Each year on October 31st a large part of the world celebrates the holiday known as Halloween. This holiday is commonly celebrated by kids with them getting dressed in costumes and going to specific events or walking door-to-door throughout neighborhoods to receive various candy. However, knowing what we know today about the destructive effects of refined sugars, colors, and flavors, and similar additives that make up modern candies and chocolates, this is in no way a health-promoting practice. So can we do better? You bet! In this article, I will share with you some ideas for how to have a fun and healthy Halloween, whether you are giving out treats to children OR you are the parent of a child going out to collect treats.
There are many fun and exciting ways that we can enjoy life, and for some, Halloween will be one such experience. Yet to be awake, aware, and responsible human beings it is essential to approach every action we choose for ourselves, or any kids within our care to be done from the most informed and conscious perspective. Whatever your thoughts and sentiments are about Halloween, we cannot deny the fact that the way modern Halloween is set up, makes it destructive to our already fragile states of health and weight. When the average child is eating 32 teaspoons of sugar per day, it should come as no surprise that children’s health today is riddled with health problems. The rates of autism, obesity, diabetes, ADD/ADHD, allergies, infections, other health conditions are directly linked to the quality of everyday eating habits. This is not the time to make excuses or get defensive. We need to get clear and honest about why we continue subjecting our kids to substances that threaten their health and wellbeing. The more we are able to face this issue courageously, the more empowered we are to find alternative ways of treating our kids that support, rather than harm their wellbeing. Halloween may happen on just one calendar day of the year, but its negative effects can last for many weeks, months, and years, and further compound the high-sugar diet risks that most kids are subjected to daily.
Where Did Halloween and All the Candy Come From?
Halloween originated in Ireland, as a Celtic, pre-Christian festival to celebrate the end of the harvest season, as a festival called Samhain. Over the first few centuries, it acquired some religious ties to All Saints Day, which falls on November 1st.
In present-day Ireland, adults and children dress up as “scary” creatures (e.g., ghosts, ghouls, zombies, witches, and goblins), light bonfires, and enjoy firework displays. Dressing up originated from the belief that the dead walked the Earth this night and hence one wanted to “blend-in” when in the outdoors. This gradually evolved into trick-or-treating because children would knock on their neighbors’ doors, in order to gather fruit, nuts, and sweets for the Halloween festival.
The commercialization of Halloween in the United States did not start until the 20th century. Mass-produced Halloween costumes did not appear in stores until the 1930s, and trick-or-treating did not become a fixture of the holiday until the 1950s. Since the 1990s, many manufacturers began producing a larger variety of Halloween home and yard decorations and turned the holiday into an economy-boosting, yet environmental resource-destroying event. Today, Halloween is America’s second-largest commercial holiday, after Christmas, and it involves lots of money being spent and decorating being done. Even though health-conscious and safety-conscious parents are decreasing their children’s participation in Halloween, the holiday’s popularity and spending are continuing their stronghold.
As the Western world became more hooked on this holiday, with kids dressing up and trick-or-treating, its popular acceptance in the West reflected back to Europe, where countries like the United Kingdom became heavily influenced. In fact, between 2001 and 2006, consumer spending in the UK for Halloween rose tenfold!
Why Common Halloween Treats Are NOT Treats At All
During Halloween’s original inception, one could have enjoyed true edible treats, like nuts, fruits, or home-baked goods. Today, unfortunately, what most adults are purchasing and giving out to kids is a far cry from any kind of “treat”, meaning a substance that should treat our body, rather than damage it. Modern ultra-processed treats are amongst some of the most health-destroying junk foods.
Popular treats that are most commonly given out today include:
- Chips: Problems include saturated and trans fats, acrylamide risks, high sodium, MSG, artificial flavors, GMO ingredients, and other additives.
- Chocolates: Problems include refined sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, vegetable oils, unhealthy fats, dairy, GMO ingredients, artificial flavors and colors, and other additives.
- Gum: Problems include artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, and other additives.
- Candy / Lollipops: Problems include refined sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, vegetable oils, unhealthy fats, dairy, GMO ingredients, artificial flavors and colors, and other additives.
We can also add to the above concerns the possible risks of heavy metal contamination in various chocolates and candies, and melamine contamination in candy from China.
Any of these “treats” directly increase the risk of the following:
- Suppressed immune function
- Increased infections
- Unhealthy gut microbes, including Candida
- Acidification of tissues
- Weight gain
- Cholesterol problems
- Blood sugar problems and diabetes
- ADD and ADHD
- Energy imbalances
- Sleep imbalances
- Mood imbalances, including depression
- Behavior problems
- Learning problems
- Bone health problems
- Cavities and poor oral health
- Acne and poor skin health
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Suppressed appetites and unhealthy eating habits
Naturally, we may not be able to go back to the “good old days”, where we lived in smaller communities and were able to trust homemade goods, fruits, and similar real foods from strangers. However, in the day and age of so many health challenges threatening our kids, it seems blatantly counterproductive to offer them such destructive substances. If we are choosing to invest our time and money to buy them, and then worse yet, to give them to children, regardless whether they are our own or others’, we need to ask ourselves some honest and serious questions: **What are we doing? Why are we doing this? How can we be interested in keeping our kids healthy one minute and providing them with health-destroying substances the next moment?
