As a healthy-minded individual, Halloween is one of those times during the year when I feel my moral compass spinning around for a moment before I need to decide what to do. Being a nutrition and health coach, I need to walk my talk and set the example for others, rather than live hypocritically and not practice what I preach to clients.
Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year – there’s just something about the festive spirit of Halloween – from the awesome Autumn snacks (namely pumpkin-flavored goodness), the aroma of cinnamon and spice (is anyone else obsessed with cinnamon brooms?!?!), to the creative ways to decorate and dress-up – you just can’t beat it in my book. However, one thing that has gravely concerned me over the years since I have become so health-conscious is obviously the obscene amount of candy and junk food that kids (and adults!) collect and engorge in.
Believe me – I have FOND memories of the 20 pounds of candy I would collect each year and organize in an obsessive-compulsive manner on our living room floor. I had a category for everything, and through my hours of cataloging candy, I sampled plenty. I’m not going to lie – Halloween candy tastes delicious. I can still recall the exact taste of everything I used to glom. I would even create obscure combinations in my mouth – not that I would say Raisinettes tasted particularly well with Smarties, but it was an experiment I didn’t mind undertaking. I am guessing I probably engulfed hundreds (yes, you heard me right…HUNDREDS) of grams of sugar perhaps even in one day, not to mention that week of Halloween. I mean, packed lunches the week of Halloween were the best because I had candy for a snack, with lunch, another post-lunch snack, and a treat for the bus ride home (obviously I packed my lunches this particular week when I was a kid).
The thought of it now makes me shake with insulin-overload, but at the time, we didn’t know how bad it was; just as long as we brushed our teeth effectively and didn’t get cavities, that was the main precaution. Nowadays, reflecting back on my happy candy memories, I almost feel guilty thinking that for just for one day, I can’t bend my rules and priorities for the anxious Halloween-partakers who will ring my doorbell. Even more so, my 20-month-old son will be old enough to enjoy dressing up, going door-to-door. Gasp. What do we do with the candy he’ll receive? Obviously he’ll be curious and wonder what this nugget of intrigue is that he has never sampled before in his life (and I plan to keep it that way as long as I can, eh-hem). Do we just walk around and not ring doorbells? (Which may be easy to do since he’s still young).
The other dilemma I run into is what WE will be handing out to the trick-or-treaters without seeming like the “weird house” that everyone wants to stay away from (you know, like “those” houses when you were a kid where it was just a hand dumping some pennies or linty-mystery-candy in your bucket??). The first year I implemented a healthy Halloween hand-out was when we were living in California, so I thought that it wouldn’t be too obscure to pass along healthy treats. I bought organic pouches of fruit snacks for a reasonable price in Whole Foods (yes, you heard me right). I personally thought these snacks were delicious in all of their natural flavoring/low amount of sugar/no artificial anything glory. Yet when the kids were given these treats, they remarked, “What the heck is THAT!?!? Do you have anything else?!” Such a Halloween fail for an avid Halloween fan can be harrowing. So, I have tried to get crafty over the years and think of other alternatives, but in all honesty, I can’t go back to the dark side and just pass out what every kid would love. I need to start setting an example, as this is what I believe in. It’s so important for kids to be exposed to different things, in addition to showing parents that not every “treat” has to be a piece of candy. So, I figured this would be a great opportunity to help some like-minded folks out who may have been wondering the same thing. If you really feel passionately about dishing out a representation of your healthy ways and beliefs, then do so…and realize you’re not alone.
This is also a time of year I get many concerned requests from parents: “WHAT DO WE DO!??!” (as in…with the candy). This can be a tough one, and I feel it should be left up to each family to decide upon, but I have found some great lessons focused around compromise, negotiation, and some just hard-lining priorities and boundaries be set. While we do not want to alienate our children or make them feel bad or like outcasts, it IS important to teach them limits and reasonable ways to navigate through what we like to refer to “societal norms.” Check out the additional list of suggestions for what to do with any candy your child DOES collect on Halloween (and sneaking and eating it yourself, while tempting, is not on the list…nor is bringing it into your office to pollute the health and well-being of your co-workers).
First things first, I think it’s important to note candy has changed over the years. I recall when being a child, a chocolate bar was a chocolate bar. Twix was caramel with chocolate and a cookie. Now….I feel like the ingredients list on candy resembles that of a horror film. I looked at about 15 different bags of Halloween candy the other day – and was shocked at how many added, harmful, artificial ingredients were listed. Doing that alone quickly turned my nostalgic fondness for the candy I once loved into nothing but disgust. It’s important for parents to know what is IN this stuff – everything from chemical stabilizers and preservatives to artificial colorings and flavorings to loads of sugar and even fat (and even the “sugar-free” stuff is full of artificial sweeteners). Think back to all of the hard work you conduct on a daily basis teaching and modeling for your children about being and eating healthy. If you make exceptions and let them go nuts with Halloween candy “as a treat” – then that is sending very mixed signals, which you want to avoid.
So, without further ado… here are some great alternatives for surviving a healthy Halloween. I tried to keep in mind a variety of budgets, too, as some people really like to splurge on their Halloween treats, whereas others are on tighter budgets due to the volume of kids to expect (like myself):
What to keep in mind when purchasing treats:
• Should be made from organic, pesticide-free, and/or non-GMO ingredients.
• Food items are made from healthy and whole ingredients and do not include hydrogenated oils, trans-fats, artificial colors or flavors. The items have limited or no salt, sugar or caffeine (including chocolate).
• Non-food items are made from safe materials and do not pose any suspected immediate or long-term health risks.
• Try to avoid “homemade” food treats to give out, unless you are giving them to kids who know you and their parents are OK with it. Due to severe food allergies, it’s important to be aware of what certain children can/can’t have.
