If you’ve ever binged on a box of cookies or a big bag of Halloween candy, you already know that our off-switch for sweet things is particularly weak. Turns out there’s a biological reason behind our binging: To our cave people ancestors, sugar indicated high-nutrient, […]
Month: October 2017
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Between parties, costume parades and a night of trick-or-treating, a sugar overload seems almost inevitable around Halloween. While your kids may welcome the excuse to go treat-crazy for a couple of weeks, if you’re considering the impact of your diet on your health, it’s a great time to have a chat about sugar, its effects and how we can indulge without making ourselves unwell.
There are tons of fun alternatives to celebrating only with sugar, including toys, activities and homemade goodies. Whether your family decides to skip the sweets altogether, or simply make a commitment to reducing how much of the sugary stuff you take in (to your home and your body), here’s how to have a Halloween without candy (and without tantrums).
How to talk to kids about sugar
Starting the conversation about the effect of sugar on the body can be a bit daunting. No one wants to be the mean parent who says sugar is terrible – nor should you have to be. Make sure you keep the conversation on your child’s level and help them understand how sugar relates to his or her specific body.
Explain that not all foods are created equal: the whole foods we enjoy at mealtimes help fuel and nourish our bodies so that we can feel good, have energy, read and learn and run and play, and they prevent us from getting sick. On the other hand, some foods ( “birthday party foods”, as we like to call them) might taste great in the short-term but can make us feel less than well in the long term.
Help kids understand what sugar is by explaining that there are different types of sugar: natural sugar found in fruit and dairy, and added sugar, like cane sugar, corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. You can even set up a taste test to compare the different kinds of sweetness – fruit and dairy versus Halloween candy – and teach kids about how these differ in terms of their benefits.
Natural sugars come in a neat little package with vitamins, minerals and fiber. These sugars help power our internal engine and keep our systems running. Added sugars have usually been through some kind of processing and don’t come with those partner nutrients. The body uses these added sugars more quickly, which can tire out our internal engine.
Sugar is not inherently bad: it is a molecule that has kept humans alive is a key source of energy we consume and use each day (read: carbohydrates). The most important points to remember when it comes to sugar are which types we’re choosing and how often we’re eating them.
Establishing house rules
When it comes to Halloween, or any holiday for that matter, ensuring we have ample whole fuel coming into our bodies instead of overdoing it on solely artificial fuel is key to avoiding getting sick or creating hard-to-break habits. Establish clear boundaries with your kids that added sugar is acceptable as a treat as long as a minimum number of whole foods have already fueled them that day. This is not to say that candy is a reward for eating broccoli, but that there can be room in the diet for treats if the body’s basic nutritional needs have been met. On Halloween night, for instance, set the expectation that your little ones will eat a nourishing, veggie-inclusive meal before heading out to trick-or-treat.
You may also wish to set a daily quota for treats, especially if a huge pillowcase of mini candy bars will be on the kitchen counter come November 1st. Consider donating excess amounts of candy or take it to the office to share with co-workers.
Keep in mind that any conversation about food with little ones should retain a positive spin: rather than creating fear, guilt, or body-centric shame, frame the food in question in terms of how it makes you feel. Whole foods – fruits, veggies, grains and nuts with lots of nutrients – make us feel energized and well. They help us be able to play and help us feel strong. Eating a ton of cake usually makes us feel sleepy and can give us a stomachache. While sugar can be a nice treat sometimes, help kids find the balance between “That was a nice treat” and “That was too much.”
Sugar-free ways to celebrate Halloween
Make your own treats
The simplest way to avoid sugar this Halloween? Skip the store-bought stuff all together and make your own goodies at home using natural sugars: applesauce, honey, maple syrup and brown rice syrup are low-glycemic, more wholesome options. Consider using a pumpkin-shaped mold to create festive chocolates, cereal bars or caramels.
Opt for dark chocolate
For trick-or-treaters, cdark chocolate in place of standard chocolate fare. Dark chocolate often has far less sugar than its milky cousins; recently, many companies have started to offer their larger dark chocolate bars in miniature form, and introducing it to kids early on helps them develop their palate for the future. Hosting a Halloween party? Consider topping squares of dark chocolate with your kiddo’s favorite nut butter or melt it into a fondue for fruit.
Shell out sugar-free gum
It’s tricky to stuff your face with chocolate when you have a mouthful of sugar-free gum. Check out a naturally sweetened option like Glee Gum to keep sugar down and jaws busy.
Pick (and cook) pumpkins
Make an event out of selecting, hollowing and carving pumpkins. Set aside the seeds and toss with olive oil, cumin, garlic, salt and pepper for a tasty treat; plus, if you pick up an extra pumpkin or two, you can make an activity out of baking one whole (and using the pumpkin flesh for all kinds of delicious, non-sweet dishes, like creamy pumpkin pasta, roasted pumpkin pizza and pumpkin soup.
Toys and treasures
Rather than focusing on the edible side of Halloween, look for fun, non-snack ideas to gift your kids and Halloween visitors. Stickers, bubbles, Halloween tattoos, crayons and Play-Doh make great options, and they’ll last longer than a Snickers bar.
– Amy Height
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