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I used to think that Halloween through New Year’s was the hardest time of the year to stick to my goal of eating healthfully, considering leftover candy from trick or treating, Thanksgiving dinner, holiday parties and gatherings—the list goes on and on. By the time January rolls around, I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that my family can get back on track with our usual way of eating…but then comes February! Even if we didn’t get to celebrate a Super Bowl win this year (sigh), I’ve noticed lots of pink sweets in the bakery section of my local grocery store and candy displays are everywhere you look.

Of course, Valentine’s Day is always a fun time to show your loved ones how much they mean to you, but the day doesn’t have to be packed with sugar, fat and calories to be delicious and meaningful. Here are some great ideas for you to try with your kids:

• Children don’t need extra sugar, so sending candy to school along with Valentine’s or Friendship Day cards isn’t a great idea. Instead, include things like stickers, funny pencils or temporary tattoos.

• If your child’s class is having a party, offer to bring healthy choices, such as cut-up fruit, cheese, whole grain crackers, pretzels or unbuttered popcorn.

• Cut sandwiches into heart shapes for a lunch box surprise.

And for that special someone in your life—who probably doesn’t need the extra calories but who might not be as pleased with colored pencils as your 4-year-old—it’s time to start a new tradition! Here are some recipe ideas that are sure to please:

• Combining dark chocolate with fruit can be a healthier alternative to other sweets…just don’t overdo it. Dip small pieces of fruit (strawberries, bananas and orange segments all work well) in melted dark chocolate. Sprinkle them with chopped nuts to make them even healthier and arrange them in mini-muffin paper liners just like boxed candies.

• Make your favorite baking recipes, especially cakes and muffins or quick breads, healthier:

o Try substituting half the oil or butter with unsweetened applesauce.

o Substitute half of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour.

o Try cutting back on the sugar called for by up to a half. Adding flavorings and spices, like vanilla extract or cinnamon, can boost the sweetness of many recipes.

o For other heart-healthy and waistline-trimming substitution tips, visit

Healthy Valentine’s treats—what better way to show the people you love how much you truly care about them!

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