Halloween marks the beginning of the holiday season — often a time of overindulgence, guilt, and then backlash come January. This is a crappy cycle that I’m constantly working with my clients to break, but it’s a tough nut to crack, in part because it’s so deeply engrained in our culture. Here’s an interesting thought though, we can create the culture in our own families; we can literally create, right now, a paradigm of what our children know as “normal,” and we have a lot more control around it than we think.
We can’t shield our children from the big bad world of processed food, candy, and overindulgence, but we can 100% make healthier choices in our own homes that show our children an alternate path to what is essentially a two month food binge.
The kicker is that we have to make these choices for ourselves too. We don’t want to be those parents that hide our kids Halloween candy and then eat it ourselves after they go to bed. We’ve gotta practice what we preach, and that takes a general reframe around this fun, sugar-drenched holiday, and the holiday season in general.
Now we all have to decide where to draw the line and what works for our respective families, but here’s what I’m doing in our house to have a healthier halloween, and by extension, holiday season!
Focus on what Halloween is really about.
My kid is two, and I’m happy to say she has zero idea that candy is even remotely related to Halloween. As far as she’s concerned, this holiday is about dressing up (in coordinating, nerdy, family costumes), schlepping around the neighborhood and seeing all kinds of crazy decorations and creatures lurking about. Obviously this blissful ignorance isn’t going to last forever, but we are planting the seeds in her mind of what this holiday is about. Maybe in another year or two, we’ll incorporate the sweet side of Halloween, but there is no need to rush it. I think that for kids under 4, Halloween can just be about costumes, face paint and pumpkins — they have their whole lives to enjoy the rest.
Don’t stock up on candy at home (or at least don’t stock your faves).
If you’re home on Halloween and really want to give out candy, buy just enough of some high quality sweets (see below) to hand out to your neighbors without stockpiling extras to enjoy over the next few weeks. You don’t need that sh*t in your house. It’s hard enough to make healthy food choices without a huge bag of peanut butter cups staring you in the face.
If you have kids and are going to be out in the neighborhood, then don’t add to the haul by having candy at home too. If you want to indulge in the sweeter side of the holiday, make some healthier Halloween treats with your kids, that aren’t going to give them crazy sugar highs, mess with their moods and sleep, and set a precedent that this holiday is really about candy.
Consider an alternative to trick-or-treating.
In our neighborhood in Santa Monica, people go Halloween crazy. Entire streets close down due to foot traffic, and houses get done up in high budget, Hollywood style. We go out and walk around the neighborhood, ooh and ahh over the costumes and decorations we see, and maybe pick up a caramel apple or another healthier sweet treat while we’re out. I know this won’t last forever, but there are also lots of other Halloween activities to partake in that don’t have to involve candy. Going to a pumpkin patch, amusement park, corn maze, or haunted house are all super fun Halloween traditions to start, and though there may be a few sweets present, you won’t necessarily come home with buckets of toxic garbage that you’ll need to haggle with your kids over.
Institute a trade-in policy.
If you decide to let your kids trick or treat, I like the idea of a trade-in policy. They can trade-in their Halloween candy for a small toy or something they’ve been wanting or talking about for awhile (it could also be something non-material, like day alone with daddy or a day trip to a favorite spot). You can pick a couple pieces of the least offensive candy (see below) to let them enjoy the day-of, but then the candy goes bye-bye. No haggling, no negotiations, no drama. I suggest deciding on what the trade will be for in advance, so there’s no confusion or haggling later. With younger kids who won’t exactly understand the concept of a trade-in, you can just let them choose one or two pieces to enjoy, and explain that that’s it, and the rest goes away (take it to work or donate it somewhere — though I have mixed feelings about donated toxic pseudo-food to other humans, but what can you do?).
Give out healthier sweets.
Remember that one weird house in your neighborhood that gave out bizarre candy no one had ever heard of? They were probably the family that was doing yoga and biking to work way before it was cool. Be a trailblazer and order up some healthier treats from NaturalCandyStore.com, which has delicious candy that fit every ethos and health concern out there, from vegan and gluten-free to sugar-free and organic. Unreal Candy is a company that makes healthier, versions of popular candy (M&M, Milky Ways, Snickers & Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups) with no high-fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors and colors, or GMO ingredients! Best of all, they’re available at lots of drug stores and grocery stores all over the country!
If you’re lucky enough to live in a health conscious area, you’ll likely have some healthier options in your haul that you can let your kids choose from. If you picked up the standard, pharmacy-brand haul, your best bets are things like Hershey’s Pure Dark Chocolate, Reese’s Minis, Raisinettes, Almond Joy Minis and Mounds Bar Minis (by no means are these candies healthy, they’re just the least offensive of the lot).
Lead by example.
Again, if you set rules around candy for your kids, you have to follow them too. Nothing will breach the trust in your family like your kids discovering that you hid their candy to eat it yourself. After everyone has enjoyed one or two small non offensive Halloween treats and the candy leaves the house, it leaves your life too. It’s only fair, it sets the best example, and it let’s you create a healthier holiday culture for your home in general. Those are the habits and traditions that will stick with your kids into their own adulthood!
Have a happy, healthy(ish) Halloween!!