This article was originally published in our Sept/Oct 2011 issue.
Trick-or-treating is more of a right for kids, and not an option as many of us health conscious parents wish it were. If we accept this, we can guide them towards smarter choices. If we deny them the excitement, they will end up smuggling candy filled pillowcases up to the privacy of their own bedrooms, eating it late into the night for a week.
I don’t like that picture much, so when my daughter was just a baby I started thinking about ways to make Halloween fun and as close to Paleo as possible.
Halloween for Babies
Forbidding Halloween candy altogether is the best and easiest option for kids two and under. They’re babies for goodness sakes! They are delicate little creatures just establishing their tiny immune systems and barely utilizing their brand new digestive systems. Anything but the freshest foods will compromise these processes.
It’s not difficult to feed a baby a pure diet. Babies not exposed to modern foods do not beg for them. They cannot extrapolate based on color, texture, packaging, or smiling faces. They have no clue that what they eat is not always the same thing as what other people eat.
For babies under a year, Halloween can be easily skipped all together. Once a child is walking, however, the options expand a little.
Handing Out Candy While it may seem a little dull to us, handing out candy or little toys to trick-or-treaters is plenty exciting for small children.
Neighborhood Festivals These often include rides, face painting, apple bobs, photo-ops, plus so many fascinating things just to observe, which is half the fun for us all.
Pumpkin Patches and the Corn Maze A Halloween tradition which is fun, memorable, and candy free.
Three Year Olds
Trick-or-treating can be a little overwhelming for three year olds. Most of the country is cold and kids have to cover their costumes with a big coat. They have to walk a lot right at bed time and the streets are dark and even scary. Festivals are better for kids this age.
I start with a big, high fat meal (to quell cravings) and then stuff a few little treats in my pockets to snack on at the event. Kids get to experience the excitement of the games and costumes with a few bites of their favorite Paleo treats. Steer clear of the food booths and you probably won’t hear a word about it.
As kids get older, though, healthy Halloweens get a little more challenging. What do you do when kids are finally ready to head out with a bucket or a bag and stuff them with as much food coloring, trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup as possible?
Four Years Old and Beyond
Kids don’t have to eat cheap candy to have a good time. Thankfully, there are less-harmful candies made with pure cane sugar or fruit sugars which don’t contain artificial flavors or additives. Candy is candy but a few whole food ingredients as opposed to the 20 or so isolated and artificial ingredients found in a regular candy bar can help minimize the unhealthy impact.
But how do you get the bad candy out of the bag and the good stuff in the bag you ask? Just switch it out! That’s exactly what I did when my daughter was almost four. The plan I devised that year has seen us through all the holidays to come.
Step one Head out to your local health food store to pick out dark chocolates, crystallized ginger, packages of nuts, dried fruits, and other candies with natural ingredients.
Step two Collect a bag full of stomach aches and temper tantrums.
Step three Dump the candy you wouldn’t give to your worst enemy in the trash.
With the sweet replacements in sight, kids can actually do this themselves. On our first Halloween my daughter did shed a few tears, but she did it nevertheless. She said sniffling, “Mommy, I’ll take it to the trash.” Holding the empty bag up to me she asked for her special candy and never looked back.
Within a couple of holidays kids know the routine and rather than cry they will laugh all the way to the trash can. It’s a silly thing to do and even seems a little naughty but it teaches them that these artificial foods are no better than the junk we throw away every day and that is a great lesson to be learned.
Try this trick to switch your child’s treats this Halloween. Prior to Halloween night, hit the store and pick up some candy/treats that you won’t mind your child eating. When you get back to the house from trick-or-treating, set up your “Halloween Store” and have your child use the candy they got while out in the neighborhood to “buy” the new treats. Set different prices (the dark chocolate bar will cost 6 pieces of bad candy, the honey stix cost 2 pieces, etc) so that at the end they’ve switched all the bad candy for the “good stuff.” You’ll feel better and your kids will still have a blast!