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Baskets without candy still fun

Mon., April 18, 2011

Themes make for heaps of sugar-free Easter spirit

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,” says 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 her.

But there are plenty of other options, as inventive mothers like Peyton have found out over the years. Here are some themes for candy-free Easter baskets kids will love.

Gardening basket: Gardening is at least as much a 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, 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, along with a fun nightlight.

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 website:

Art basket: 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.

Sports-themed basket: 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.

For Little Leaguers, try new batting gloves, a 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 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, in the right setting, are a soothing addition to any kitchen counter.

The cooking basket: Use a large mixing bowl as your container. Add a kid-sized apron and mixing spoons along with a colorful spatula.

As for instructions, there’s no better guide for the newly hatched chef than Georgeanne Brennan’s “Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook” (Random House, 2006). Brennan shows a rare sensitivity in her treatment of delicacies like Shlopp (homemade granola) and Lime Ice.

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 preteen 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.

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