Real Food Tips: Advent Calendars (without candy!)

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I touched on the subject of Advent calendars last year, but today I want to expand on the topic by including a detailed list. I like lists. :) As I mentioned our Advent house (which I bought at Target a few years ago by the way) was once filled with little pieces of highly processed candy, gum, chocolate, etc. I used to even let my girls open the doors and eat the junk before breakfast. This was just three years ago…wow, have times changed!

So anyway, I moved away from the candy for obvious reasons, and started going on these intense retail hunts looking for little toys that were tiny enough to fit behind those doors. This was no easy task, and to top it off that stuff really was just “junk” too since they were mainly little plastic items made in China that our children quickly forgot about or lost. So I no longer feel like racing around town and spending time/money on little knickknacks our kids honestly do not need. And I also don’t feel it’s necessary to fill this little house with organic less-junky candy (that is still candy by the way) during an already sugary time of year.

So inspired by This Lunch Rox, below is the official list for our newly renamed “Giving House.” And the criteria for these ideas were basically random acts of kindness that you could perform without having to go somewhere special (like a shelter or hospital). Of course going to such places on a regular basis would be fabulous in an ideal world, but I know how it is around the holidays so I personally did not want to over-commit during an already busy time! My girls seem to be okay with this change so far, and I am even including a free business card sized “printable” version of this list in case you want to follow suit and simply cut out these ideas for your own Advent calendar as well. I’d love to hear any other Advent ideas and suggestions in the comments below!

Our New Advent “Giving House” List

  1. Mail a card to a relative that you have not spoken to in a while.
  2. Do something especially nice and out of the ordinary for your sister or brother.
  3. Write a letter to your teacher telling them what you most like about his or her class.
  4. Give someone a nice compliment they wouldn’t normally expect.
  5. Pack your own school lunch so mommy can take the night off.
  6. Go out of your way to “help” another child or adult.
  7. Play with a friend at school that is alone at recess.
  8. Choose 2 or 3 non-perishable food items that you can set aside to donate to a local food bank.
  9. Write a thank you note to someone who has helped you recently.
  10. Cut some flowers out of your yard (or make flowers out of tissue paper) and give them to either a teacher at your school or a neighbor.
  11. Sit with someone different at lunch that you don’t know very well (and get to know them!).
  12. Decorate cards that you can mail to children who are sick and in some cases fighting cancer (cards can also be sent to their siblings).
  13. If you see a piece of trash on the ground (at home, school, or outside) pick it up and throw it away…be sure to wash your hands afterward!
  14. Choose at least one article of clothing to donate to Goodwill or a child in need.
  15. Email your congressman or the President asking them to consider an issue that you feel is important for your community.
  16. Make a small craft and mail it to one of your cousins.
  17. When you get to school ask your teacher if there is something you can do to help him or her in order to get the morning started.
  18. Tell each member of your immediate family what you love about them.
  19. Choose at least one toy or book to donate to Goodwill or a child in need.
  20. Offer to take one of your neighbor’s dogs (or your own dog) for a walk.
  21. Do a chore around the house that no one has asked you to do, but that needs to be done!
  22. Call one of your grandparents on the phone (or facetime/skype!).
  23. Write a letter to a soldier thanking him or her for serving our country.
  24. With your parents help research a charity you can either donate money to or support through a future event (like a “fun run” or soup kitchen). Put it on the calendar and commit to it.
  25. Give everyone in your family a big {squeeze} hug and kiss and tell them what you are thankful for.
Download a free printable version of this list that can be cut out for your Advent calendar!


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129 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: Advent Calendars (without candy!)”

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  1. I really like this idea, but I might implement it a bit differently. We celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, in addition to my daughter’s birthday in early December. So many gifts! In previous years, we did one night of Hanukkah where we make a donation. I think this year, we might pick 8 of these and do this instead of gifts. Thanks!

