Susie Peyton, an art teacher in Redwood City, Calif., has always tried to minimize the candy in holiday traditions with her three kids, now ages 11 and 15.
"I'm the awful mom who goes through their Halloween basket and throws out all their hard candy," said Peyton. "They have a big sweet tooth, and they would eat candy for breakfast if they could."
Easter, with its expectation of chocolate eggs and marshmallow peeps, presents unique challenges for mothers like Peyton. Store aisles are bulging with Easter-themed chocolate and confectionary.
But there are plenty of other options, as inventive mothers like Peyton have found out over the years. Here are 10 themes for candy-free Easter baskets kids will love.
—Gardening basket. Gardening is at least as much as symbol of Easter as a foil-wrapped rabbit, and a row of carrot tops pushing through the soil is something kids will remember long after the last jelly bean is gone. Instead of using a basket, try a small rubber gardening tub, a plastic watering can, or a bucket organizer — $25 at Gardeners Supply catalogue, http://www.gardeners.com . Add colorful seed packets, a pair of gardening gloves and a few intriguing gardening tools.
—Sleepover basket. Cradle a pair of slippers, some new pajamas, and a couple of silly joke books or bottles of nail polish in a small, sturdy overnight bag. Add a plain pillowcase and some fabric markers so the child can decorate it. Then add a nightlight. There's a good selection of affordable ones in themes from Las Vegas to T-Rex at Lamps Plus, http://bit.ly/dUHibY .
—Bird lover's basket. Birds are another sure-fire sign of spring. You can use the birdfeeder as the basket; many of them have lift-off roofs that provide an original nest for a bird-friendly collection including birdseed, some seed-covered suet bells, and a pair of inexpensive binoculars or a stuffed owl. The National Audubon Society has a free brochure called "Bird Feeding Basics," downloadable from its web site: http://bit.ly/fpqIih .
—Art basket. Peyton used to start with an inexpensive plastic beach bucket from the dollar store. Add a sketchbook, gel pens, and fancy-edged scissors. Scrapbooking stores carry a fantastic array of rubber stamps or places like Stampadoodle Art & Paper, in Bellingham, Wash., will custom-make any stamp you want. http://www.stampadoodle.com/ .
—Sports-themed basket, geared toward the passion of the child in question. For a gymnast, that might mean a new leotard, shorts, or warm-up gear, all nestled in a handy mini-laundry basket. Throw in some new grips, chalk, or wrist guards. Gymnasts also like gymnastics-themed T-shirts, posters for their rooms, hair ties, and the all-important hairspray and curlers. Nail polish is usually prohibited in competition, so add some nail polish remover to the mix. For Little Leaguers, try new batting gloves, baseball hat with the logo of a favorite team, sunglasses and a book about a legendary player. Future hoops stars might like a pump and needles to keep basketballs firm, a team jersey and matching shorts, and a sweatband.
—The food basket. Just because candy is off-limits doesn't mean all food has to be. Pancake mix, exotic cookies such as Pocki sticks (a Japanese treat available at most Asian stores), and some fresh fruit. Retired Portland, Ore., dietician Carolyn Knutson, who has spent time comparing sports bars, recommends Kashi chewy granola bars, which are low in fat and sugar compared to their shelf-mates at the grocery store.
—The goldfish bowl. Every year, humane organizations around the country plead with parents to steer clear of gift bunnies and chicks because so many of those impulse purchases turn into unwanted pets. But if it's a live gift you need, try goldfish. The setup is inexpensive, the care is minimal, and the fish themselves, in the right setting, are a strangely soothing addition to any kitchen counter.
—The cooking basket. Use a large mixing bowl as your container. Add a kid-sized apron — Williams-Sonoma has a nice one for $22 with a garden theme, http://www.williams-sonoma.com — and mixing spoons — Anthropologie has beautiful nesting spoons and cup measures, and a darling chicken-themed egg timer — along with a colorful spatula (Oxo's is just $7.99, available at Bed, Bath & Beyond). As for instructions, there's no better guide for the newly hatched chef than Georgeanne Brennan's "Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook." Brennan shows a rare sensitivity in her treatment of delicacies like Shlopp (homemade granola) and Lime Ice.
—The memory basket. Craft stores like Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabrics sell sturdy decorated cardboard file boxes and upholstered sewing baskets that can be made into scrapbooking kits for the very young. Add a photo album, some scrapbooking paper, and some prints, either from your own printer or an inexpensive site like Snapfish, http://www2.snapfish.com . Add a blank book and an invitation to write in the journal every day, even if it's only a line.
—The sweet-smelling basket. One of the biggest hits among the seventh-graders I know this Christmas was a scented candle that smelled like a cupcake. As any pre-teen will tell you, you can find a lip gloss, candle, or lotion in almost any flavor or fragrance under the sun. Recently, Jelly Belly got in on the act with a host of products that smell like jelly beans but don't cause cavities, such as bubble wands, nail polish, candles, and even stationery.
And even if you're anti-candy, consider throwing in a few real jelly beans and chocolate bunnies.
"The bottom line is that all foods have a place in a diet, but it's a matter of frequency and amount," said Knutson, who was a department chairwoman at Clackamas Community College in Oregon and has worked in community and hospital nutrition. "It's OK to have candy on special occasions. It's a part of living."