Surviving Halloween When You Are Fit4God

Halloween is just around the corner and the candy has already started flowing into our house, thanks to a Halloween party at my daughter’s preschool today. I can already feel my teeth clenching as I look at the assorted goodies…cookies, Teddy Grahams, Ring Pops, Pixie sticks, gummy eyeballs. It delights her perhaps as much as it tortures me.I’m really not a food Nazi. I do allow my kids treats, perhaps more often than most people would imagine I do. But I try to limit it, and I try to make them healthier treats: no gluten, no industrial oils, no artificial colors, and no artificial preservatives. And I try to keep the sugar to a minimum, usually cutting the amount of sugar in the recipe to half or a third of the original amount. Treats for my kids are things like Chocolate Ice Cream made with coconut milk, unsweetened chocolate, and raw honey. Or I might bake cookies with gluten-free flours, real butter, and stevia. Apple-Strawberry Fruit Leather made from strawberries and applesauce in a dehydrator needs no added sugars and is a sweet treat, too.My teeth clenching has to do with all the gluten grains, trans fats, industrial oils, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors, preservatives and flavorings. I know those ingredients lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, among other things. I know that those kinds of treats contributed to my eventually gaining 40 unwanted pounds and developing Multiple Sclerosis. I know that the gluten will give my son tummy aches, fatigue, and irritability, as well as make him start wetting the bed again. I know that the sugar will turn my daughter into a little sugar fiend, begging for candy every ten minutes and refusing healthy, nourishing foods. And I know that Halloween is just the beginning of 6 long months of holidays from Halloween until Easter when my kids will be offered treat upon treat, candy upon candy, as though we can think of no other way to celebrate than to overindulge in sweets.Treats are offered with the best of intentions. They are given with love, they are offered to bring a bright smile to child’s face, to show him that he is special, to have a moment of fun. But if we really love our kids, we will not offer them treats that we know might lead to disease if abused.(And let’s face it, sugar is addictive and IS likely to be abused. Rats prefer it to cocaine, and our brains on sugar look just like an addict’s brain on drugs.)If we really want to bring a bright smile to a child’s face, let’s not offer her something that will light him on fire for 20 minutes, only to bring him crashing down later as his blood sugar drops. If we want to show him he is special, let’s not poison him. And if you really want to give her a moment of fun, offer her a small toy to play with, or a fun sticker, or better yet, just spend a little time with her.

Our culture has developed the idea that we, and especially children, need constant rewards. My kids are offered candy at church for listening, for learning their Bible verses, for getting baptized, or simply for showing up. They come home from school each week with new trinkets for good behavior. I know one mom who said to me, “Well, you can’t take the kids to the store without buying them something,” explaining to me how each errand typically costs her $5 per child in toys and treats. Never mind that children often come home from birthday parties with more in their goody bags than they gave to the birthday child, or that every player on a sports team gets a trophy, whether they won or not.

Kids don’t need that many rewards, and they don’t need to take the form of candy and toys. Research shows clearly that rewarding a behavior every single time it is performed doesn’t work as well as rewarding sporadically. Being rewarded for everything simply sends the message that nothing is really special. There’s no need to work hard or try hard, because you know you’ll probably be rewarded no matter what. If you want to demotivate your child to work hard and do well, offer a reward every time, even for poor results. Praising effort works better than praising results, and praising real results works better than praising all results.

Back to Halloween. (Sorry for the diatribe! Well, no, I’m not really sorry!)

Your typical “fun-sized” Halloween candies contain an average of 60 calories, 11 grams of carbohydrate, and 8 grams of sugar. In addition, many of them contain trans fats and artificial coloring. The sugar, of course, will have the short term effect of sugar cravings, tummy aches, crankiness, and lack of focus and motivation. The trans fats are cancerous, and the artificial colorings cause mayhem in those sensitive to them, such as kids with ADHD or autism.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not too excited for my kids to eat that! Partly for their sakes, and partly for my own sanity! I’d like to keep my kids cheerful, energetic, and focused, thank you very much! So, here are a few ideas to make this Halloween a healthier Halloween:

1. Shift the Focus. Focus on scrambling through corn mazes, hiking through pumpkin patches, jumping at bounce houses, carving pumpkins, and creating imaginative costumes rather than sweets and trick-or-treating.

