This post was originally published for Paleo Movement Online Magazine, here. I decided to update this post a little, because like everyone, I get a little smarter as time goes on.
Halloween is absolutely hands down my favorite holiday, and has been since I was a child. And yet, there is no holiday perhaps more anti-paleo in it’s celebration (with regard to food); with the begging for sugary sweet, processed and packaged candies from door to door.
Lately, I’ve gotten a ton of questions on Facebook and Twitter, asking about how I handle Halloween and my children. I started to really think about it, because we actually curbed the candy thing long before we were paleo. Don’t get me wrong, there is always a little give and take – but I’ve decided to let you in on a few of my October secrets for staying sane.
For at least 9 years, I haven’t handed out candy. Yep, you heard me… I do NOT hand out candy to trick or treaters! Instead, I hand out small tokens or toys. Just this year, I saw a new movement gaining popularity. It’s called the Teal Pumpkin Project. I’d like to believe I pioneered this, without knowing it, however, in reality, I’ve just never given out candy.
For more information on the teal pumpkin project, click here. This is an initiative, using teal (for allergy awareness) to offer non-food items as Halloween treats in an effort to make food allergy awareness part of the Halloween tradition.
So, what DO I give?
Personally, my favorite is play doh and I get it every year. The first time I did this, my husband was positive the kids in the neighborhood were going to egg our house. However, his fears were unwarranted. Certainly, parents noticed, and thanked us, but we never thought the kids really cared. That is, until 2 years ago, when in a moment of sheer laziness I bought 3 bags of cheap candy from a local big box store because I forgot to prepare for Trick or Treaters. We never thought that the kids would actually miss the play-doh, pencils and small tokens that they were accustomed to getting at our house. However, EVERY kid in the neighborhood asked what happened? Why we were out of playdoh in particular. We just laughed, but I’ve never forgotten again.
Here are some great alternatives to Halloween candy that we use and are tried and true kid-pleasers:
Playdoh Halloween packs (available at target and on amazon):
Glow in the dark Halloween Tattoos
Other possibilities include things I consider “less bad” treats (Organic lollipops, organic fruit snacks, etc) These get pricy and are still “candy”, but are certainly better options than snickers, twizzlers and sweetarts!
This happens to be an organic lollipop that we have been known to have as a rare treat, that would work in this situation.
What about what OTHER people give out?
The next question I get is, “what do you do with the candy that your own kids bring home from their Trick or Treating adventure, and does it create a fight?”
I’d absolutely, and completely, be a liar if I said that my kids never whined about wanting a traditional candy. I’m not a liar, so let me just say that although it’s gotten better, there is never going to be a time when dealing with children (even awesome, healthy kids like mine) is actually “foolproof”.
As an example; here is how Halloween night traditionally goes down in my house:
I dump all 3 kids candy on the floor when they get home. I remove the worst offenders and do the routine safety check. Ironically for me, some of the worst offenders include the people who add popcorn balls & pretzels as “healthier” versions of halloween snacks.
Then I start sorting out the things that there is absolutely no way in the world I want them eating (this of course depends on your kids, your personal feelings about the ingredients and whether you have a specifically sensitive child to soy, peanuts, etc). I am admittedly a HFCS Nazi, I just cannot help myself! For me, the artificial colors are a big no way.
Finally, I gather what I consider to be the “least bad” options available and each child gets to choose 10 to keep. Those go into a bowl in the kitchen. They usually eat one or two on Halloween night, get one in their lunch the next day, and then I hide the bag. The bag stays hidden a few days until they forget about it and then it gets thrown away, because inevitably they ALWAYS forget about it within a day or two. Trust me, this happens every year.
I think by now my kids know that I don’t really intend to let them eat all 30 pieces, but they humor me and go through the process!
The remainder of the candy that they bring back from their adventure goes into one bag and gets weighed. We have a local dentist with a “candy buy back program” that gives the neighborhood kids money for every pound of candy that they turn in during the days following Halloween. If you don’t have anyone with a buy back program you could create one yourself to incentivize your children to make a better choice. My kids ALWAYS pick cash.
Then, you can donate the candy to a shelter, take it to your office or just throw it away.
Focus on the FUN not the FOOD:
Halloween is really all about the dressing up for us, so creativity and time go in to preparing for the adventure rather than focusing on the candy element, this keeps everyone pretty focused and happy. Last year, I also made Halloween educational for the first time. Rather than dressing up as a favorite character from a movie or TV show, I asked the kids to research a historical figure that they wanted to be. This year, we’re taking costumes to a new level of extremism. My oldest daughter has found quite a passion for art, we are going to great lengths creating costumes ourselves.
Finally, make Real Food fun:
Somewhere, floating in social media limbo, I saw these options as healthy but festive treats and am thinking that my kids would love these banana ghosts with some Enjoy life chocolate chip eyes in their lunch boxes this month! we almost always have tangerines in the house, a stem is a simple addition. This photo has been floating around both Facebook and Pinterest, but the original source that it was credited to, I couldn’t find. I did however find one version at indulgy.com and another at Toddler to Preschool.
Just a note: last year I froze bananas, dipped them in Fage brand greek yogurt (no sugar added), then used Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips as faces and made ghost pops for a team Halloween party and they were a huge hit among both kids and adults!
Handling other social situations:
My final word on this topic is, as always, about the schools – if your child’s school or classroom is hosting a party – start talking to the teacher or administrator in charge NOW so that you have some involvement in the planning or the providing. Remember, unhealthy treats are also often cheap to buy in bulk, so if you want to change things you have to be prepared to get involved or provide some nutritious alternatives yourself. Find out what your school’s policy is on homemade foods (as many schools no longer allow real food anywhere on the premises, for fear of lawsuits over food allergies, yet processed foods are deemed “safe”). If you must take a store bought treat, take a look at some of the options I recommended for snacks in my back to school article in August. At the very least, prepare yourself to supply an alternative for your child and start dialoging with your kids today. Everyone is much happier when not caught off guard.
Leanna blogs at www.bedrockeats.com and most often can be found ranting and raving about paleo and parenting on facebook or twitter. She also writes for Paleo Movement Magazine and Paleo Living Magazine, and is a contributing team member at Paleo On the Go.