Food treat ideas:
• MySuperSnacks! What kid wouldn’t want to get a pouch of sheer healthy deliciousness?!?
• DRIED FRUIT BAGS – Natural sweetness at its finest! Many stores sell small pre-packaged bags of dried fruit, which is a healthy alternative. MY only word of caution is I’m not a fan of dried fruit that was prepared with sulfites to act as a preservative.
• GRANOLA BARS – That’s what’s on the menu for Casa Kalocinski this year (I hope I didn’t ruin the surprise for anyone in my neighborhood). While not perfect, they are a decent and easy alternative. I was able to buy numerous boxes of 60 granola bars (natural versions, of course) for $8 a piece at Costco (while I am sure any warehouse store has them). Comparing this to the $14 of a large bag of candy, I was pleased with my savvy comparison skills. Granola bars are still tasty and have a sweet treat appeal, without all of the added garbage. Besides, they keep well and are easy to pass out.
• PRETZELS – Bags of pretzels are another good alternative to candy. While they may not be as exciting as pieces of candy, there is bound to be a salty snack craving after all of that sugar overload to balance out the taste preferences.
• CRACKERS – Natural crackers come in a wide-variety of little pouches that you can buy in bulk for a reasonable price. Like pretzels, they may not be the top choice, but at some point, a craving for a savory snack will emerge amidst all of the sugar.
• NATURAL-INGREDIENT COOKIES – Again, not something I would be giving to my child every day, but I would feel so much better handing this out as a snack rather than candy that is full of artificial ingredients.
• NATURAL-INGREDIENT FRUIT SNACKS – Just because my go-around wasn’t a hit with all kids the year I inaugurated this Halloween treat alternative does not mean that it won’t be enjoyed by the rest of the lot. Still sweet and treaty, these fruit snacks are made with much healthier alternatives than candy.
The folks at GreenHalloween.org had some additional great suggestions:
• Organic juice boxes
• Organic apple sauce snack packs
• Real-fruit strips and rolls
• Boxes of organic raisins
• 100% honey sticks DO NOT GIVE HONEY TO CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF TWO
• Pouches of natural yogurt drops
• Raw or roasted nuts (ask parents before giving out nuts due to allergies)
• Organic Twisted Fruit
• Trial size packs of dried veggie chips
• Organic, gluten-free treat-sized crispy rice bars
• Snack sized bags of organic or natural popcorn
• Individually wrapped pumpkin seed treats
And who says you need to hand out candy? Here are some non-food treats you can test out (be sure to keep in mind age-appropriateness when handing out small items to children):
• Adhesive “bandages” with pirate, black cat and other fun themes
• Barrettes or other hair things
• Decorative beads (not to be handed out to small children)
• Bean bags (homemade)
• Little bags of assorted craft supplies
• Fake jewels (lead free)
• Small container of Play-Doh or Mary’s softdough (or homemade dough)
• Money (I heard it grows on trees)
• Pencils made (preferably eco-conscious varieties)
• Mini pumpkins
• Spinning tops
• Temporary tattoos
• Yarn bracelets
• Purchase entry coupons for local zoos, water parks, movies etc. This will work especially well if you have a set amount of children at a Halloween party, you might like to consider giving each child an entry coupon instead of candy. (Obviously you’ll be handing treats like this out to special children you know, unless you’re cool with bankrolling your neighborhood’s Halloween).
And some suggestions as what to do when your child trick-or-treats:
• You may even try to avoid trick-or-treating altogether with a fun alternative – HAVE A PARTY! Kids can still have a ton of fun and engage in all the festivities, but you have control over serving healthier food like homemade pizza, dips and pita pieces and fresh fruit. Focus on fun games more than the food and give intriguing non-food prizes. Break out the scary music and ghost stories to crank up the fear factor and liven things up. Even better, you won’t have to worry as to where your children are.
• DONATE THE CANDY – To get rid of the candy, some places like dental offices, fire houses, or “buy back programs” will take Halloween candy off of your hands while making your child feel like he/she is serving a good deed.
• SIMPLY THROW IT OUT – I remember one year my mom was pretty much over how much candy we collected. Being she was a dental hygienist, I also think she was paranoid we’d lose our teeth. The Halloween Candy Fairy visited our house that night, having made a successful sweep of our candy buckets to take it away to Never-NeverLand. Due to the mystical spin she put on the whole ordeal, we bought it and got over it pretty quick.
• COMPROMISE ON THE CANDY – while putting a ban on all candy may be your ultimate wish, that will likely cause a backlash of rebellion and sneaky behavior of trying to acquire it from other places. Instead of banning sugary snacks altogether, try allowing a limited amount or making rules beforehand about how many treats your kids can have.
• EXPLAIN WHY THE CANDY IS BAD – I am one of those up-front people who feels giving the facts straight-up is a great way to start enlightening individuals on why I preach what I do. Perhaps explaining to your children what the ingredients in candy are and how bad they are to your health, while simultaneously giving some healthy alternatives instead, will help them understand why. I am a huge fan of using educational videos and images on Google (i.e. in this case pictures of badly rotten teeth, etc.) to make a point even more clear (obviously use your judgment for age-appropriateness).
• TEACH MODERATION – Try not to make too big a deal out of the candy. A little candy (i.e. one or two pieces) is better than a long, sad memory of being totally denied treats at Halloween. Again, explain why you hold the stance you do about traditional Halloween candy by talking sensibly with them about diet, health and good eating habits at all times, not just at Halloween, so that they grow to understand the relationship between eating and body health. Help them to learn that some indulgence on special occasions is okay, as long as they don’t consume too much and they accept that treats belong only to very special occasions. Kids are perfect at understanding and your continued support and good example are what they need the most.
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching (of Exponential Health and Wellness, LLC). Megan educates and empowers men, women, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.