2. Healthier Treats. Instead of the usual cupcakes and candies, start a tradition with your kids of roasting pumpkin seeds or making popcorn balls. Or see my alternative recipe for Worms in the Mud Halloween Cupcakes (Gluten-Free).

3. Redefine “Treat.” Instead of the usual Snickers bar, Skittles, and Dum Dums, try healthier treats like organic dark chocolate, raisins or other dried fruits, small bags of microwave popcorn, honey sticks, crystallized ginger, mini Larabars, trail mix, or small packages of nuts. Or choose non-food treats from the dollar store like glow sticks, temporary tattoos, play-doh, Halloween pencils and erasers, die-cast cars or small stuffed animals.

Dressing up and trick-or-treating is a large part of the fun, and although you can determine what you give away, you can’t determine what your child brings back home. Here are four ideas for dealing with the unwanted candy:

1. Pass It Out. Keep your kids home, dress them up in their costumes, and get them involved in passing out your healthy goodies. Just play it straight, or make it festive by creating spooky scenes or shows for trick-or-treaters to watch. Have mystery boxes of toys for boys and toys for girls and invite each trick-or-treater to reach in for his or her own spooky prize. Make if fun enough and they’ll never miss trick-or-treating.

2. Give it Away. Many homeless shelters and programs for disadvantaged kids will accept Halloween candy. Some of you will feel that giving the candy to disadvantaged people is like sticking a knife in the wound, and others will see it as a treat for kids who rarely get them. Your call. Operation Gratitude is an organization that accepts Halloween candy and sends it to soldiers overseas, another option to consider.

3. Dentist Buyout. Dentists often set up programs to buy your kids’ Halloween candy for $1 or $2 per pound. A great way to tie in the message that candy isn’t good for kids!

4. Switch It Out. Have your kids pick 2-5 pieces of candy to keep and have them put the rest in a big bowl. Leave it out on Halloween Night and wait for the Great Pumpkin, the Switch Witch, or the Halloween Fairy (you choose) to come and gobble it up, leaving a book or a small toy in its place.

5. Trade it In. Set up a “store” where your kids can trade in 3 pieces of “bad” candy for 1 healthier treat, like an all-natural fruit leather strip, a piece of organic dark chocolate, a small bag of trail mix. Alternatively, pay your child a nickel or a quarter for every piece of candy she chooses to sell you. (Thanks to Sarah Fragoso at Everyday Paleo for this idea!) (Note written on 10/30/2011 – my kids have already started getting candy from parties and church ….we started the “store” today and it worked wonderfully! Target had a wide selection of all-natural treats (see photo) like fruit strips and trail mix. Everything I bought was free of added sugars, artificial ingredients, industrial oils, and gluten! (There was a small exception: the trail mix had a few M&Ms and a few chocolate chips.) My kids love going to the “store” to trade in their candy and are quite happy with their new treats. My 6-year old is old enough to understand that candy is poison and experiences satisfaction in knowing he is doing something good for his body. They role play it up (“Oh, let’s see what we have at the store today? Oh, those look good, how much are they?”).

6. Keep it Simple. Or you could just be straightforward with your children and explain to them that the candy is really unhealthy and they will get to choose 2 pieces (or however many you decide on) and the rest will be given away. Your kids might just get on board with it…I know my son would!

The holidays are just beginning. Thanksgiving pies, Christmas cookies, Valentine’s candy, and Easter candy are almost upon us. Let’s keep our kids healthy and happy for the next six months! Focus on fun activities together, minimize the sweets, choose healthier treats, and get creative!

Have a great idea to share about getting through the holidays without sugar shock? Share your ideas in the comments section!

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