Sunday, 25 October 2015

A healthy Halloween


My kids aren't in school so Halloween hijinx haven't hit the house yet (like my alliteration?) though my Facebook feed has been full of little cuties in costumes off to consume confectionery in childcare. Moms are understandably worried about what is going into those precious little bodies, and there has been a lot of frustration with childcare facilities and schools having a free-for-all attitude towards the kids eating junk because it's Halloween.

So how to ensure your kids who you nourish with healthy homecooked food most of the time don't fall off the health wagon and become sugar-bingeing no-hopers like their parents?

Firstly, relax about it. I presume your kids have eaten factory-made confectionery before and lived to tell the tale. This Halloween they will probably eat MSG-containing corn snacks and E-number containing sweets. They will probably drink some soda too. And guess what? I think that's ok. Not for a 2 or even 3 year old, but for school-going aged kids, do you want yours to be the only ones who've never tried a fizzy drink? Your kids will pick up your anxiety about it and end up with a whole 'nother set of food issues, just the thing you're trying to avoid. So remind yourself this is a special occasion, a couple of days out of the year, and you will brush their teeth and fill them full of good food as soon as it's over.

The question is how much you let them consume and when they consume it. This is where advance education and a bit of mom-trickery (i.e. good ole manipulation) come into play. I assume your kids all know that sweets and soda rot teeth,  and they are used to brushing their teeth regularly. You may even have had the E-numbers talk because you may have noticed that they get hyper after eating them at parties. Or you've had the E-numbers talk when you explained that you don't buy them because you don't want your kids to eat chemicals which will make their brains work funny and make them feel bad. If you haven't had that talk, maybe this is the week to do it. Maybe there are allergies in your family and you and your kids are already used to making wise choices when it comes to food, and not eating exactly what everyone around you eats. Or maybe for religious or ethical reasons you don't eat gelatine, so your kids already know that's something others do and they don't, and they're ok with that. It's all the same, really, every family has their own way of approaching food, and their own standards of what's ok. That's why we shouldn't judge others who eat differently to us, whether we think they're making poor choices or not, it's not our place to make comments.

Etiquette dictates that you can't control what goodies your neighbours deem suitable for trick or treaters. No "friendly" note in the door or casual word at the gate. It's not your place. Anyone who makes the effort to spend their hard-earned money on Halloween treats for kids and bothers to open their door to a stream of trick or treaters deserves your thanks and nothing less. Not everyone is as fortunate as you in knowing about healthy eating, they are all doing their best. Maybe they did give healthier snacks one year but got them thrown back at them by ungrateful kiddos, who knows?

Lead by example. Talk to your kids about what treats you will provide for trick or treaters in your house. Make a list together, draw pictures if they're not writing yet. Google ideas and shop together, prepare and layout the treats, make a big deal of what you're offering and know why you've chosen them. In our house we've decided to make our classic "blood and guts" cupcakes to give at the door again this year. Simple sponge cupcakes with red jam filling and icing on top, I'm thinking beetroot juice to color it safely) We might do individual bags of freshly popped popcorn too if I get organised. Talk to your kids about how you care about other kid's health and you don't want to make the neighbourhood kids sick with cheap junk food. Explain how what you're offering costs as much in monetary terms as the junk, but how much better it is for them to eat. And explain that the fun activity of preparing it together makes the Halloween traditions more special. Make your kids feel proud of their efforts, and they'll appreciate that way more than you just arriving home from the supermarket with treats that they've had no part in choosing. Heck, go to town and bake and ice a Halloween cake, or a haunted gingerbread house, and give every trick or treater part of it, they'll be delighted and remember it for years.


My neighbourhood is fantastic for Halloween. There's a huge bonfire, and most houses get into the spirit, putting up decorations and providing treats for the kids. A lot have started to give goody bags to each kid, containing crisps, a chocolate bar and sweets too, sometimes even juice or soda. It's like meals on wheels in reverse. If you've committed to trick-or-treating, let your kids take whatever's on offer, don't try to stop the homeowner giving treats to your kid, you can't educate the adults, but you can take control of what your kid does with the treats.

(If you have a real problem with what's on offer at the neighbour's houses, take yourselves off to a friend's house on Halloween, play games and eat whatever you want. Avoid the trick-or-treating and make so much fun your kids don't feel like they're missing out on anything. You could definitely get away with that for a few years.)

