April 12, 2006 The Easter basket tradition is believed to have its roots in the ancient custom of bringing baskets of food for the Easter meal to church for a blessing. In the 18th century, German settlers brought to this country a tradition called the Easter Hare, a large white rabbit who leaves brightly colored eggs for "good" children. Soon the Easter Hare became the Easter bunny. Today, the tradition of giving Easter baskets is alive and well. According to the National Confectioners Association, 88 percent of adults in the U.S. give Easter baskets to their children. The favorite basket treat is the chocolate bunny (more than 90 million of them are made each year for Easter). Other favored foods are Marshmallow PeepsŪ, jelly beans, malted milk balls and chocolate eggs. Some other fun facts associated with Easter candy (obtained from the National Confectioners Association): 76 percent of children eat the ears of the chocolate bunny first. Roughly 16 million jelly beans are made for Easter. The favorite color of jelly beans is red. Another important tradition associated with Easter baskets are colored eggs. The American Egg Board reports, in 2004, 85.1 million dozen eggs were sold in the week before Easter. In the week of Easter, Americans purchased 104 million dozen eggs. The Healthy Easter Basket While Easter and candy appear to go hand in hand, experts say, parents dont have to go overboard with their basket selections. Research suggests darker chocolate may have some health benefits. Young children may not like the taste of dark chocolate, but teens and older people sometimes prefer it over milk chocolate. Add age-appropriate non-food items (like stickers, bubbles, coloring books, cards, jewelry, a CD or movie) and healthier snacks (like raisins, dried fruit or containers of applesauce) to fill out the basket. Encourage activity by placing a sports-related gear in the basket. Older people may prefer baskets with flavored coffees or teas or a gift certificate for a grocery store or favorite restaurant. If you like to decorate eggs, make sure the shells are clean and free of cracks. Wash your hands before toughing the eggs and use only food grade dye for coloring. Keep hard-cooked eggs in the refrigerator until they are ready to eat or use for an egg hunt. Dont keep eggs (raw or cooked) out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. Eating eggs that are undercooked or havent been properly refrigerated can lead to a stomach illness, called Salmonella. There are many options for the fillers that line the basket. Many people prefer to use a colorful plastic fluff, called "Easter grass" or "Easter straw." Traditionally, the straw is colored green. But other colors are becoming popular. The shiny, plastic filler looks pretty inside a basket. However, the straw should be kept away from small children and pets because it cant be digested and can cause a choking hazard. Paper straw or tissue paper can be used to line baskets. For a novel liner, place a sheet of plastic food wrap on the bottom of the basket and layer with about two inches of soil. Place grass seed in the soil and water lightly. In several days, you will have a basket lined with "natural" grass. Whatever the basket contents, experts say moderation is really the key to a memorable, healthy tradition. Limit the amount of candy placed in a basket and dole out only a minimal amount/day. And dont forget to add a new toothbrush to reduce the risk of tooth decay from that sugar and chocolate. AUDIENCE INQUIRY For information on chocolate and other types of candy: National Confectioners Association, http://www.candyusa.org For general information on egg and food safety: American Egg Board, http://www.aeb.org Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA, http://www.fsis.usda.gov BIBLIOGRAPHY Ariefdjohan, Merlin, and Dennis Savaiano, Ph.D., "Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health," Nutrition Reviews, December 2005, Vol. 63, No. 12, Pt. 1, pp. 427-430. "Easter, Passover, Spring and Egg Salad Week," Park Ridge: American Egg Board, downloaded from website (http://www.aeb.org), March 22, 2006. Fisher, N., and N. Hollenberg, "Flavonols for Cardiovascular Health," Journal of Hypertension, August 2005, Vol. 23, No. 8, pp. 1453-1459. Graga, Cesar, "Cocoa, Diabetes, and Hypertension," The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2005, Vol. 81, No. 3, pp. 541-542. 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