Halloween, love it or hate it? Either way, it seems to get bigger and bolder every year. I want to let you in on why I love Halloween and why I think Halloween foods, including the abundance of Halloween sweets can be a good thing!
DIETITIANS LOVE HALLOWEEN TOO
It’s a misconception that dietitians are the Grinch of Halloween! It couldn’t be further from the truth because I LOVE Halloween! Possibly because growing up in 1980s rural Ireland, we missed out on the Trick or Treating fun. So, it’s extra special with my gang here in suburbia. Although to be fair to my Dad, he was a dab hand with the snap apple!
HALLOWEEN IS A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY
A few years ago, one of my neighbours said she found it unusual that as a dietitian I didn’t put a limit on how many sweets my kids ate at Halloween. But, consider this. If I used Halloween as a time to talk about dental decay and insisted on binning things I didn’t like the look of, what message do I send? Aswell as sucking the joy out of Halloween, I’m also demonising sugar and showing the kids that I don’t trust them around unlimited sweets.
Instead, I prefer to use Halloween as an opportunity to help my kids become more intuitive eaters. By letting them eat their fill on Halloween night, I’m showing them that I don’t fear food and neither should they. That even when we relish a particular type of food, we all have an off-switch. And that the natural consequence of overeating (even of foods you like) is not feeling great.
But most of all that I trust them around eating and food of all types.
The kids also have great fun sorting through their stash and giving away or swapping stuff they don’t like. This is another valuable learning point. Value the foods you enjoy rather than eating foods just because they’re there!
OUR FAMILY’S HALLOWEEN GAME PLAN
Now you know that I don’t have an issue with my kids eating Halloween sweets. BUT, that’s not to say I don’t use covert restriction to minimise their overall sugar consumption and help protect those teeth! My game plan isn’t the only way to do Halloween, but it works best for our family, fits in with my food philosophy and what I know are helpful approaches to raising happy, healthy eaters.
BUY THE TREATS LAST MINUTE
Believe me; the shops never run out. Because experience has taught me that if the cupboard is brimming with fun size bars, we’ll have eaten by all by Halloween.
SERVE DINNER EARLY
I’ve learned the hard way that as soon as the sun goes down the doorbell starts ringing and dinner gets abandoned. So, if I’m not working, we aim for an early dinner or something quick like beans on toast when we get home. That way at least they’ve had something to line the stomach! This Halloween Ghoulash is a great dish as it can be prepared the day before.
DECIDE ON HOW MANY HOUSES TO HIT
For the younger kids, I decide on how many houses to visit and also on the size of their buckets! When they’re full, we go home. When they were smaller, I also removed any choking hazards (lollypops and round jellies for the toddler)
My older boys go with friends, so they aim to hit as many houses as humanly possible!
HALLOWEEN NIGHT AND THE NEXT DAY
Simple! I let them eat as much as they like from their stash. What I’ve noticed over the years is that they’re more stingy with themselves than I would be with them. So, trust your kids, maybe they don’t need you micromanaging them.
By now there’s a good chance that the younger kids don’t have anything left! So, what we do is take whatever’s left and share it out at some meals and snacks over the rest of the holidays. In our house, it’s mostly all gone by the end of the mid-term break. But I know for others it can last a lot longer than this.
BEING A RESPONSIBLE GIVER
I’m not here to tell you what to give out at your door. But to remind you that while it seems un-Irish to appear stingy your contribution is only a drop in the ocean to the total quantity of treats that children will score on the night. So, more isn’t necessarily better.
In case you’re interested here’s what I traditionally give:
- A fun-size chocolate bar (thinking about those beautiful little teeth and future dental bills!)
- A small bag of popcorn (for older kids). This is great because it’s large so makes me look generous but also high in fibre and not bad for the teeth!
- A satsuma Jack o lantern for little kids. I’d probably give them out to all, but my boys have made me swear that I’ll only offer them to people under 5!
- I have some non-food treats on hand too.
Some might say stingy, and I like to think considerate.
ARE YOU BRAVE ENOUGH TO GIVE FRUIT ALONGSIDE HALLOWEEN SWEETS?
