Real Food Tips: Advent Calendars (without candy!)

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. Thanks everybody for all the ideas.

    The activity thing does not really work for me, as there are too many activities anyway. Advent has not even started yet, and my daughter has already baked Christmas cookies four times. Christmas markets are going to open this weekend, plus St. Nikolaus celebration on the 5th and 6th, plus skiing season starting…

    The good deeds sound good, but she is a little bit too young for it and most of them would not work with our culture – I don’t want her to come across as entire weirdo by running around and telling people what she loves about them ;-)

    I think I’ll do the Christmas tree ornaments and one special thing per week.

  2. We’re doing truth in the tinsel. It’s a Christian advent put together by a Mum of small children. Each day there’s an ornament to make, a Bible reading from the nativity story and something to think about.

  3. A big thank you for all the work that went into creating a non-candy advent calendar. This year, my kids are still too young to understand doing good deeds without cause…so we will be keeping it simple with an assortment of goodies, good causes and just plain good times. My kids love the simple things still and I rejoice in that during these very economically challenging times. Stuff is just that…stuff. And, they don’t really care either way about having stuff. I know that day is not far away, though.

  4. I love this. I’ve been preparing our children’s advent calendar this year with a new twist too – focusing on little notes that tell them what we love about them and giving them ‘coupons’ for family adventures – but I needed a few more ideas to fill the whole calendar. I’ll be using some of your suggestions for sure!

    A few from our family’s advent calendar (this is the first year I’m doing this): coupon to redeem for one visit to Santa, coupon to redeem for one ‘downtown Christmas adventure'(to see lights, gingerbread displays, etc.), coupon to redeem for a date with Mom and a date with Dad, coupon to redeem for a Christmas Tree hunt, etc.

    I love using the advent calendar as a way to encourage giving and thankfulness and family bonding rather than to have them looking forward to a new piece of junk every day for a month!

  5. We’re doing something similar, but with our Elf on the Shelf.
    Each morning Elf comes back from his visit with Santa with a new good deed.
    Both kids have to complete the good deed that day in order to earn the gifts under the tree.
    I only had about 10 days worth of ideas, so I’m stealing some of yours!

  6. That is a GREAT idea! this will be our first year with an advent calendar, and this is an even better way to use it! Thank you for sharing!

  7. I absolutely love your list. I’m getting our advent calendar ready now and was just sitting down to write out ideas when your email popped up. Thank you for putting the link to the printable copy too. Perfect timing. Now I have some free time:-)

  8. This is a very cool idea. Even though I don’t have kids, I am going to try to do one thing each day this month. Last year, some of my friends and I did random acts of kindness on my birthday in December and that was very rewarding.

  9. Since my son is only 2 1/2 I decided that this year we’d fill each box in our advent calendar with stickers and put them on a Christmas Tree that we made on a big piece of construction paper just below it. We filled each box with stars and animals, etc. I can’t wait to try it with him. I love the giving idea and will be doing something like that once he gets old enough.

  10. Thank you for the ideas!! Beyond the obvious benefits to health and less waste, I love this approach for what it does for my children’s character. We switched to this Advent approach last year, and I can’t express the difference I saw in my kids’ attitudes. We call each little mission a “giving challenge.” (If I call it a “challenge,” my kids take it as such and really rise to the occasion!)

    This is a wonderful way to reverse the spirit of entitlement and selfshness that settles on our children during this season, and refocus on giving and loving others! Thank you for promoting a true spirit of giving!!

  11. My children are only two and three, but last year we started our own advent tradition. I made small fabric bags and each day has an activity to do together. There are a few sweet treats – decorate cookies, hot chocolate – but most are more about getting into the spirit of Christmas. Last year there were a lot more baking/sweets, but I’m trying to keep those to a minimum now. Here is a link to this year’s activities –

  12. This is our first go at an Advent calendar. Our focus this year is service & family time. I’ll be adding some your ideas to ours! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  13. AWESOME! Totally copying this idea this year – guess I’m up all night tonight getting things ready. We have little Christmas ornaments that my mom got the kids from Germany and the kids get each day to decorate their own little trees – one ornament per day. I love adding a good deed per day to top it off!

  14. Great idea! We do something similar but ours is “Christmas activities”. So each day I write a little more about what we will do that day related to celebrating the season. Some of ours include “see a Christmas play”, “sing Christmas Carols at the nursing home”, make cards or Christmas cookies for the mailman or garbage collector”, drive around and look at Christmas lights”, “watch a Christmas movie”, “decorate the tree”,etc. The kids love to find put what we’re going to do that day. I love the generosity behind your idea and want to incorporate more of those types of activities.

  15. Thank you for doing all of this work for me! It’s on my to-do list to make a new advent calendar that just includes scripture verses, but I will add your plan to it. I can’t stand all of that junky chocolate or tons of useless gifts. You are totally awesome. This is a great gift to me:)

  16. Our “house” is filled with miniature ornaments that my girls use to decorate their own little tree. I love your idea as well!

  17. Great Idea! I think I will combine some of the things from this list with some things we can do together; ie.. crafts, baking, Christmas Activities.

  18. We are doing something similar here. I made little matchboxes out of scrapbook paper and each box will have a RAK inside. Unfortunately my kids are older (10, 12) and have homework, sports and school activities that prevents our calendar from being truly random. Easy, quick things will be done during the week, and ones that might take a little more time and energy on the weekends. When the kids were little, I used to hide little gifts (coloring books, crayons, etc…) around the house and each day I would write a rhyme with clues so they could find the gift. They loved it!

