, you can help the kids make it into a heart shape. Then the kids can trade the hearts with one another. Kids love this, and it is easy, cute and affordable.”

Released: February 2, 2012
Contacts: Dr. Brent Fountain
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