Monday, October 26, 2009

What to do for Halloween

Just the other day, I heard a friend say, "How can anyone NOT like Halloween -- it's centered around candy!" I'm sure that's how most kids look at it. I used to LOVE that we had candy in our home for at least a few days after Halloween. My mom never bought candy unless it was a holiday and even then, it was minimal. In our stockings, we got a candy cane along with a variety of nuts that needed to be cracked and an apple and an orange (in my dad's sock, no less). In our Easter baskets, we got some jelly beans. I used to look at my aunt's chocolate bunny each year with the hope that I'd get one someday (little did I know they were hollow and didn't have 1/2 the chocolate they appeared to have).

On Halloween, my mom bought candy to give to the trick-or-treaters and we'd get as much as we could as we went around the neighborhood. I had four brothers and we ate up the candy as fast as we could. I used to envy my friends who had Halloween in their lunch pails a week, two weeks, or even a month after Halloween was over. Ours was gone so fast.

Now it seems like Halloween candy is available before, during, and after in abundance. The stores start selling Halloween candy before school even starts. I used to be a sucker for holiday colored M&Ms -- I thought they looked so great in fall colors in a glass candy dish. At school, they have candy and a variety of sugary-spooky looking treats in the class and at the carnival (there's something so fun about seeing kids walk around the cake walk to "The Monster Mash.") I'm always impressed with the teachers who keep the candy to a minimum (or not at all) in their parties since they know the kids will get more than enough that night anyway. Our church often has a Halloween party too, as well as other activities with sugar "refreshments" at the end. Then there's the actual Halloween night.

Maybe my memory is fuzzy, but when I went trick-or-treating, each grown-up at the door gave me one candy to eat. It didn't matter if it was little like a tootsie roll or not. We got one piece. Now the people at the doors give a handful to my children, even if it's the good chocolate! I'm amazed. Some people even give out full sized candy bars! Then there's those that set up BBQs and serve hot dogs or hot chocolate in the cold misty weather. I used to love that when I didn't care about what I ate.

About 4 years ago after trick-or-treating with my children, I went back to my friend's house in the busy neighborhood (we've always lived where there weren't trick-or-treaters, so we liked to go where we knew someone so we could come back to their house with our younger children to rest while the older ones kept running around with their friends). We often use this opportunity to dump out the candy bag, sort it into groups of chocolate, favorites, gross candy, toys, and whatever. We had sorted out the candy and I was eating the "good" chocolate right and left. It wasn't long before I had indigestion to the point of embarrassment. I started feeling sore-throatish and by the time we left, I wondered why I succumbed to eating sugar when I knew it wasn't doing my body any good. I was sick for the next few days (flu symptoms) and vowed to clean up my eating once and for all. That's when I explored with eating raw foods and saw tremendous improvements in my health.

That was the year I conquered my battle with candy and Halloween, but I've never been able to figure out how to convince my children to do the same. Some people let their children eat their candy the first night only, then throw it all out. I have such good memories of finally getting candy in the house when I was a child, that I struggled with doing that. Yet, I also have childhood memories of horrible allergies and severe asthma and frequent colds and flus. So how great is that? I don't want to contribute to their health problems if I can help it.

Here are a few things I've done. I'm not saying it's my ultimate. I wish they'd just be happy to do without candy like I am, but this is a start:

* Let them eat their candy for a few days, then tell them to choose their favorites to save for Christmas stockings and the rest gets tossed. They've been pretty willing to do this and don't really end up with that many favorites in the end. Maybe they get tired of eating it too since the candy fest begins before Halloween at school and church festivities. By Christmas, we end up using some of it for little gifts they get asked to bring to school (white elephants or Secret Santas), so very little of it ends up in the stocking).

* After Halloween, offer them a dollar a day for each day they can go without eating ANY sugar up through the end of November. They can use the money for their Christmas shopping. My kids have really enjoyed this tradition. They've even turned down pumpkin pie! They've gotten to where saying "No, thanks, we're not eating sugar" is pretty easy for them. Now to just stretch that out into the rest of the year.

* Talk to them more about what foods are good for them and why artificial foods like candy are so bad for their health. They seem to like the power of knowledge and see food through different eyes after our discussions, even if they don't always turn sugar down.

* Fix more homemade healthier versions of traditional fall treats to fill them up - - banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, cooked apples, baked potatoes (we love those when it's cold!), whatever fruit is in season (especially pomegranates), berry/oatmeal muffins, green smoothies, spiced apple cider. Okay, I realize that green smoothies aren't traditional treats, but they're becoming that way in our home, thank goodness.

* Focus on non-eating ways to celebrate Halloween -- carving pumpkins, lighting the pumpkins or luminaries outside, cutting out bats and other decorations out of paper, making window art decorations, stuffing a scarecrow, singing songs (Gorkin was a Goblin by Tim Cain is a HUGE hit with kids), or just watching a movie together. Hocus Pocus is a family favorite, although that song Sara Jessica Parker sings creeps me out; my older girls used to love "The Worst Witch" -- corny, but fun; my boys loved the Magic School bus about the bats and sound. Or we get out an old sit-com like the Brady Bunch where the kids try to convince the realtor that their house is haunted so their parents won't sell it, or more obvious magical TV shows like Bewitched, The Addam's Family or Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. And the greatest of all Halloween kids movies ever made -- the Charlie Brown movie about the great pumpkin! So fun.

If you have any ideas to share, let me know. I know some parents don't have their children go out trick-or-treating anymore. I just love seeing all the children dress up and go from door to door. I love seeing how excited the people at the door are too to see the childrens' costumes. It's just such a fun community event. Maybe someday I'll move on from that, but for now, we'll continue on and try not to let the candy-eating go too far.

Here's a post that Dr. Fuhrman's wife wrote on this subject a few weeks ago. I wish I'd started as early with my children so they didn't even desire sugar, but I am where I am and I'm glad to be this far in my own journey with healthy eating. My hope at this point is that I can continue to teach my children by example and conversation the benefits and essential-ness (I know, I made up that word, but I can't think of a better one) of healthy eating so they can improve their eating ways as they grow up and teach their children from the start.

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