  19. This is a fantastic list! I’d been planning to do the same thing this year (we have a magnetic nativity advent calendar, but I like to add a little something to the doors) and you just saved me the time to come up with my own list :-) Thanks!

  20. This is such a wonderful idea! :) We have a similar thing in the shape of a Christmas tree. Someone gave it to us years ago, filled with 24 different types of coffee from Starbucks. I repurposed it to make a kiddie advent calendar, and we fill ours with lots of things. There are some junky things, but we also put in temp tattoos (which are extremely popular with our kids) and little games (which they like to use in the car on the way to places). I’ve also turned part of it into a treasure hunt… we have a few items that are larger, and those drawers contain a small hint for each kid (we have twins) which they have to follow, to get to the next, and the next, until they find the “prize”. :) Mostly the prizes are books, but once in a while it’s something else. We often get them Christmas theme socks for the last week of school, or a new themed shirt. :) It makes the days fun (and encourages reading!).

  21. Thanks for writing about this. I actually like this Giving House idea for the month of January, to reinforce the idea of giving back after receiving so much during the holiday season. I am sure it is good for December as well, but we already have an Advent calendar tradition. We have a fabric Advent calendar with 24 pockets that hold ornaments with velcro that are put up on the flanel tree each day. In the pockets (I was inspired by a mom of a childhood friend), I put a little slip of paper with their gift for the day written on it. I have two boys, so they alternate days (when my two nephews lived with us, each child got something every four days). Sometimes the gift has monetary value — a trip to the ice cream shop, a lottery ticket, a red box movie. But, a lot of them are activities, experiences, or gifts from the heart — a foot massage, a hike to a special place, a campfire, game night, choosing a favorite dinner, decorating a gingerbread house, making snowflakes, doing a random act of kindness… I like to encourage family time. My boys are 12 and 13 now and they love this as much as they did when they were young.

    1. I am making the same type of advent calendar! I found it on Pinterest

      I like the idea of the non-candy plus the fact that i’m making it. I wont’ get around to making all my own ornaments this year (we’re going to steal the tiny ones I’ve used for the tree in past years) but over the years I plan to make new ones and have the kids help make them too!

      I may incorporate the list right in with our ornaments too!!! :)

  22. Several years ago when my daughter was born we purchased a magnetic nativity calendar from one of the ridiculously expensive toy catalogs that came to the door. Each door has a piece to the nativity scene, ending with the baby jesus. Some days are just stars, cows or sheep but always something. on christmas eve you have a complete manger scene. I love your idea because now I can incorporate acts of service with this reminder of the real reason for the holiday season, because your lists will easily fit in the doors with the nativity pieces.

    here’s the link to the calendar we have. it’s by kurt adler and available on amazon.

    1. Here is the link to the same add a piece nativity calendar for a cheaper price from CP Toys. They have a few cheaper fabric versions as well.

      I was contemplating switching from a treat based calendar to one of these nativity calendars, however my husband thinks our children will revolt. At any rate we have 3 kids, so at least they are each only getting a small piece of good quality chocolate every 3rd day. Maybe I’ll make the switch next year.

      Also, a reader in Family Fun Magazine suggested putting a slip with an activity to do together each day in the advent calendar, (make Christmas cookies, go ice skating, etc.) instead of candy.

  23. I, too was looking for a way to eliminate the candy and plastic junk this year. After many internet searches, I came up with enough FREE ideas for all the days leading up to Advent. Some of them are: daily holiday-themed jokes, hot chocolate & a walk/drive around the city to look at lights, picnic under the christmas tree, sleeping under the christmas tree one night, holiday shows with popcorn (I have been using the DVR for this!), and holiday programs in the community, churches, and/or schools. Lisa, thanks for all you do! Happy Holidays to you and your family & the whole 100 days crew!!!!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Julie. Thank you for sharing some additional great ideas and for your holiday wishes. Our team wishes you and your family a wonderful holiday season as well. Jill

  24. Thanks for these ideas. I was just thinking I needed more ideas for this year. Last year we filled it with activities, art projects, family game and movie nighrs. The kids couldn’t wait to see what was the activity of the day.

  25. I love the Giving List idea!!! We put little tiny ornaments in ours and each day get to add one to a small tree we have set up. By the time we reach Christmas it’s fully decorated!

  26. THANK YOU, I’ve been in the same conundrum – I hate the waste of the typical advent. And then the multiple treat issue, focus on candy etc etc. I think everyone in my house will be on board –and we will all be more blessed for having done it. Thanks for bringing new meaning and significance to a fun tradition that was getting tired!

  27. We are doing books this year for advent, we will wrap up a book for each day, and then each day we open one of the books. We are using x-mas books we already have and will add some new ones. Then next year we will use the same books, this way these books only come out at x-mas (most are x-mas books anyway) and they are “special”. We’ll see how it goes.

  28. Great ideas! Nice of you to steer clear of plastic junk and things made in China. Are you aware your cute “Giving House” was most likely made in China? Let’s not limit our avoidance of things made in China to just the the plastic junk…. Merry Christmas!

    1. That may be true, but this is something we will get lots of use out of over the years and could even be passed down to one of our children. The plastic stuff that seems to almost immediately end up in the landfill has got to go for sure though!

  29. These are great – we have a similar Advent calendar and I’ve been searching for non-candy ideas. Thanks for the great ones – I will use several of these!

  30. I totally love this. I have to say, I hesitate to get out our beautiful advent calendar because I don’t want to fill it with junk. This is a wonderful way to fill it! Thanks so much for sharing!

  31. LOVE THIS! We have a similar advent calendar house and I am over filling it with Crunch Bells and mini Kit Kat! Thanks for the alternate idea.