Thursday, October 24, 2013

Making Halloween a Little Bit Less of a Nutritional Horror Show

It's coming.

And I'm not really all that worried. At least not about Halloween night.

The fact is food's not simply fuel, and like it or not, Halloween and candy are part of the very fabric of North American culture and to suggest that kids shouldn't enjoy candy on Halloween isn't an approach I would support.

That said, Halloween sure isn't pretty. On average every Halloween sized candy contains in the order of 2 teaspoons of sugar and the calories of 2 Oreo cookies and I'd bet most Halloween eves there are more kids consuming 10 or more Halloween treats than less - 20 teaspoons of sugar and the calories of more than half an entire package of Oreos (there are 36 cookies in a package of Oreos).

So what's a health conscious parent to do?

Use Halloween as a teachable moment. After all, it's not Halloween day that's the real problem, the real problem are the other 364 days of Halloween where we as a society have very unwisely decided to reward, pacify and entertain kids with junk food or candy (see my piece on the 365 days of Halloween here). So what can be taught on Halloween?

Well firstly I think it's worth chatting about sugar and calories, and those rule of thumb figures up above provide easy visualizable metrics for kids and parents alike.

Secondly it allows for a discussion around "thoughtful reduction". Remember, the goal is the healthiest life that can be enjoyed, and that goes for kids too, and consequently the smallest amount of candy that a kid is going to need to enjoy Halloween is likely a larger amount than a plain old boring Thursday. In my house it's 3 pieces - so our kids come home, they dump their sacks, and rather than just eat randomly from a massive pile they hunt out the 3 treats they think would be the most awesome and then take their time enjoying them.

The rest?

Well it goes into the cupboard and gets metered out at a rate of around a candy a day....but strangely....and I'm not entirely sure how this happens....after the kids go to sleep the piles seem to shrink more quickly than math would predict.

You might also consider donating the candy to a local food bank or mission, or you could check to see if the Switch Witch works in your neighbourhood, where like the Tooth Fairy, the Switch Witch, on Halloween, flies around looking for piles of candy to "switch" for toys.

And if you do happen upon our home, we haven't given out candy since 2006 and we haven't been egged either. You can buy Halloween coloured play-doh packs of 50 for $15 at Costco, Halloween stickers or temporary tattoos at the dollar store, or if your community is enlightened, you might even be able to pick up free swim or skate passes for your local arena (they run about 50 cents per so if you're in a very busy neighbourhood this can get pricey).

Do you have other strategies you'd like to share?

[Here's me chatting about the subject with CBC Toronto's Matt Galloway]

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