Every year my sister warns me that I’ll get ‘egged’ for giving out fruit. But 15 years on and I’ve only been ‘egged’ once and to be honest; I can’t link it directly to the fruit.
Here’s why I’m willing to run the risk of an egg being thrown at my windows:
With so much focus on ‘wellness’, it’s easy to forget that food is about much more than nutrition. Family traditions, sharing food with friends, and seasonal celebrations are just as important as protein, vitamins and healthy fats!
So while I don’t have an issue with Halloween sweets, I also like to celebrate with other foods, including those that bring back memories of Halloween’s past. So, bring on the Haribo jellies and chocolate but why not also include other traditional foods like satsumas, apples, barmbrack and nuts (best not to hand these out at the door though)?
In the spirit of all foods being equal, why not celebrate with fruit too? Just like we don’t want to put sweets on a pedestal, we also don’t want to downgrade other foods too bland everyday foods!
MANAGING FOOD ALLERGIES AT HALLOWEEN
As a mum to an ex-food allergic child, I know that Halloween can be more tricky with food allergies to manage.
Although I must say I don’t think my son ever felt excluded and fortunately we never experienced any slip-ups at Halloween despite his allergies to milk, egg and peanuts. He’s still allergic to kiwi, but thankfully it’s not something that traditionally ends up in his stash.
As a giver, here are a few things to bear in mind:
Keep some non-food treats on hand and put Allergy UK’s Halloween poster on your front door. Places like Dealz or Euro Giant are great for picking up Halloween stickers, pencils, tattoos, glow sticks and other Halloween novelty items. And always ask Trick or Treaters if there’s anything they’re allergic to before putting it in their bag.
As the parent of a food allergic child, here’s what I used to do:
Call to the houses where people were aware of my son’s allergy. Every year my lovely neighbour went out of her way to have ‘safe treats’ for Declan. Alternatively, you could plant some safe treats with people you know. Tell your child not to eat anything until you’ve checked it out at home. Once you get home swap out foods, they can’t have with safe substitutes. But don’t try to trick them out of sweets, this isn’t fair!
Also, check out the Teal Pumpkin Project.
HALLOWEEN-THE PERFECT TIME TO PLAY WITH FOOD
Halloween is a great time to have fun with food outside of mealtimes.
Here are a few ideas:
- Make a Halloween sensory bin: I love that all you need for this one is some rice, food dye, vinegar and some spiders!
- Halloween Play Dough-scented and textured playdough is a great way to increase food acceptance later on (you’re not eating the play dough but getting familiar with smells helps). Instead of pumpkin spice try mixed spice and instead of star anise extract try fennel seeds!
- Snap apple– this traditional Halloween game is an excellent way to apples to reluctant apple eaters. They don’t have to eat it, but they are trying to get up close and personal with it! You can do an adapted version of this with younger children where you put the apple on the table and get them to bite into it with their hands behind their backs.
- Other Halloween Games Remember the flour game? And there’s a great game here with slimy spaghetti!
- Make a traditional barm brack-or buy one! But be careful with the ring inside!
ANOTHER OPTION-THE SWITCH WITCH’
Have you heard of the ‘switch witch’? I hadn’t until a few years ago. We tried it a few years ago and it worked out OK but overall it felt like too much hard work (and maybe a little controlling) for me.
How it works is that you get the kids to divide their ‘treats’ into two piles. One pile for the treats they love and the other for ones they aren’t as keen on. They leave this second pile out for the ‘Switch Witch’ who comes overnight and swaps the food for some non-food treats. The year we tried it I changed the unwanted sweets for some sugar-free chewing gum (over fives only) and money.
The idea behind the ‘switch witch’ (I think) is that it helps kids think about what they like and what they’re not bothered about eating. Think about all the times you’ve eaten something that you aren’t enjoying just because it’s offered to you? Wouldn’t it be great if you had the awareness to pass?
If this idea appeals to you, then give it a try.
So, this is what works for my family and me, I’m not saying that this is the correct way to do Halloween. You will know what works best for your family. But, whatever way you celebrate, I hope you all have a great Halloween!