Societal peer pressure to conform runs strong, but as more of us continue to think and act for ourselves, rather than be under the influence of group-think, we begin to make more effective choices. Conscious and informed choices that help us connect our actions to the consequences we desire to experience on a personal and collective level. We don’t need to wait for the world to change, we simply need to change ourselves to live with integrity, and in alignment with our wellbeing. In such a way we begin to transform and cause a ripple effect that leads to positive and effective change in our society. But as long as we all participate blindly, we will continue to fall blindly to the consequences that result from those actions.
Tips for Giving Out Healthy Treats On Halloween
If you are choosing to participate in giving out treats for Halloween, here are some ideas to incorporate to give all the kids a happy, and yet healthy Halloween.
1. Healthier, Less-Processed, and More Natural Treats
As more people become health conscious, many companies are starting to follow suit. To give kids a healthier processed treat, start by looking at what is available in health food stores as Halloween treat options. Look for items based on real food ingredients, and ones which do not include any refined sugars, colors, flavors, or preservatives. Due to many allergies and health-conscious lifestyles today, it is also a good idea to source out treats that are wheat or gluten-free, dairy-free, trans-fat-free, soy-free, and peanut-free.
Great examples here include:
- Whole food snack bars, like Larabars, which are bars made of dried fruits and nuts without any additives
- Natural gum, like Pur, which is sweetened with xylitol - a sugar alcohol that is safe, does not act like any kind of sugar and actually promotes good oral health
- Organic plant-based cookies, like Allergy Smart Cookies, which are vegan and do not include any of the following allergens: gluten, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, eggs, dairy, soy, sesame, mustard, sulfites, or shellfish ingredients.
- Organic coconut chips, like Elan Coconut Smiles, which are made of pure, toasted coconut.
- Organic apple chips, like Martin’s Fruit Farm Apple Chips, which are made of pure, dehydrated apples.
- Organic popcorn, like Buddha Bowl Foods Popcorn, which avoids GMO corn and does not contain any added flavors, colors, preservatives or similar ingredients.
2. Nuts, Seeds, or Dried Fruit
As much as possible, focus on treats that provide unprocessed whole plant foods. This is a guaranteed way of providing a treat that has a high-nutrient density and does not come with health risks. Many companies today are making individual serving packets that contain either nuts, seeds, dried fruits, or mixes thereof. Just be sure to look for salt-free, sulfite-free, sugar-free, and oil-free varieties.
Great examples here include:
- Banana chips
- Apple chips
- Coconut chips
- Kale chips
- Raw almonds
- Raw cashews
3. Non-food Treats.
Instead of only fixating on food treats, consider treats that provide some kind of activity or experience to enhance the child’s creativity, play, and wellbeing. There are numerous Halloween-themed objects and, of course, film character objects that can provide a symbolic token or gift. The costs on any of these items can be as low or as high as you are comfortable paying.
Great examples here include:
- Pencils, pens, crayons, or markers
- Coloring books
- Reading books
- Small toys
Healthy Tips for Parents of Trick-or-Treaters
First and foremost, remember you are the parent. Therefore you have the power and responsibility to set the foundation and boundaries to guide your kids in the right direction. And the earlier you start to teach healthy habits, and the more consistent that you are in your actions, the easier it will be on you and them.
First, if kids are over 4, communicate and explain to your child the rationale for avoiding the “treats” they are collecting due to the effect they have on their body and wellbeing. If you take this seriously, the kids will take this seriously, as they usually understand more than we give them credit for. The older they are, the higher the chances of them properly understanding the consequences of such treats on their own body and health. However, the older they are, the more defiant they can also be, especially if they’ve been used to such items most of their life.
Secondly, try to never forcefully deny them the candy. Remember, the more someone tells us “no” or prohibits us from doing something, the more attractive it makes that thing and makes us want whatever we are being denied.
Thirdly, model healthy behaviors for your kids. They will not take you or your words seriously, as long as you purchase and/or indulge in these items and consider them treats yourself. Be a positive, strong, and most importantly, consistent role model. Don’t waste your money, your health, or your kids’ health on junk.
Finally, Halloween is also a good time to teach kids about charity and sharing. You can go out and collect the so-called treats and then donate them as you see fit or decide together as a family. You can also create some kind of a game or rewards or points system where kids exchange the candy they collect for some of their favorite activities or privileges around the home. Get creative as a family to make this a fun and exciting time that will leave your kids all too eager to get rid of their candy.
In the end, we have to remember that getting healthy does not mean losing out, feeling deprived, or not enjoying fun or delicious experiences. We simply have to find alternate, smart ways to enjoy something like Halloween, without stressing our bodies and diminishing our health in the process. So commit to getting creative and consciously and lovingly treating yourself, your children, and others to treats that actually treat our entire wellbeing.
Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy Halloween!