Is it just me or has anyone else noticed how so many holidays seem to be centered around junk food? From Halloween candy to Christmas cookies to Valentine’s Day treats to Easter baskets it feels like my daughters collect enough candy from the holidays alone to feed an entire army (and we actually did help feed the army by shipping our Halloween candy to them one year!). And since holidays, which seem to pop up every other month, are intertwined with birthday parties, school rewards, and other special occasions (King Cake for Mardi Gras anyone?) I often feel like I don’t even get the chance to “treat” my kids to something special because everyone else does it for me. But that’s because we aim to let treats truly be a “treat” at our house, which means not getting one every single day (or even every other day), and it sometimes feels like the rest of the world isn’t quite on board with that idea. This post is not about that though…it’s actually about how “treats” can be fun and exciting without also being full of sugar or artificial colors (or from a factory)!
I know people get caught up in wanting to give kids something special – and some people even think I am “depriving” my children when I don’t want them to have highly processed junk food – but how special is it really if it’s also not good for their health? Sure a piece of candy here or there probably won’t hurt anything and my kids certainly eat junk food like that on occasion, but the point is I can offer something that’s better for them and just as exciting! I think it’s up to us to decide what foods are deemed as “special.” If I put a little extra thought into how a certain food is presented, and I tell my girls it’s extra special then guess what? They agree and get pretty excited about it. They are young (4 and 7) so I’m not sure how long this will last, but you should have seen how they were clamoring over the pictured heart shaped fruit (on the kabob sticks with ribbons) while I was busy taking a million pictures of them. They were thrilled when I finally said they could gobble them up. Was it a little more work than ripping open a Pop Tart? Sure, but not much and I personally think the extra effort was worth it to feel good about what I was feeding them. :)
So in the midst of the standard candy this Valentine’s Day I hope you’ll consider trying out some of these holiday-themed alternatives as well (as I’ve said before…cookie cutters aren’t just for cookies!):
- Heart or X & O shaped cheese or fruit (apple, kiwi, & honey-dew melon pictured above) either by itself or with other pieces on kabob sticks.
- Homemade whole-wheat brownies (pictured & recipe below) that are heart-shaped or have heart shapes on them using unsweetened coconut, homemade whipped cream, unsweetened cocoa powder, or crushed nuts…you could even stick a small heart-shaped strawberry on top.
- Heart-shaped homemade whole-grain pop tarts.
- Whole-grain breads (like banana, zucchini, or pumpkin) baked in heart-shaped muffin tins.
- Whole-grain muffins baked in either full-sized or mini Valentine’s-themed paper muffin holders (can be found at Michael’s Craft Store or Target).
- Heart or X & O shaped breakfast pancakes (pictured) either plain or with flavored cream cheese – try mixing in fresh pureed strawberries or an all-fruit raspberry jelly to make it pink – in the middle to make it a sandwich.
- Fruit or cheese squares stuck with Valentines-themed toothpicks (can be found at Michael’s or Target).
- Heart shaped PB&J sandwiches for lunch (save the bread scraps in the freezer to make croutons or stuffing another day).
- A Valentine’s themed lunch with a heart-shaped sandwich, heart-shaped fruit, and even heart-shaped cheese on a salad!
Please share your “real food” Valentine’s Day ideas in the comments below! And now here’s the recipe for those brownies…
Dark Chocolate Whole-Wheat Brownies
- 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour, (I tested this recipe with King Arthur’s organic white whole-wheat flour, which is 100% whole-grain)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, you will have much better results if you use “dark” cocoa (Hershey’s makes some)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup coconut oil
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup, or honey - my family is divided because I loved the maple version and they loved the honey version
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup nuts, chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9X9 inch square glass baking dish with oil or butter.
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl including the flour, cocoa and baking powder and set aside.
In a small pot on the stove melt the coconut oil together with the maple syrup and vanilla extract.
Once the coconut oil is melted whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Add the egg and keep whisking until it's mixed together thoroughly. If using nuts fold them into the batter with a spatula.
Pour the batter into the glass baking dish and bake for 16 - 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Eat or store in an air-tight container at room temperature - enjoy!
* Omit the optional nuts to make this nut-free.
Note: These brownies are "cake-like" and a very "dark" chocolate flavor i.e. not as sweet as typical store-bought milk chocolate products.
We recommend organic ingredients when feasible.