  2. I think this is a great idea to teach your kids to care about the world around them. However I don’t think they should all be about service. It sort of takes the fun out of it.
    I definitely will be trying this concept with some substitutions such as..
    1. Family game night
    2. 30 minutes extra play time
    3. Paint a masterpiece
    4. Give a friend a hug
    5. Bake cookies (my daughter loves to bake)
    6. Movie night (weekend of course)
    I love some of the ones you posted as well, such as, sit with someone else at lunch, pick up trash, write a letter, give to food bank.

  3. I think this is a great idea to teach your kids to care about the world around them. However I don’t think they should all be about service. It sort of takes the fun out of it.
    I definitely will be trying this concept with some substitutions such as..
    1. Family game night
    2. 30 minutes extra play time
    3. Paint a masterpiece
    4. Give a friend a hug
    5. Bake cookies (my daughter loves to bake)
    6. Movie night (weekend of course)
    I love some of the ones you posted as well, such as, sit with someone else at lunch, pick up trash, write a letter.

  4. We have a similar Advent Calendar from Bombay and we do a mix of things. Sometimes it is an event like “drive thru lights tonight!” or “get ready for breakfast with Santa!” or simple things like “get on your aprons. It is cookie time!” or “Spaghetti (without syrup) and Elf movie tonight!” We do little gifts a few times too and they are asked to locate that present hidden in the house. We do generous things similar to yours. “Gather up extras we don’t need for a family shelter” or “write a card to a vet overseas.” But we still sneak in a few days of a Hershey Kiss or piece of gum. The kids love not knowing what each day will bring!!

  5. I love this! I, too, have been agonizing over what to put in the advent calendar this year instead of candy. I especially love that all of the odd ones are school-related, so when my 2 older girls (6 and 3; my 1-year-old isn’t ready yet) switch off, my 1st grade will always have something she can do at school! Thank you!

  6. I wanted to like this, but it leaves me feeling flat. It takes a fun-excitement thing and turns it into an obligation or a chore for the kids.
    Yay kids – today you get to pick up rubbish – make sure you wash your hands! Really?

    If you had something like a mini-lego kit that they got a piece of each day, or little seed packets to grow through the year, or or a puzzle that got built over the 25 days, or a “paint by numbers” sheet with different colours each day….that would be cool and something that’s not wasteful or junky.

    Extra chores for Christmas seems….well… like not much fun.

  7. I clicked on this because it looked like my advent house that my sil gave us a few years ago. I used to fill it with chocolates or pepermints but my boys would go ahead and take out all the candy. I didn’t even get to #2 before I sent the list to the printer. My boys (14, 11, 9) are definitely old enough to do these things. I <3 this so much.

  8. What a wonderful idea for some many reasons. I hope others will adopt this calendar. It’s just what we needed. Thank you.

  9. Thank you for sharing your Giving House. I think this is a great idea to use throughout the year. I won’t be using it as a substitute for an Advent calender, but I will be using as a way to teach my kids about random acts of kindness. =]

  10. I agree! I love sugar free advent calendars. Last year was our first year so we did erasers and this year I bought the Lego one. Since I have 3 older kids (and 1 a baby) I have 3 (4 counting one that’s just a calendar) so they can each do something so I also did a service one similar to yours we call “Presents for Jesus” and this year I found a fun activity one (link below) that was very similar to what I had made a list of to do anyway (except changed ice skating to puzzle so everything would be free). So everyday they do a service and a fun activity and whoever finds the elf gets to see what the activity is. It’s things like Christmas movie, craft, and other fun activities then the treat ones we make a healthier version of sugar free ones and hot chocolate from I’ll have to add some of your great ideas to my service box! Thanks.

  11. I don’t have children, but shared this with my 25 fifth grade students. We are going to do this in school, and paste a red heart on our Grinch poster to show our acts of kindness this season! Thanks for giving me this idea!

  12. There are so many good ideas in the comments, it’s worth going back to read them all. I think for older kids it could be fun to put little craft items in each box that they put together at the end to make something (I bead, so I was thinking beads for a bracelet, etc). I have a small baby so our advent calendar is just a decoration for now, but looking forward to doing a giving tree ourselves in coming years.

