Today’s parents are more aware than ever before of the negative effects of sugar and processed foods on their children’s bodies. With the Internet and a growing health movement, knowledge and information that were once difficult to come by are now just mouse clicks away.
Parents want their kids to eat healthier foods than they did. Thanks to a demand for these healthy foods, more nutritious versions of every food imaginable are becoming available.
But what’s a parent to do on a holiday like Halloween? Nostalgia makes many parents want their kids to experience the fun of sweet treats on that festive October eve. Then comes the mental battle for the parent-knowing candy is bad, but wanting the kids to have fun. One night of indulgence isn’t going to hurt, is it? Unfortunately, for most kids, Halloween candy lasts longer than one night. Sugar addiction doesn’t take long to develop. A few weeks of candy create a desire and addiction that won’t just disappear once the holiday is over. And coming right on the heels of Halloween are other food-laden holidays. So the cycle begins and isn’t easily broken.
The good news is that parents can still create a fun, festive Halloween holiday for their children, without the sugar. Happy memories don’t require sugar, believe it or not. All it takes is creativity and a desire to offer healthy choices. Kids don’t expect sugary treats and candy when they first learn of Halloween. It’s the adults in their lives who introduce them to this tradition. What if, from the very beginning, they associated Halloween with nutritious, and delicious, foods? This year, invite your kids’ friends over to your house where you can create the menu, and surprise them with these healthy Halloween goodies:
COOKIES: Make cut-out Jack-o-lantern cookies, sweetened with agave nectar or other unrefined sweetener of your choice, top with cream cheese frosting tinted orange with natural food coloring, and make the Jack-o-lantern’s face using grain-sweetened chocolate chips. Parents and children can make these together. Let your little ones help you put on the chocolate chip faces!
POPCORN: Popcorn is a great, versatile snack enjoyed by kids and adults alike. Make your own sweet “kettle corn” by air popping ½ c. kernels. Mix in sea salt, organic butter, and a light sprinkling of stevia powder to taste. Serve in a big orange bowl. Or, make your own popcorn balls by mixing organic peanut butter, organic butter, sea salt, and a touch of agave nectar into the bowl of popcorn, then pressing handfuls together into balls. (Note: Popcorn can be a choking hazard for children under the age of 4, so please serve with caution and supervise young children at all times.)
APPLE CIDER FLOATS: Combine 2-3 scoops Rice Dream ice cream with cold apple cider (make sure the cider is 100% fruit juice). This treat is so sweet that most kids’ sweet teeth are satisfied after a small cup! Rice Dream is an excellent ice cream replacement. Not only is it dairy free, but also sugar free (sweetened with brown rice syrup). Adults enjoy this treat just as much as kids, especially served in a big root beer mug!
FRUIT LEATHER: This is a great, colorful treat that kids love. Use mini cookie cutters to cut out shapes that can be put on plates or used as decoration on other foods. You can also hand these out to trick-or-treaters and feel good knowing you’re doing your part to offer a better alternative to commercial, overly processed candy.
PUMPKIN CUPS: Cut off the top portion of an orange (as you would a pumpkin that you were carving), and scrape out the insides.. You can do all kinds of fun things at this point, and the kids can help. Draw on a little Jack-o-lantern face and then fill the cup with something delicious and healthy. Some good ideas would be: applesauce sprinkled with cinnamon, pumpkin custard (basically, pumpkin pie filling without the crust, don’t forget to top with organic whipped cream – and sweeten your custard with agave nectar instead of sugar!), yogurt and fruit chunks, your own homemade mix of grain-sweetened chocolate chips and nuts. (Note: Be sure to check in advance with guests about any nut or other food allergies.)
Any recipe can be converted to a healthier version. As a general rule, to use agave nectar, substitute ¾ c. agave for every 1 c. of sugar called for in a recipe. To use stevia powder, substitute 1 tsp. stevia for every 1 c. of sugar called for in a recipe (experiment with stevia to find the ratio you prefer – it’s best to start with as little as possible, and then add more as desired).
If you start your kids on a natural diet, with special holiday treats that are sweetened with unrefined sugars, they will be much less likely to crave sugar, and you’ll be giving them a good head-start. Someday they will enter into the world by themselves and will make their own food choices. The tastes they develop now are very likely to stay with them when they grow up, just as the tastes you developed have, for better or for worse, stayed with you. It’s also not too late to change your own habits. By providing healthier choices for your kids, you’re also providing better choices for yourself. Enjoy a healthy lifestyle together as a family!