Halloween is just a week away and we should all be afraid, very afraid! What should we be afraid of you ask? The treats. And, no, I’m not talking razor blades hidden in toffees. Just that regular pile of candy that gets tipped out of their plastic jack-o-lantern bucket. Those ‘treats’ – which is such a bad name for the crap that is handed out to our kids when they go trick or treating. Such a wrong message, I really don’t want my kids looking forward to a treat which is actually the trick – sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fat, preservatives, artificial color and artificial flavor. This doesn’t just rot their teeth but adds to the ever increasing obesity epidemic and has so many health risks associated with it. A bag full of ‘treats’ that is really bad for you. I would say that’s the trick. I find it shocking that we are constantly questioning our parenting skills and the decisions we are facing and yet Halloween candy is embraced and celebrated. So much is written about healthy lunch boxes, eating more fruits and vegetables, the importance of a good diet but isn’t it time we, as parents, stood up to this annual sugar-junk fest? The candy industry just loves this holiday all the way to the bank because it generates almost 2 billion dollars in sales, their top grossing day of the year - a tenth of their total annual income of 20 billion dollars. That’s a lot of candy corn!
As well as obesity there are the other health issues associated with feeding junk food to our children and I’m not talking the immediate tummy ache or cavity: stroke, depression, diabetes, cancer… and we continue to call these the treats?
Rémy reacts really badly to green food colouring – something I discovered when he was about 3 at Disneyland after a mint chocolate chip ice-cream. For a very long 30 minutes he went crazy – screaming, kicking, crying, hitting me etc And then as quickly as it came on it stopped and he sat in his stroller looking at me with wide eyes and said “What happened mummy?” Ever since then we have tried to avoid food colouring and that very green looking mint choc chip ice cream and he knows it’s bad for him.
I believe that I have to help educate my children to make the right choices for themselves especially when it comes to food – rather than impose rules about what they aren’t allowed to eat. Minty uses a certain hamburger fast food place as a weapon against her brother: “That was the food that you used to want to eat Rémy!” Rémy is adamant that he never ever wanted it because it contains pink slime and who in their right mind would want to eat that? Neither of them have ever had a burger from this particular company but I would be surprised if they would choose to eat there. I try to limit the sugar consumption and encourage healthy snacks over those packaged as healthy. I always read the ingredients listed and am constantly surprised at how much sugar and how little protein is in those protein ‘energy bars’ that are specifically targeting kids. And yet why do so many people think that a sugar fest on the 31st October and the days and weeks of consuming the loot afterwards is okay?
I love this holiday for the dressing up and the trick or treating, I’m just a little frightened by what everyone thinks is acceptable to give children on this day in the name of Halloween. How do I get around the ‘treats’ and not turn this fun holiday into a fight over the amount of junk and candy consumed? And how do I avoid being the bad guy, the party pooper, the one who is preventing them from joining in the fun that is normal and acceptable amongst their friends? I embrace all the great things about Halloween and try to make them understand how bad for their health certain accepted aspects of the holiday actually are.
1. We focus on the costumes. This is so important to them – we discuss what they are going to wear months in advance and slowly an outfit emerges. (The children hooker costumes is a whole other topic unto itself!) This year Rémy wants to be a US Army soldier (oh my Quaker pacifist ancestors will be rolling in their graves!) and Minty wants to be an old fashioned doll with real ringlets – which was a very surprising choice for her given her usual passion for the macabre and all things Tim Burton! I think the best costume I ever made for them was when Minty (4) was Corpse Bride and Rémy (2) was Victor. Although, as can be seen from these pictures, she was really upset by the all the attention her costume attracted and she changed into her Disney Princess Cinderella dress for Trick or Treating that evening! That dress was the haute couture of the halloween costume world and yet she chose to wear what every other little 4 year old girl wants, a sky blue nylon dress with clear plastic glass slippers!
2. We enjoy decorating the house, inside and out – with spiders webs, grave stones, lights, ghosts etc. Tonight we are making Halloween bunting, glitter pumpkins and jack o lanterns. It’s a really fun family time leading up to the 31st. We never seem to get round to taking the decorations down either – the string of ghost lights are still up in the hedge outside the kitchen window from last year!
3. We give out glow in the dark sticks, bracelets and wands and those silly plastic spider rings instead of candy – this also helps seeing them in the dark as they race from house to house and criss cross roads in the dark. I think my children would disown me if I even attempted to give out mini bags of organic carrots! An organic caramel apple might pass the test – but could I really be bothered to make up hundreds of these homemade treats only to have my kids roll their eyes in horror?
4. We eat a big healthy dinner before we set out trick or treating and I make a batch of scary Halloween pumpkin cupcakes to share.
5. During the trick or treat festivities I suggest they limit the amount of chocolate bars and candy they eat – the excitement of knocking on people’s doors and being with their friends is more than enough and there’s little time between houses to eat anything, thankfully. I will also point out how sick the candy makes them feel – they have both got stomach aches and complained of feeling sick having eating it in the past.
6. When we get home the children can decide if they want to leave their bag of candy they have collected out for the Switch Witch. The bag is then left on the tree outside and in the morning the candy has gone and the Switch Witch leaves them a toy. Having one BIG toy over all that junk is the obvious choice and one they seem to like to make. Plus hanging up the bag is a thrilling ritual that we have created for Halloween.
As you celebrate Halloween with your children this year please be a little more mindful about how harmful those seemingly innocent treats are. Trick or Treat?