As Halloween approaches and with the holidays right around the corner, we believe it is important to educate ourselves on the benefits of maintaining our healthy lifestyles throughout the seasons. In terms of food – especially with kids – we’ve likely established some basic guidelines of nourishment and what we hope to avoid. Then things like birthday parties hit. While my child is only a toddler, I’ve experienced first hand the struggle that can ensue from denying a kid cake!
Halloween, however, seems to take it to a whole new level. The holiday is virtually synonymous with candy and the weeks of anticipation mean weeks of sugar craze! While there’s no perfect way to navigate the tension between health and Halloween, we wanted to share some ways we personally do so (and plan on doing as our kids grow older) as well as a few healthy recipes from our favorite blogger friends! 🙂
At least half the fun of “Trick or Treating” for our kids is dressing up in costumes and going around the neighborhoods with other spooks! So, if your children are young, you can easily let them enjoy the holiday by not making an issue of the candy at all. After you get back from trick or treating you can have an alternative bag prepared for them to eat and you can play sorting games with them with the loot they picked up from the neighborhood. Young kids love that! For older children, still we don’t want to damper their spirits and we want to let them participate with the other kids. If they are old enough to understand and you have educated them (see ideas below) let them play a part in choosing some specially targeted incentives (maybe a toy they want) and a special treat bag prepared beforehand that they will look forward to having when they come home. We don’t want to spoil the fun for our kids and make them feel different!
It’s much easier to make changes and stick to them when we know why, so understanding the difference between natural and refined sugars is key. Natural sugar found in fruit, sweet vegetables, honey and maple syrup is essential to our health, nourishing the spleen, pancreas and stomach. Even processed sweeteners like coconut sugar, high-quality stevia, Lakanto, Monk Fruit, etc. are much better alternatives. Refined sugar like white and brown sugar (which is simply white sugar + molasses) and high fructose corn syrup (which is completely chemically produced) is harmful to your health: addictive (studies have shown rats prefer sugar over cocaine!), extremely processed, robs the body of essential nutrients, suppresses the immune system, can feed cancer cells, is one of the leading causes of acne and obesity, is directly linked to hyperactivity and mood disorders…and more. Learn more about sugar from Marilee’s recent blog article, Ditch Refined Sugar and Reap the Benefits.
Educate Your Children
While these facts may not impress children as they do adults, taking the opportunity to point out how they feel when they do eat refined sugar is a great idea. Especially for children who aren’t able to indulge often, the effects on their behavior and mood can be quite noticeable. Let these instances serve as memorable lessons for the future! Kids are smarter than we think. We like the approach Brittany Dixon of A Healthy Slice of Life takes: “We talk about how our bodies work and how certain foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains fill our bodies with fuel that allows us to run, think, create, and play at our maximum ability. Other foods like candy, cookies, and cake don’t offer the same fueling power. We keep the explanation simple, short, and sweet (no pun intended).” Raising three kids of her own, her experience has shown these conversations best begin around age four. We couldn’t agree more on her approach of avoiding naming foods (or non-foods like processed candy!) as “bad”. And this may be a good time to point out that using food as a reward can have lasting negative effects on children.
Establish Year-Round Habits
It probably goes without saying that Halloween season is not the time to start laying ground rules for a refined-sugar-free home! There is true power in the purse, meaning it starts with what we bring into our homes. If our daily lives are generally free of refined sugar, cravings cease, habits form and the times of indulgence produce more pronounced effects. When it comes to eating, leading by example is the best thing we can do for our family’s health, so providing naturally-sweetened snacks, desserts and candy options throughout the year is great! (And, we promise, these alternatives do not have to taste “alternative”!)
Artificial Food Dyes: A Whole Other Ballgame
Unfortunately the world of processed foods has become more complicated (and harmful) with the prevalence of GMOs and artificial food colorings, both of which mounds of research has shown to negatively affect the gut and brain. Added for looks alone (provide no flavor), these colorings are usually made from petroleum by-products and coal tar, (Today’s Parent) and are mostly found under “Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6” in ingredient lists. This 68-page report, written by The Center for Science in the Public Interest, outlines their link to hyperactivity, cancer and other health problems. So what do we do about this, especially when most Halloween candy boasts these ingredients? Again, avoiding the “bad” label, do your best to provide dye-free candy alternatives colored with natural colors which are increasingly available these days. Also, providing nutrient-rich foods the week of Halloween, especially the morning of, is a good way to help offset the effects of these chemicals. High-quality proteins and fats like grass-fed meat and dairy, organic ghee, coconut oil, flax oil and fish oil are also wonderful options!
While this article focuses on kids with sensory sensitivities, we think it has great advice for all children. Read more here.