This Halloween is a bittersweet one for me and Mr. TLT: for the first time, neither of our kids are going trick-or-treating! Our 14-year-old daughter will be out of town but doesn’t seem especially bothered that she’ll miss the ritual, and our son, aged twelve, declared he was “over it” and that he’d rather pass out candy at our front door.
That’s a big change from years past, when I fretted, as many parents do, over what to do with the massive amounts of candy my kids would bring home on Halloween night. Should you let your kids eat all they want and hoard the rest? Should you have them throw out all the candy that doesn’t meet certain nutritional standards? Does the Switch Witch come by your house and leave a present in exchange for the candy? (Or do you dislike the idea of the Switch Witch?) Do you take the candy to the dentist’s office as part of a “buy back” program? Do you send it to the troops? Do you make a gingerbread house out of it?
In prior TLT posts I’ve told you how, when I was a kid, I was given total control over my candy bag — my mom came by to comment on that post, explaining her rationale – and that’s pretty much what we’ve done with our kids, too. Each parent has to find the solution they’re most comfortable with, of course, but the fact that my kids aren’t missing the candy this year makes me think our laissez-faire approach paid off.
All of that said, though, maybe the attention we devote each year to Halloween candy is misplaced. As dietitian Andy Bellatti noted last year, if our kids’ diets were lower in sugar overall, a little candy binging wouldn’t be such a big deal. But take a look at this startling new infographic from the Union of Concerned Scientists:
In light of current World Health Organization and American Heart Association recommendations for much lower daily sugar consumption, that’s a real problem. So here are some things you can do to help your kids cut back on sugar year-round:
I love this recent post from Sally Kuzzemchak at Real Mom Nutrition sharing her easy “fixes” — such as mixing quick cooking oats with flavored oatmeal packets — to cut in half the sugar in many kids’ favorite foods. These tweaks are a great way to significantly improve your child’s diet, likely without your kid even noticing the change.
Cut Back on Sugar in Baking
Even sugar’s greatest nemesis, Dr. Robert Lustig, admits his family eats sugar-sweetened treats at home. But as he points out in this interview, his baking enthusiast wife has found that cutting back sugar by 1/3 not only doesn’t adversely affect most recipes, the flavor is actually improved. I’ve found that to be the case in my own baking, too. (Remember these once-very-sugary pumpkin muffins?).
Kick Sugar Out of the Classroom
Many of us know first hand that school classrooms can be an unexpected source of sugar in our kids’ daily lives, whether due to parents bringing in birthday cupcakes, junk-food-heavy classroom celebrations or teachers handing out candy rewards. I’m currently working on compiling into one document a huge trove of resources to help with these issues, but here are a few favorites to share right now: School Bites’ awesome guide to healthier classroom parties, US Healthy Kids’ white paper advocating against the use of food rewards, and my Food-in-the-Classroom Manifesto.
Watch Fed Up With Your Kids
If you’re kids are older (say, fourth or fifth grade and up), you may want to sit down as a family and watch the recent documentary Fed Up, now on DVD (disclosure: I’m on the film’s advisory board). The film was criticized by some as being a bit too focused on excess sugar in our food supply but, putting that criticism aside, I found that it was useful way to get this message across without having to be the messenger — in which case my kids would likely have tuned me out! My 14-year-old is now an avid reader of labels, sometimes putting sugar-filled products back on the store shelf without even asking me if we can buy them. It’s a relief to have the burden of saying “no” to such foods taken off my shoulders.
And Speaking of Labels….
If you haven’t yet seen it, definitely take a few minutes to watch this recent and hilarious segment from comedian John Oliver, in which he skewers the food industry for trying to obscure on the new nutrition facts label just how much sugar it adds to our food. (Note: the clip contains some off-color language and humor.)
Have a safe and happy Halloween, all! And let me know in a comment below how you manage your kids’ sugar intake, whether on Halloween or year-round.
Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 9,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join over 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing here. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”