What's a wedding or a birthday without the cake? Thanksgiving without the feast? As much as indulging in candy and treats is a part of 'special occasions' — parties for friends, class parties, community gatherings, craft nights, sports viewing parties and graduations; the list goes on — it quickly can become too much. When social calendars fill up, so often do their bellies with sugar. The American Heart Association has examined the research on the effect of added sugars in a child's diet and determined that it contributes to: Obesity. High blood pressure. Fatty liver disease. Insulin resistance that leads to type 2 diabetes. Cardiovascular disease. Tooth decay and cavities. Cutting out the extraneous goodies doesn't mean you can't keep it fun and festive for your little ones and their friends. This year, try a new approach to celebrating special occasions. Valentine's Day Manufacturers have gotten better at offering non-candy boxes over the years, and now you can find Valentine pencils, erasers, plastic bracelets and rings right next to the standard character-themed Valentines. Without buying additional candy, you save money while reducing the sugar load across the board. When your kids get home with their Valentine's haul, let them pick their five favorite pieces to indulge in, then put the rest of the candy away. Even better: donate it, which school may be able to help with, just check with your children's teachers or administrators. Easter Many communities have Easter egg hunts, as do families, friends and neighbors. That can mean a lot of chocolate in your children's baskets. The hunt is fun. What can you do to keep the magic alive? This year, try filling the eggs with something else that's pretty sweet: cash. With coins in eggs, be careful of a choking hazard for younger hunters. As children get older, you can up the ante by putting a few eggs out there with dollars in them to keep it interesting. Halloween Halloween marks the beginning of the holidays — a two-month stretch of overconsumption. And Halloween is a day that can be truly scary in terms of sugar consumption. In lieu of candy, hand out other treats. For example, you can purchase plenty of glow stick bracelets online, which improve children's visibility to vehicles as they walk through the dark. Plus, the kids will love picking out their favorite color and wearing their new glow stick bracelet. Other, age-appropriate options include Halloween pencils or erasers, creepy spider rings, stickers and other small novelty items available online. As for the candy gathered from trick-or-treating at other houses, your kids will know the drill by now: Pick five favorite pieces. For the rest, see what programs are available in your community. Some pediatric dentists pay money per pound of candy to encourage better dental health. December Many store-bought Advent calendars have chocolate inside, but you can find toy calendars, too. Of course, the old standby, a green-and-red construction paper chain, works just as well to celebrate the season and build anticipation for Christmas. When building healthy habits for kids, you can maintain your tradition of decorating gingerbread houses — with a catch. The key is to use undesirable candy and frosting that is not intended to be consumed. Use hard, barely edible candy, like starlight mints or the candy that comes in the kit, none of which are meant to be eaten. Strong, unforgiving gingerbread house 'cement' made from water, powdered sugar and meringue powder also discourages the frosting eaters. You'll have all the fun of gingerbread house decoration with much fewer grams of sugar consumed — and the structures themselves will be sturdier! Birthday Parties Other kids' parties are sometimes hard to negotiate. Often, sugary confections are used as decoration to go along with the theme of the party. While you can't always be at these parties to police your child's food choices, you can instruct them to choose one treat they want the most and to spend the rest of their time having fun. For your own children's birthday parties, keep it simple. Avoid candy-filled goodie bags, monochromatic candy stations and lemonade, punch or juice. A healthier party is just kids playing with their friends, with some structured activities and one cupcake at the end. We all want our kids to have fun and create special memories. By encouraging healthy habits by reducing their sugary treats, we can make memories that are not centered around food and protect their health for the future.