Susie Peyton, an art teacher in Redwood City, Calif., has always tried to minimize the candy in holiday traditions with her 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. Easter presents unique challenges. 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 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 kids will remember a row of carrot tops pushing through the soil 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. Add colorful seed packets, 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 fabric markers so the child can decorate it. Add a night-light.
Bird lover's basket: Birds are another sign of spring. You can use the bird feeder as the basket; many of them have lift-off roofs that provide an original nest for a bird-friendly collection including birdseed, seed-covered suet bells and inexpensive binoculars or a stuffed owl.
Art basket: Peyton used to start with a plastic beach bucket from the dollar store. Add a sketchbook, gel pens and fancy-edged scissors. Scrapbooking stores carry an array of rubber stamps, and places like Stampadoodle Art & Paper, in Bellingham, Wash., will custom-make any stamp you want (www.stampadoodle.com).
Sports basket: Gear it toward the passion of the child. For a gymnast, that might mean a new leotard, shorts or warmup gear, nestled in a handy mini-laundry basket. Throw in some new grips, chalk or wrist guards. For Little Leaguers, try batting gloves, a baseball hat with a favorite team logo, sunglasses and a book about a legendary player. Future hoops stars might like a pump and needles to keep basketballs firm, a team jersey, matching shorts and a sweatband.
Food basket: Just because candy is off-limits doesn't mean all food has to be. Try pancake mix, exotic cookies such as Pocky sticks (a Japanese treat available at Asian stores) and fresh fruit.
Goldfish bowl: 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 in the right setting, fish are a strangely soothing addition to a home.
Cooking basket: Use a large mixing bowl as your container. Add a kid-size apron and mixing spoons, spatula, measuring cups and a chicken-themed egg timer. 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.
Memory basket: Craft stores like Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabric 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, scrapbooking paper and some prints, either from your own printer or an inexpensive site like Snapfish (www2.snapfish.com). Add a blank book and an invitation to write in the journal every day, even if it's only a line.
And even if you're anticandy, consider throwing in a few jelly beans and chocolate bunnies.