In 2007, North Americans spent an estimated $25 billion on toys. We loved our Power Rangers and Hannah Montana dolls; we answered our kids' cries for more Tickle Me Elmos, Thomas & Friends railroad sets, and pretty much anything and everything plastic. But as we spent this money for our precious munchkins, we failed to ask ourselves what these toys were made of and whether they could harm our children. When evidence of toxicity and lead in toys started to surface, we were shocked. How could this have slipped through our collective parental radar?

Luckily, toy manufacturers such as Melissa & Doug have been producing natural, safe toys for decades. In “Nontoxic Toys for Tots,” mom and writer Gina DeMillo Wagner details the questions you should be asking about toy safety this holiday season and recommends several child-safe toy makers. For older family members, who deserve the same thoughtfulness behind their gifts, use our fair-trade gift guide to pick presents from around the globe that are not only beautiful but also “represent the time and craftsmanship of a justly treated and fairly paid artisan or farmer.”

Given recent events, I also suspect this holiday season may be financially challenging for many of us. My family circle has already discussed just buying small gifts for the children, and even giving each other gently used presents — things we already have in our own homes, such as books or stuffed animals — that others would appreciate. Of course, home-baked treats always make a meaningful gift and provide a wonderful way to spend time together during this busy season. For recipe suggestions, check out Delicious Living's free holiday cookbook at

In harsh economic times like these, simple family rituals stand out more than gifts. According to research by the American Psychological Association, rituals and routines are linked with marital satisfaction, children's health, and stronger family relationships, among other benefits. As Jennifer Trainer Thompson, author of The Joy of Family Traditions (Celestial Arts, 2008), outlines in this month's Think About It, “The search for meaning and identity through ritual is ancient. But in today's hectic world it's more important than ever.”