Fall is in the air, which means the beginning of school, new routines, long sleeves…and candy? Yes, that’s right – Halloween is around the corner, and I’m starting to get questions about how to manage this holiday in a way that lets kids be kids, instead of turning them into sugar crazed monsters!
Of course candy is a big part of Halloween – and I’m not here to suggest our kids shouldn’t have any. But for those who argue “It’s just once a year! Let them indulge!”, I say: remember the parties before Halloween, the huge haul from trick-or-treating which lasts until the cookies and chocolates of the December holidays, which then stretches until Valentine’s day, which brings us to Easter…not to mention birthday parties, sporting events full of junk food, and even trips to the bank which end with a lollipop. We no longer have the luxury of viewing each of these things in isolation, and so some strategies for moderating the onslaught of sugar are in order.
But first, a few thoughts on why this is important. You have probably heard the stats – our kids are the first generation predicted to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. The childhood obesity rate has TRIPLED in one generation. On average, children under 12 are consuming 13-20 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is at least four times the recommended 3 teaspoons a day for this age group. In the 1980’s, Type II diabetes was unheard of for children – in fact, it was called “Adult-Onset Diabetes”, but had to be renamed due to increasing cases of children being diagnosed with this disease over the past 30 years. Oh, and sugar contributes to obesity and Type II diabetes. So we need to keep this overload in check!
Moving past the depressing statistics, how do we keep Halloween FUN while also protecting the health of our children? There are so many ways!
Generally the Halloween parties happen before the big day, so this is a great opportunity to kick off the holiday in the right spirit.
• Choose homemade sweets! Store-bought cookies, cakes, and other treats are generally going to be bigger and higher in sugar, food dyes, and other additives than the ones you make yourself. So pick one or two homemade baked goods to serve at the party, for example:
– Chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting colored orange with some all natural food coloring and a fake spider on top, baked in Halloween themed cupcake papers
– Sugar cookies cut into Halloween themed pumpkins, cats, and bats.
• Supplement the sweets with some fun but healthy snacks!
– Clementine jack-o-lanterns and mini-caramel apples
– Tangerine pumpkins and banana ghosts
– Pumpkin mini-muffins
– Grapes or berries served in Halloween-themed paper cups
– Spooky green smoothies
– Plain old water in themed pitchers labeled with a fun name like “Witch’s Brew”
• Go all out with decorations and games! Take the focus off the food by planning a fun party. There are tons of ideas for kid friendly activities on the Internet, and Party City makes it easy to make the décor as festive as possible.
Think Outside the Candy Bag
Sure, those bags of M&M’s, Starbursts, and Snickers Bars are practically jumping into your cart everywhere you go. But with a little creativity, it’s easy to offer up some treats the kids coming to your house will love and aren’t filled with sugar and other junky ingredients.
• Small, inexpensive toys such as slap bracelets, glow sticks/bracelets, stickers, temporary tattoos, bouncy balls, plastic jewelry (rings, bracelets, necklaces, etc.), spinning tops, or bubbles
• Art supplies, such as pencils, erasers, small crayon boxes, mini play-doh containers, coloring books, wikki stix, or unfinished wood “projects” from a craft store
• Halloween themed or other fun band-aids
• “Cleaner” sweets without artificial food dyes, trans-fats, etc. such as individually wrapped dark chocolate squares, honey sticks, and Unreal brand candy (from CVS, Target, and other mainstream stores)
Managing the Haul
The final piece is figuring out what to do with all the candy that comes home with your little trick-or-treaters (since your neighbors might not have been as considerate as you by using ideas from the list above!). Have no fear, with a few tricks up your sleeve, you can help your kids avoid thinking that eating candy until they’re sick is a rite of passage!
• When planning your route, whenever possible avoid the temptation to seek out a neighborhood where the houses are really close together. Especially with younger kids, getting tired more quickly means fewer homes visited, which means less candy to deal with. And don’t even think about that plan to drive your kids around!
• After coming home, help your kids to sort through the candy, pulling out (and throwing away) anything they don’t like. Encourage your kids to be as selective about candy as they are about other foods, only eating the ones that they really love. It’s important for kids to realize that just because it’s candy, that doesn’t mean it tastes good! You could even offer to allow your kids to trade in candy they don’t want for treats they like better, or possibly a toy instead. The goal is to impress upon your kids that foods that aren’t good for their bodies should only be eaten if they’re really worth it – otherwise they should hold out for something better.
• Allow them to sample a few pieces and put the rest away for another day. The remaining candy can be doled out in place of other sweets until it’s all gone or the kids forget about it. Remind them that the candy will still be there tomorrow (and make sure you can keep your own mitts out of their bags so that this is true!), so they should listen to their bodies and stop eating before they get a stomach ache.
Now that you’re prepared, you can focus on finding the perfect costume, hoping it’s not 20 degrees during trick-or-treating, and just enjoying this fun holiday with your children. Happy Halloween!
Alissa Stoltz, MA, is a Certified Health Coach, Food and Nutrition Expert, Cooking Instructor and founder of The Simply Wholesome Kitchen. She teaches and empowers busy moms to feed their families delicious and nourishing food without feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. More information and recipes can be found at http://www.simplywholesomekitchen.com.