Halloween freaks me out.

Even though I love Halloween festivities —the costumes, the darling kids running house to house, the neighborhood revelry  — the candy thing gets me down. No matter how much we know about the damage candy is wreaking in our children’s bodies, it’s difficult to take on the Halloween candy onslaught. For one thing, it’s not just the sugar that’s concerning. It’s the neurotoxic food dyes, the GMOs lurking in most popular candies, the preservatives, the high fructose corn syrup, and the gluten and other food allergens.  It’s all much easier to ignore than face.

How can we say “yes” to the holiday fun and at the same time mitigate some of the candy damage?  We obviously don’t want to be severe and ruin the party (although I do know a woman who took her 3 kids to camp at Yosemite every year as their Halloween celebration…and it made for incredible family experiences). Rather than saying “no,” I’ve always attempted to engage my kids in conversation, education and negotiation where I can. I really don’t want to be so rigid that my kids sneak or rebel. Parenting is such a dance, isn’t it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this holiday, and so I thought I’d share my ideas of how to navigate the Halloween season more healthfully.

Feed them real food.

First and foremost, while there is candy remaining in the house, let’s concentrate on feeding our children well. Blood sugar roller coasters in the short term are responsible for agitation, headaches, moods, anxiety, inability to focus, hyperactivity and erratic energy. Long term, blood sugar dysregulation creates an inner terrain that is fertile for diseases of all kinds. The tips below can help control blood sugar mania. We are heading into cold and flu season, and since sugar is immune suppressive, paying attention to the following points can also help support flagging immune systems.

  • On Halloween night: skip the pizza and opt for a rich soup or stew with salad. If you’re going to a potluck, bring something healthy. With your kids, negotiate a healthy-dinner-before-trick-or-treating rule.
  • For breakfasts, forgo the pancakes, waffles and cereal.  I mean it. We all know by know that refined grains shoot up our blood sugar just like sugar does.  These breakfasts are desserts. Instead, serve up some eggs with avocado and tomatoes on the side, some organic turkey or grass fed beef patties with sautéed greens or berries, a smoothie with minimal fruit and plenty of protein and healthy fats: coconut milk, full fat yogurt, almond butter, blueberries, and a handful of spinach or chard (which kids won’t detect if you have a good blender). Speaking of pancakes, this could also be the time to explore pancakes that aren’t flour based. Almond pancakes, coconut flour pancakes or pumpkin pancakes have a balancing effect on blood sugar as long as they’re not soaked in syrup. Please skip the OJ and other juices.
  • For lunches, skip the packaged crackers and opt for raw nuts. Include a fruit, a veggie (our current fave is sliced cucumbers) and a main course that is preferably not a bunch of bread: beans with salsa, leftover chicken, egg salad, celery with almond butter.
  • For dinners, cook!  Enjoy family meals! This is the season for tending the home fires. Life gets so much easier when we menu plan, so set aside some time with your favorite cookbooks. (I’ll be writing about menu planning soon).  In the interest of blood sugar balancing, nix the pastas and white rice.
  • Amp up the greens, especially cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, bok choy, kale, Brussels sprouts. Halloween season puts a heavy load on the liver. Cruciferous veggies are especially supportive of the liver.
  • Incorporate fermented foods into your meals. Sugar can wreak havoc on our gut’s bacterial balance.  Click here for a super easy recipe for fermented veggies.
  • In the interest of liver support, encourage your kids to drink water with lemon (I adore mine warm) and herbal teas.
  • Make broths. All you need is water, organic bones (if you’re not a vegetarian), a variety of veggies, herbs of your choice and apple cider vinegar (a couple tablespoons per pot). One of the most health protective foods you can feed your loved ones.

Serve healthy snacks at Halloween parties.

Although my kids have aged out of classroom parties, there are LOTS and LOTS of ideas on the internet for super fun and festive Halloween treats. We get in the rut of thinking our children will be disappointed if there is no sugar served at parties, but the truth is, the costumes and the dry ice are enough for most. Check out these Pinterest sites for ideas: Click here and here.

Decide what you will hand out at your door this year.

Professionally, of course, it’s hard for me to hand out sugar to children, although I certainly have (amidst much heckling from my neighbors). I also have a hard time not thinking about the environmental cost of the holiday, so I don’t want to pass out cheap toys from the Oriental Trading Company.

This year and for the past two years,  I pass out oranges – little mandarins. This embarrasses my kids a bit, but I’m committed. I don’t even care if they get tossed since they’re compostable. In the past two years, the kids who come to my door have been entirely sweet and polite. Some have been geniunely excited. So, there you go. No fall-out. I haven’t ruined anyone’s holiday.

If I were to pass out candy this year, I’d be distributing UNREAL Candy. It’s GMO free, has no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial flavorings or food dyes, is gluten free, has some organic ingredients, and some fair trade ingredients. Check out the company and products here . Even more exciting, this company was started by a teenage girl. This year, I cannot find the candy anywhere but on the website, so order today!

If your children have special diets, or you want to just be more supportive of kids that do, check out this website where you can do a search that adheres to certain restrictions (i.e. GMO free, gluten free, etc.) Mind you, please hear me when I say that these options are not necessarily health promoting. You are simply avoiding “offensive” ingredients.

Another organic option includes YumEarth candies. On the website, you’ll find retail locations (including Whole Foods). These candies contain no food dyes, no high fructose corn syrup, and are gluten free.  One more  alternative is Trader Joe’s Organic Pops. These are organic, contain no artificial colorings or high fructose corn syrup. Finally, if you’re interested in more information about a GMO Free Halloween, click here for an informative PDF.

Decide what you’ll let your children keep.

Since my husband and I pay for our children’s cavities to be filled, my kids agreed  a couple years ago to hand over all their sticky candy. Starbursts, Skittles, Tootsie Rolls and the like were candies they agreed to toss. Much of the food dyes were eliminated in the process. What remained were mainly chocolate candies. I’m sure everyone has their line in the sand when it comes to which candy ends up in the trash. I’d be so interested to hear how you navigate this part of Halloween.

There are plenty of ideas of how to get some of the Halloween candy out of children’s hands. Some dentists offer prizes for kids’ candy. I just read about the “Switch Witch” – who comes on Halloween night and leaves a toy or money in exchange for Halloween candy. I’m including a link here for you to read up about her .

Decide when and how much candy your children get to consume.

My big sister Kathy, who had far more self-control than either my brother George or me, used to make her Halloween candy last until the Easter Bunny arrived. Perhaps your children have that same enviable restraint. In the absence of self-regulation, decide how your kids will work through their candy. Allowing children to binge on a lot of candy in the first days after Halloween might result in some self-restraint, although I’ve never allowed this as a parent. In the spirit of blood sugar control, I suggest that candy is consumed after a meal, rather than as a stand-alone treat.

Decide it’s important to pay attention.

The truth of the matter is that Halloween ushers in a half a year of candy consumption: Halloween candy flows into the chocolates, cookies and candy canes of the holidays. Valentine’s chocolates and conversation hearts quickly follow, then come the jelly beans, peeps and chocolates of spring. Sugar consumption is out of control in our country, and our children are growing up amidst this craziness. Let’s support each other in efforts to restore some balance.

I wish you a happy and healthier Halloween.

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