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Are chocolate Easter bunnies really so evil?iStockphoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The giant chocolate bunnies. Hefty bags of Day-Glo jelly beans. Technicolor marshmallow creatures.

Forget Halloween. In the run-up to Easter, parents who celebrate are doing a mental calculation of their children's sugar inventory.

Far behind the treats the parents themselves will buy, there is: How many egg hunts will there be? How many aunts, uncles and grandparents will be arriving with sugar bombs? Not to mention the retail and other places Easter temptations await. "There is more candy than ever being foisted on our kids," Edmonton mother Jennifer Broe says.

Parents are trying to figure out if it's worth it to gently ask friends and relatives not to go overboard, or to just schedule accordingly. Peterborough, Ont., mother Natalee Caple, for one, is relieved she's spending Easter with her in-laws, "So there's only one egg search," she says.

Many throw up anti-sugar floodgates at birth and ask others to respect their choice.

"I kept sugar away from my children for as long as possible," says Ms. Broe, who translated her concerns into an organic line of commercial baby foods, Baby Gourmet. "As babies, there is absolutely no reason they should be ingesting processed sugars."

Still, holidays give well-meaning loved ones a chance to inadvertently thwart parents' plans.

"That first taste of sugar, it often gets introduced by someone other than the parent," says Oakville, Ont., naturopathic doctor Dina Eino, who suggests parents hold off as long as they can. "And they say, 'Oh look how happy she is with her lollipop.' Then things go a little bit down hill from there."

Ms. Caple was able to keep Easter to fruit and non-edible treats until her twins were past 2. Tattoos, stickers and hair accessories now co-mingle with a "modest" amount of chocolate.

Sugar is linked to everything from diabetes to obesity, even some cancers. Parents also suspect it's a culprit behind hyperactivity and other behavioural problems.

"It may not be the primary concern they come in with," says Ms. Eino, one of the founders of the Pomegranate Tree clinic, "but it always comes up in conversation."

The sugar police are just part of a growing obsession among parents to keep children from many of the edible excesses of their own youth - from cafeteria pizza to fast food to newer villains such as gluten.

It can also mean rewriting or adding amendments to entire holiday narratives. At Halloween, for instance, Ms. Broe tells her kids that the "Halloween Witch" comes and takes their candy and leaves a present behind. "I allow them to keep seven candies from their bag but encourage then to give the rest to the Halloween Witch," she says.

There's no Easter Witch yet; Ms. Broe's egg hunt does involve a few miniature chocolate eggs, but she recommends trading for goodies other than candy.

Ms. Eino recommends limiting sugar to 65 grams a day for kids. While she is concerned about Easter treats - one popular "creme egg" has about 20 g of sugar - her real pet peeve is juice, which can ring in at 40 g of sugar a glass. She suggests accommodating a few treats, such as cutting back on the juice on days when chocolate eggs may be on the menu.

For older kids, parents can play the socio-political card, at least with the chocolate. Heather Evans, a professor of literature at Queen's University, has studied the relatively recent connection between chocolate and Easter, placing some of the earliest sales of chocolate eggs in Paris shops in the 1860s.

Back then, it was a rarefied luxury, still mostly for adults. Twentieth-century technology and marketing made the treat ubiquitous. Now, politics around the treatment of workers where cocoa is produced may be nudging chocolate back to that rarefied status for those who can afford the best, ethically at least.

"We're kind of going full circle …," she says.

"But chocolate has been so readily available for so long, to start thinking of it as something that is contributing to abuses is a little difficult to accept."

A more immediate strategy, then, may be to let kids taste the low-quality confections. Dr. Evans herself is the product of a chocolate-bunny-free upbringing, "we'd get little gifts instead. We always wanted the chocolate like everybody else."

But when she was old enough to go buy a chocolate bunny, she says it wasn't very good. "It's low-quality chocolate. It was a disappointment, but it was a good lesson to learn."

And if, as Dr. Evans suggests, the proliferation of Easter chocolate had more to do with the means of chocolate production than the heft of the bunny or the eggs as a religious symbol, the Easter egg hunt options are wide open.

Thornbury, Ont., mother of three Cindy Hayhurst has never indulged her boys in giant chocolate bunnies. Her egg hunts have ranged from dinosaurs to trains tucked into plastic eggs.

"One year my sister filled them with plastic bugs, which were a huge hit."