For me, Valentine’s Day is really just a tsunami of crazy. I have some serious reservations about any holiday represented by a cherubic looking baby with a sack of arrows. In fact, I spent a good share of the “terrible twos” disarming my own half-naked toddlers, trying to pry sharp objects from their tight-fisted fingers. Let me assure you that romance was the last thing on my mind in those moments.  

And yes, those darling children will need to tote their own Valentine’s to school. One year, in a particularly ambitious moment, I decided to recycle our own paper and make a slew of Valentine’s with the kids as an educational project. It was fun for about eight-and-a-half seconds, after which point my five-year-old informed me that he was tired of cutting and pasting, and that they “actually make Valentines you can just buy at the store.” Who knew? 

School parties are also on the holiday agenda. Mothers seem to split in to two camps on the issue of classroom celebrations: 1) “It’s only one day, so a few treats will do no harm,” and 2) “I don’t want my kid consuming this much red dye #40 in a month, let alone an afternoon.” I try to summon my best “momraderie” on this issue and find the middle ground, where moms can agree to moderate the junk food but still allow a special treat.  

Too many "special days"

The truth, of course, is that school is ripe with “special days,” from birthdays to holiday celebrations to classroom rewards…and all involve food. Usually, unhealthy food. High fat, high sugar processed junk. Children are inundated with low-quality food and drinks at these parties – items filled with sugar and additives that have been shown to have startling effects on their health, development, behavior and ability to learn. The calories add up, too. On average, kids will consume an additional 500 calories on “special days” in school*. 

Much of the Valentine’s Day sugar will come home, and get spread out over several days. Candy hearts and chocolate kisses, lollipops and cupcakes and cookies.  I’ll flip over the labels, scan the ingredients, and find myself tripping out over hydrogenated oils and food additives so frightening, you could rob a bank with them: “Do whatever he says! He’s got methoxybenzoate!” 

I know what you’re thinking: Way to put the ‘un’ in ‘fun.’  

We feel this way because we’ve been taught that the centerpiece of any celebration is food and, more specifically, junk food. We can retrain ourselves and our kids to understand that special days can be celebrated in a myriad of ways, involving either no food at all or food that makes us feel good and want to continue to run and play and enjoy the event. 

Here are some simple suggestions for a healthier Valentine’s Day:

  • Don’t make the food the focus. Find other special activities or games that engage kids and keep them active. 
  • Ask parents to sign up to bring specific treats. Include items like fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grain crackers and water. Skip the juice and soda, as well as the sweet treats. 
  • Tell parents about food choices in advance. This allows time for parents to talk to their child, then opt out or provide an alternative, if desired. This can be as simple as an email or a mention in the weekly class newsletter. 
  • Help students to become food literate. Children are able to understand food choices and are eager to make their own decisions. Let them know why you are choosing healthier fare for classroom parties and encourage them to sample and try new and different foods. 
  • Get creative. This year, my kids chose Valentine’s Day cards with a monkey and jungle theme. Instead of candy, I’m including a mini banana with each valentine. It’s both healthy and allergy-friendly. Other options? Pencils, stickers and erasers are all popular alternatives.

What’s your family’s Valentine’s Day tradition?

*Source: Action for Healthy Kids