I live in the desert, which doesn't see many amber or ochre falling leaves, nor do we get the crisp gusts of wind that herald the season. Regardless, every year I welcome the season reading Keats' poem "To Autumn" and feel a shift in consciousness from the long, carefree summer days to a more somber season.
I'm fully aware about autumn's dark side, and no, I don't just mean the shorter days. Walk into any drugstore or supermarket this time of year and you'll find severed fingers, edible eyeballs, and numerous other bloodied, grotesque body parts.
I'm talking, of course, about Halloween, which begins when your receptionist brings in homemade pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies and ends with your kids returning with gargantuan bags of stale candy. I can understand kids eating this stuff, but why do we as adults succumb to cellophane bags of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors?
Trick-or-treat needn't become civil war with your kids, neither must you force them to stalwartly abstain from joy. Instead, let's shift perspective and make Halloween fun rather than just a candy-drenched fiesta.
If you need a jolt, hit the haunted houses, but steer clear of the candy corn-laced caramel apples and follow these strategies. Your kids -- and by default, you -- can survive Halloween without falling into a sugar coma:
- Keep the enemy out of your house. One bite of a chocolate bar triggers memories of childhood chocolate bliss, and next thing you know you're going face down in your kids' secret stash. Even healthy food can become unhealthy when you overdo it. Don't allow your vice into the house and you won't succumb to 11 p.m. weaknesses. No food traps equal no morning-after regrets.
- Skip the candy for non-food alternatives. Every house hands out candy, but yours might be the only one to dispense fun toys, stickers, fake tattoos, silly noses, vampire teeth, fake scars, kazoos, streamers, and balloons with funny sayings. Trust me: Kids will welcome these alternatives rather than another bag of candy corn.
- Go hard if you have it. If you just know your kids will stage some kind of coup d'etat without sweets, choose hard candies like lollipops. These require a long time to eat (no engulfing them in one bite!), typically contain fewer calories, and aren't packed with trans fats.
- Keep my three-bite rule. Your best friend will give you the third degree if you don't sample her skillfully-designed graveyard cake. You needn't abstain, but neither should you engulf a gargantuan piece just to be polite. Sample three polite bites and put your fork down. By polite, I mean what you would eat if you were on The Rachael Ray Show, not during an 11 p.m. fridge raid. You can use this same rule with your kids: Three bites and step away from the candy bag.
- Feed your kids. Before you turn them loose to collect their stash, make sure your kids get a balanced dinner with lean protein, plenty of leafy and cruciferous veggies, starchy carbs like legumes or quinoa, and good fat. That way, they're far less to devour half the plastic candy-loaded jack o' lantern before they return home. Bonus points if you give them an apple with almond butter as dessert to quench their sweet tooth before they head out.
- If the enemy arrives, freeze it. Ever engulfed a frozen chocolate-coated caramel-nougat-peanut bar? Not so easy to eat, right? You might break a tooth. If your downfall does appear on the kitchen table, put it in the freezer. You won't see or smell it, and you'll all but remove the trigger. By the way, that mini candy bar fits perfectly with my three-bite rule. Just stick to one and dump the rest (or at least hide them).
- Inspect the goods. Immediately when they return, inspect your kids' loot and ask them to toss anything they know they won't eat. Then let them choose three small things. Rule: They can have one treat a day. Hide the rest so neither they nor you becomes tempted. If you toss it, chances are they'll forget they even had it.
- Buy it back. Another strategy to downsize the sugar overload: Offer your kids 25 cents per piece of candy. I'll bet they pick the money over candy.
- Have a healthy Halloween party. Want to really control what your kids consume? Have a party and serve hot cider with cinnamon-dusted warm almonds. Hot drinks take longer to consume, which slows down your kids' junk consumption.
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