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As the bucket of leftover candy still sits in my cabinet from last year’s Halloween, I’m secretly hoping that my children do not bring home any more of the sweet stuff for Valentine’s Day. Candy is one food that contributes to high intakes of added sugars in children’s diets.

According the American Heart Association, children ages 2-18 should have less than 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons of added sugar, per day, while those under two should not have any. However, the 2011-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reports that children actually consume 82 grams, or 19 teaspoons of added sugars per day!

What’s the big deal? A high intake of sugar is directly related to tooth decay, and there’s growing evidence suggesting a relationship between added sugars and obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Although the relationship isn't entirely clear, it’s enough of a concern to start honing in on that sweet tooth.

Cut back on added sugars by swapping out soda, juice, sports drinks and other sugary beverages for water. Occasionally add in a few zero-calorie drinks to switch things up. Compare labels on cereal and choose the one that is not coated in high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, maltose, or other common names for sugar. Sweeten it yourself with fresh fruit, or stir in a low-sugar yogurt. Mash strawberries or blueberries to top waffles and pancakes; a ¼ cup of maple syrup is 50 grams (12 teaspoons) of sugar!

I’m not saying that you should ban candy for Valentine’s Day or any other holiday. All food fits in moderation! But a non-candy valentine might actually be a bigger hit with the kids. There are hundreds of DIY valentines online, or simply purchase those with stickers, pencils, erasers or nothing. Change the environment, and slowly decrease the added sugars in you and your family’s diet. You’ll teach your children the value of a healthy body and a healthy image of food.

Frozen Yogurt Covered Strawberry Hearts

2 cups non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt

1 quart strawberries

Wash and rinse strawberries. Cut the stems off, making a v-shaped divot. Dip whole strawberries in yogurt and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze overnight. Then, cut in half to reveal a heart shape. Keep frozen until ready to serve.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition facts (per serving): 100 calories, 0 grams fat, 25 milligrams sodium, 17 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 7 grams protein

Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306.