  13. Just wanted to mention because I manage three meals a week for the marginslized that people tend to give much at xmas. Maybe plan times to do do real food meals for soup kitchens in your area. We cook as much unprocessed food as we can. The poor c as n get as much free processed food ss they want. When giving canned food drives buy tuna, pasta, real chicken broths, gift cards to grocery stores. Thank you so much for caring. Laura

      1. Thank you Shelly for sharing your Advent calendar suggestion. My kids have out-grown the “little” kid one we have. I ordered this immediately after reading your post – it’s perfect for my “big” kids. ;)

    1. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been looking for a new Advent calendar that focuses on the Jesus. This is especially nice for younger children. :)

    2. $15? I’m so jealous! I have wanted this calendar, but hate the $60 price tag. I currently, have a nativity themed advent calendar with fillable boxes. I put a small chocolate in each box and my 3 girls take turns opening a box, so it only comes out to 8 1/3 chocolates per kid per advent season, still, I hate the idea of routinely giving them chocolate. Sadly, I started the tradition when my oldest was little (before I transitioned to real food) and my girls really look forward to it. I think next year, I will have to save up and buy the $60 calendar.

  14. These sound great!

    We have an Advent calendar similar to yours, and I went through the same things – the kids were either getting teeny tiny toys or stickers, and nobody was really happy with that arrangement. So we’ve tried different things over the years. The thing my kids love the absolute best are scavenger hunts! In the Advent calendar I will put the first clue. And they have to follow that clue to find the next clue, etc. After 5 or 6 clues, they find the “prize” (usually something like a new toothbrush, a book, a handmade card from me, etc.). For them, the exciting part is the scavenger hunt – it doesn’t really matter what the prize is. As the kids have grown up, the clues have changed. When they were just learning to read, they were easy and we focused on shapes, colors, etc. as they get older, the clues become more challenging to read, and now that they are avid readers, the clues really make them think (almost like figuring out a riddle). They love it. AND, since we do it in the evening after dinner, running around the house and up and down the stairs gets rid of their last bits of energy! It’s one of their favorite things about Christmas.

  15. This is perfect! I just bought a little house from Target yesterday. And with three kids, fitting three pieces of candy in there would be iffy, anyway, lol. :)

  16. I have two girls (7 and 8). My oldest LOVES it–the conscientious, stoic one, the rule follower who likes to do the right thing. My youngest reads each one and if there’s “work” involved, I get a little “What….!?!?! I have to write something…?!?!” But by the end of the day, she’s fully on board.

    One small suggest though. Either offer it as a Word doc or don’t put the numbers on them. I’ve had to rejigger ours as some things that should happen at school are happening on a weekend, and then others just don’t make sense for our family (e.g. on the 23rd, we will be with all our grandparents, so no need to skype w them.)

    I’ve also printed our on heavy duty card stock–2 in each pouch, so that each of my girls can write down on the back on if what they did. I’m thinking (hoping) that next year we can pull it out and read about all the things we did last year to put us back into the giving spirit.

  17. This is perfect-thank you!! I did a combination of mini dark chocolate and a kindness calendar last year. The challenge is to come up with new and exciting ideas each year so this is a great help. Love the ready to print format as well.

  18. Wow! This is so fantastic! I celebrate Hanukkah and have struggled this year with the gluttony of at least one gift a day (some from other relatives) for 8 days in a row. I will for sure adapt this for next year- probably start with the 8 days before Hanukkah (8 days of giving/8 days of receiving or something like that.) a beautiful idea. Thank you for sharing!

  19. Our advent calendar is the nativity seen and we add new pieces each day, but I have been thinking about doing something like this as well. Thank you!

  20. We are doing the same thing! We delivered a homemade dinner to a friend without notice and for no special reason today. I am calling it “Be the Blessing” month. We have been given so much and out goal is to find a way to be a blessing to someone each day this month. In a way we wouldn’t have normally done and without someone asking for help. Awesome Lisa!