Make sure you feed your kids well before trick or treating. Make a special dinner/late lunch with a Halloween theme. Don't send them out hungry or thirsty. Colcannon is a traditional Irish dish served at this time, and you could do the hidden coins in it for luck, or whatever the tradition is. Halloween is a pagan festival, you can look up some ideas for traditions to start in your family (can you tell I have no time to go Googling links for you?! The Irish Bake-off is about to start and I'm in a rush here!) Don't forget the games, like bobbing for apples/coins, the apple on a string thing and... pin the wart on the witch?!

If there's a choice at the door help your kid by pointing out the healthiest option, I would always go for chocolate over lurid chewy sweets. My kids don't know what is what by the wrappers, so I would briefly explain "this one has nuts, this is a chewy sweet, oooh, this is your favourite kind of chocolate bar" and hope they'll go for the one I indicate.

Let them eat something from their stash as they trick or treat, it's part of the fun and if most kids are chomping away yours will get a complex if they're not allowed. Again, help them choose a healthy option.

The Switch Witch: kind of like the Elf on the Shelf, only for Halloween and no evil watchful toys needed. The Switch witch is an idea originated from the US where you make a deal with your kids (in advance of trick or treating) that they will give some of their stash to the Switch Witch. You can be the Switch Witch yourself, wear a witches hat, they'll love it, or you can pretend she'll call to your house in the night, I know which one my kids would prefer. You can tell your kids you're collecting all the sweets for the Switch Witch, and she will swap them for a toy. Or do as I do and let your kids decide which ones to keep, and which to sell to the Switch witch for money. You could weigh the sweets and sell by weight, or per piece, and decide on a maximum monetary amount. This year my kids will get maximum 5 euros each, and can spend it the day after Halloween in a special trip to a favourite toy store. Last year was a bit nuts and they ended up with about 13 euros each, it was like a mini-Christmas. I learned my lesson.

Tell them the Switch Witch loves chemical candy, let them keep the chocolate and fruit. Maybe portion what they're keeping into party bags for upcoming special occasions ie a cinema trip, Christmas, Friday night parties. Choose what to keep for baking, and for your own late-night snacks. Bin the rest (out of sight of the kids) It's an exchange of goodwill. Your neighbours won't know or mind that your kids didn't eat the specific candy that they provided. Once it's been given, its job is done.


My 7 year old is already looking forward to trick or treating at a certain neighbour's house who had small bottles of soda for the kids last year. All the cola was gone last year so he ended up with orange soda, which was still a thrill, and his first time drinking from one of the small plastic soda bottles. He's hoping to arrive early enough to get the cola this time. You know what?  If he gets it and drinks it all in one go that's ok by me. He has had Cola about twice in his life, and gets a lemon and lime soda or ginger ale on special occasions (maybe 6 times a year), as long as they're full-sugar, not diet brands (aspartame is not good) and preferably without colourings. He knows our limits and he's good with them, he doesn't even finish them all sometimes. If he wanted a second soda at a party for  example I'd explain how much sugar is in it and tell him it would mean no more sweets. Trade-offs. He's still in control but I'm keeping an overall eye on his consumption. He's not feeling deprived, he's involved in the decision-making. He knows the feeling of nausea and stomachache from overindulgence and I think he's not keen to repeat that. If he kept asking for more and was insistent I'd say "Fine, but I think you've had as much as you can handle right now" then let him choose what to do. I'd also look for healthy alternatives, ie "If you're thirsty how about some cold water or an apple?" . Kids need boundaries but they also need to be free to make mistakes. And not feel like they have to sneak the food in secret either.

I hope you've got some good ideas here mama, if I've missed anything or you have any good tips please let us know by leaving a comment below. I hope I've instilled enough healthy eating habits into my kids that they won't make themselves sick on junk this Halloween. I'll certainly be stopping them eating it once we get home after trick or treating, with the promise that they can have some more tomorrow, but apart from all that I'll be concerned about making sure they're warm enough, their costumes are comfortable and ok if it's raining, how the baby is doing in the cold evening air, and that we're all having a ball on our magical Halloween night.

Hope you have a great one,
Nee x

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