A Heart-healthy Valentine’s Day

Heart Shaped Jam-filled Sandwiches

The last thing an elementary school teacher wants is a day when students are overloaded on sticky, gooey, chocolate treats. So if you’re a parent or guardian, consider staying away from packaged candy, calorie-laden chocolate treats, and offerings packed full of added sugar and virtually no nutrition on Valentine’s Day.

You may be surprised how much the students appreciate a different take on the heart holiday. A change in pace for the red-themed day may also be heartily welcomed by your coworkers or friends.

Nothing says love more than treats featuring foods that will help you stay healthy – such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Why not find that cute someone special, and hand over a bag of “Cuties” clementines?

If you’re tasked with bringing treats to a child’s classroom, or your own workplace potluck, why not bring big bunches of bananas? Because the skin is inedible, there’s nothing unhealthy about writing “I’m bananas over you,” or “You’re a-peel-ing to me.” Bananas a great source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium and fiber.

Wrapping a red apple in cellophane with a colorful note that says “You are the apple of my eye” will melt most hearts.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers up some amazing candy-free ideas for parties, suitable for all ages.

Among them are:

  • Red Salsa: Create snack plates with vegetables, whole-grain pita chips or low-fat cheese cubes to dip into tomato salsa.
  • Pink Milk: Blend fresh strawberries and low-fat milk for a protein-packed drink. Use frozen strawberries for a smoothie.
  • XOXO Trail Mix: Use O-shaped cereals as the “O’s” and pretzel sticks as the “X’s” and mix along with dried cranberries and dried strawberries for a burst of red.
  • Heart-shaped sandwiches: Use a heart cookie cutter, or try your talents with freehand knife skills, to create nut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole-wheat bread.
  • The heart-shaped cookie cutter can be put to many uses – make slices of avocado and cut into a heart shape.
  • Go Red: Find as many red-colored healthy foods as you can – apples, blood oranges, grape tomatoes, red grapes, red peppers, radishes and more. Create a sweet dip of cinnamon and low-fat vanilla yogurt.
  • If you have time and equipment, a great snack or light meal is a personal pizza with handmade wheat dough. Roll into the shape of a heart, and create decorative heart-shapes using slices of red bell peppers as a topping.

If you’re determined to hand out heart-shaped boxes to your loved ones, why not swap out milk chocolate treats with dark chocolate containing 72 percent or higher cocoa solids, to make dark-chocolate-dipped strawberries or cherries? Make ahead of time and once the fruit is dry, place gently into the paper candy wrapper. Put in the heart box, and wrap with a big red bow.

You can even consider crafty ways to show your love without food – who doesn’t need a red flashlight to “shine the way” to your heart? Or a box of hearty band-aids that show how “stuck” you are on someone?

This Valentine’s Day, think outside the chocolate box for ideas!