For most, Halloween is more than just one event on the evening of October 31st. Instead, Halloween typically means the accumulation of large amounts of candy that can linger around the house for weeks to come. Now is a good time not only to think about how to celebrate safely this year, but also to consider alternative solutions that let kids enjoy Halloween without it becoming a prolonged exposure to excess sugar. Just like COVID-19 has led us all to think about our travel, which has greatly helped to lower our carbon footprint, it’s also a good moment to think about reducing our sugar footprint at home.
Children are born with a built-in preference for sweetness, which was supposed to be a protective mechanism to favor breastmilk and avoid harmful foods from the forest floor. Unfortunately this is backfiring in today’s high-sugar food environment, where 68% of processed foods at the grocery story and 80% of kids’ snacks have some type of added sugar. And it’s not just more sugar, but also many different types of sugar, with more than 200 names as well as alternative sweeteners that have infiltrated our food supply. This combination of preference for sweetness in our new food environment is a recipe for disaster for children, because more sugar and different types of sugar can disrupt the process of healthy growth and development.
With Halloween, the trick is to let kids enjoy some of the treats, but not overdo it. Here are some ideas for how to make Halloween “Sugarproof,” so that it will be a healthier and safer celebration:
If your kids do go trick-or-treating, set limits. Maybe go to fewer houses, or don’t eat all the candy that’s collected. In our book, we introduce the “Switch Witch,” who comes at night to exchange excess candy for a small gift, kind of like the tooth fairy for Halloween.
Let your kids suggest how much they want to keep and how much they want to leave for the Switch Witch and negotiate from there. Leave the extra candy out for the Switch Witch, who exchanges it for a voucher for a fun family activity or a toy.
Limit the amount of candy you buy for trick-or-treaters so your family doesn’t end up eating all the leftover candy. Avoid buying candy with high fructose corn syrup, alternative sweeteners and other chemical additives. Purchase healthier items, like packets of roasted nuts or other savory snacks.
Consider alternatives to trick-or-treating altogether. You could have a mini-neighborhood block party that is socially distanced, a driveway visit with a few friends, a neighborhood walk while wearing a costume or a dress-up party at home with just your own family.
For younger children, try trick-or-treating within your own house. Or create a fun sensory activity with a Halloween theme: peel the skin off grapes and call them eyeballs, boil spaghetti for guts, use cauliflower as a brain, put it all in bowls and then let your kids mask up, feel the icky stuff and let their imagination run wild.
For Halloween party treats, make healthy alternatives. We recommend a savory snack to start, like our Guac-enstein dip, a fun guacamole platter decorated like Frankenstein’s monster.
You can find the recipe here on our blog. Having kids eat something healthy as the evening starts will keep them from overdoing it with sweets later. And when they do have candy, it won’t be on an empty stomach, which helps prevents a dramatic sugar high.
And for sweet treats, instead of cupcakes, cookies or candy, consider alternatives with less sugar. Here on our blog you can also find a recipe for a spooky version of our no-bake chocolate sesame treats, which have zero added sugar. These can be turned into spiders, monsters, bats and tombstones.
This is a really easy recipe. So easy, in fact, that your kids can help you make it – just one more fun activity for them on Halloween night.
Note: a version of this post first appeared in The Conversation