General Health & Wellness • Feb 08, 2012

How do we make a sweet Valentine’s Day without the sugar?

Valentine’s Day is almost here and it’s time to get ready for all those school Valentine’s Day parties.   When I was a kid I loved my school Valentine exchange with the excited gluttony-prone heart of a child.  I was especially impressed by any kid whose parent let them buy valentines branded with Disney characters or Scooby-Doo.  And the very best valentines were the ones that came with candy attached.

But kids these days have high expectations for this holiday about love that has become a holiday about junk-food indulgence, second only to Halloween.   My four kids now have Valentine’s Day parties at dance class, cub scouts, girl scouts, religious education, AND school.  Even my eight-month-old has a Valentine’s Day party at her Parents Day Out program.  It seems so absurd—we are still advancing her through baby food vegetables yet people at school are giving her Dora the Explorer candy hearts.  And then there are treats from both grandmas, great-grandma, Aunt Susan…  Should I even bother to make dinner during Valentine’s week?

Ironically, February is American Heart Month, a time when we are supposed to focus on heart-healthy activities such as a healthy diet.  And America does need heart-health.  More than 15 percent of children and adolescents are now overweight, and all this Valentine’s Day candy isn’t helping.  An estimated 4 million children have elevated blood pressure, and twenty-seven million children have high cholesterol.  These children will soon become adults with heart disease, and millions of them will die from their heart disease.   So maybe we really should try to find an alternative to all this Valentine’s Day candy.

For a few years I tried to get my kids to give out fancy hand-made Valentines without treats attached.  Only Grandma seemed to appreciate this approach.  So then we tried almost-healthy Valentine treats such as fruit snacks and granola bars, until my kindergartener told me that kids in his class just threw them out.  We had slightly more success with non-edible treats such as stickers, but I am still pealing heart stickers from three years ago off my kitchen chairs.   And so here we are again… time to make the Valentines.   This year I have a heart-healthy plan that is going to work.

My daughter’s kindergarten class is having a Valentine’s Day jump roping party through Jump Rope for Heart.  Jump Rope for Heart and Hoops for Heart are national programs sponsored by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance that raise money to fight heart disease and stroke.  If getting involved in an organization like Jump Rope for Heart seems too complicated for you right now, why not consider sponsoring your own exercise-themed Valentine’s Day party.  You can do line dance, hula-hooping, jump-roping, basketball—whatever makes your kids happy.  You might even consider using your heart-healthy Valentine’s Day party as an opportunity to raise money for local kids with heart disease and make a donation to St. Louis Children’s Hospital. 

Yes, my kids are giving out candy with their Valentines this year.   We have compromised and agreed on one Dum-Dum lollipop per Valentine.  Dum-Dums have about 25 calories each and take about ten minutes to eat—that’s only a cost of 2.5 calories per minute for toddler sweet-toothed gluttony.  At least they will burn off all that sugar jumping rope.

And if you’d like to teach your children more about heart-health, join us for Hearts in Harmony at the Saint Louis Galleria on February 25 from 10am-2pm.  In addition to kid-friendly activities, the event will feature a live performance by Erin Bode whose recently-debuted song features the story – and the heartbeat – of  a 10-year-old patient in the St. Louis Children’s and Washington University Heart Center.  (Check out the song and music video in the box to your right.)