Halloween has always been one of my very favorite holidays. For me, it's all about delight, whimsy, and trying on new personas, allowing even grownups to enter the land of make-believe and indulge in being someone or something else for a few hours.
For my two daughters, there's also the magical surprise of knocking on a door and having it opened with joy and generosity, even if that door belongs to someone they don't know. The (subconscious) message is that we live in community. I cherish this.
On the other hand, as a nutritionist who came into this field by helping one daughter overcome a major health challenge, I'm particularly cautious about cramming their little bodies with sugar bombs, artificial colors and flavors, and mystery ingredients. I want to maintain the magic, merriment, and community, while minimizing the health damage. And, since I believe it's important to stand in my integrity, this means caring about the neighbor kids as well as my own. So I have two areas of focus for Halloween: what I do for my kids, and what I do for my community.
Keeping Halloween Healthier for Your Kids (It's not an oxymoron!)
Here are my top strategies for my own two girls:
- The most important element is that we talk about how food makes us feel and what it does for our bodies lots of other times besides holidays. This way the holiday just fits into the rest of the conversation and doesn't get blown up or become a power play. I firmly believe that kids should understand where their food comes from, what it does for them—AND how it can be part of enjoyable traditions. Kids are smart, and it's fair to respect that.
- I don't put limits on the event itself. Just like collecting trading cards or rubber-band bracelets, a big part of the fun is just in seeing what you get.
- Once we're home, I go through the candy, pick one or two items that are least bothersome to me, and let them have those right away. This scratches the itch without going overboard.
- I have other treats, either homemade or acceptable store-bought options (gummies made with real fruit and Hail Merry macaroons are big favorites) that I will trade for some of the rest of the candy.
- ALL the rest of the candy after that is traded in to me as credit for going book shopping at our local bookstore the next weekend. My girls were THRILLED with the chance to get new books. I either chuck the rest (my preference) or let my husband take the rest to his office.
Keeping Halloween Healthier for Other Kids
At the risk of getting our house TP'd (my husband's fear that has yet to come true!), here's how we handle handing out treats:
- Even though it costs a bit more, I'll pony up for organic lollipops from YumEarth Organics or little bags of fruit gummies. Organic sugar is still sugar, but at least I know I'm not handing out chemicals.
- Some great non-food treats are mini cans of play-dough, glow sticks, stickers (I've yet to meet a kid who didn't love stickers!), and cool pencil grips or erasers. I do NOT pass out the dreaded toothbrush ;)
- For a couple of years now, and especially because I have kiddos with sensitivities, I'll be participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project, which will let us let others know that we have treats for kids with food allergies. http://www.foodallergy.org/teal-pumpkin-project/about#.V_K5wpMrKu5
All of the above is what I do in my own house. However, I have to give a shout out to these other stellar suggestions for governing the Halloween gremlins:
- Trick or treat for charity: Pull a wagon along and ask for donations of canned goods or other non-perishable food items to donate to a local food bank or shelter in lieu of candy.
- Head to the zoo: In Denver and around the country, zoos will have fun-filled evenings that are more about the adventure and less about the candy.
- Community carnivals: Lots of communities, churches, and schools host trick-or-treating events, and more and more sponsors are catching on that families appreciate bags filled with items other than candy.
Hope you have a healthier, spirited night of fun in your own community!