Fun ways to fill an Easter basket without too much sugar

Easter baskets can be so much fun to put together for the kiddos. And while the Easter Bunny is not going to fill up a basket with broccoli and Brussels sprouts, there’s no reason for the basket to be loaded with sugar either.

Sugary candies may be easy to buy, but did you know that one prefilled plastic egg can contain more than 30 grams of sugar? That is the same amount of sugar as what’s in two ice cream sandwiches. By adding toys, coins and books to the mix, the Easter Bunny can dial back the sugar — and amp up the fun.

In fact, the sugar consumption during the Easter season can even compete with Halloween when you take into account all of the sugary treats collected from egg hunts, baskets and school parties, not to mention Easter family gatherings.

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Keith Kantor, a Norcross nutritionist and CEO of the Nutritional Addiction Mitigation Eating and Drinking program (NAMED), suggested focusing on toys that promote exercise like jump-ropes, sidewalk chalk, Frisbees, pool toys and sunglasses. Another idea, he said, is to consider skipping several little toys and treats for one big item like a basketball hoop or train set or membership to Zoo Atlanta. 

He also recommends avoiding popular, mass-produced and almost pure sugar candies like jelly beans and marshmallow candies, as well steering clear of milk chocolate bunnies with processed sugars like high-fructose corn syrup or trans fatty acids in the form of hydrogenated oils. (His favorite Easter treat alternatives include Annie's organic fruit snacks,Lake Champion organic dark chocolate Easter bunnies,andSjaak's, which has vegan and almond butter Easter candy options.)

When it comes to filling those Easter baskets, Wendy Palmer, registered dietitian at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life, said, "The most important thing I tell parents is that it's all about balance."

Palmer, the mother of two young boys, shares her four tips for a healthier Easter basket:

1. Get creative with the plastic eggs. Fill your own colorful plastic eggs with items such as Easter erasers, rings, stickers, temporary tattoos and toy cars. These little items are fun and are inexpensive. For young children, avoid small toys that could pose a choking hazard.

2. Make the biggest item in the basket a toy. Trade the oversized chocolate bunny for something special like a kite. Kites can be inexpensive, even as low as $7, plus your kids will love running around and watching them fly high. Colorful soccer balls and basketballs work well, too.

3. Choose candy wisely. The Easter aisles are exploding with sugary options, so be smart about the candy you put in the basket. Many of us still have Valentine's Day candy in our pantries, so don't go overboard. Select just a couple of your child's favorite candy items for his basket. If your kids don't have nut allergies, go for dark chocolate treats that contain peanuts or almonds, as they pack more nutrition power from antioxidants and protein.

4. Skip the candy for babies. Many candies can be choking hazards for babies, and the American Heart Association warns against introducing kids ages 2 and under to added sugar. A baby's growing body and brain need nutritious foods for fuel, and sugar does not offer these key nutrients, and because healthy habits are hardwired by age 3, it's best to start baby off on the right foot by limiting sugar. Get baby into the Easter spirit by dressing the baby up for the holiday and fill the basket with cute board books and a soft bunny stuffed animal.