With Halloween followed by Christmas, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day, the scary sugar season is truly upon us. A nutritionist shares how to keep your kids from bouncing off the walls, mama!
I totally empathize! You’ve been trying to get your family a little healthier since getting back into the swing of school this fall, and one of your main objectives is that your kids consume less sugar. Now you’re faced with the dreaded, sugar-laden Halloween!
Not only that, on the back of it comes Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it), and then there’s the Festive Season, closely followed by CNY, next up is Valentine’s…
Not to mention all those birthday parties and school celebrations in between, which seem to be endless here in Singapore for some reason. What’s a gal gotta do to keep her kids from
- Bouncing off the walls?
- Having poor levels of concentration?
- Becoming addicted to sugar (therefore consuming less healthier fare)?
- Avoiding the pain of dental cavities (and your pain from dentists’ charges)?
- Risking that slippery slope to type 2 Diabetes (now at all time high levels here in Singapore!)…?
In response to Halloween blogs I’ve written in the past, explaining what’s really in all that frightening colourful candy, one response has been ‘but it’s only once a year – let the kids have fun’. Now if that were truly the case, there wouldn’t be so many nutritionists – including this one (like you, I am also a mum of young kids here in Singapore) – declaring a war against sugar. The problem is, our poor little angels are constantly exposed to these white crystals – and unless they genuinely understand why it is so bad, and how much they are actually consuming, then they’ll just tuck in under all that peer pressure.
So, in the name of helping mamas everywhere, I’m perfectly ok to play bad cop here. You just tell your kids that the scary nutritionist is on their tail, and before the silly season starts, you must do this little exercise together:
- Gather sodas, cereals, yogurts, and other foods from your kitchen, along with a large glass bowl and a bag of sugar
- Pick an item and review its ingredient list for sugar (hidden under many guises – maltose, sucrose, dextrose, HFCS…)
- Ask your kid to decide what portion he or she might normally consume*
- On the ingredient label, check the number of grams of sugar for that serving size
- 4gms = 1 teaspoon sugar, so calculate how many spoonsful are in their usual serving
- Spoon that amount of sugar in to the bowl
- Repeat for other products that your kid consumes on a given day
- Calculate how many spoons of sugar are consumed in total on a given day – and this is a good day!
* Food companies are smart. They will show a very small serving size so that sugar, fat and other percentages look reasonable. Often what we consume at a sitting is double or more than what the label indicates.
Our kids are also smart. They will discover that there is sometimes a lot of sugar in foods that we tell them are “healthy” – e.g. a box of raisins or sugar-free muesli. Here’s where you smile nicely and say
Good job, little detective – however while fresh and dried fruits do contain a natural sugar, they also have minerals, vitamins and fibre which keep us healthy. Fibre slows down the speed these foods travel through our bodies (unlike refined white sugar which moves very quickly), so these kind of foods don’t send us bouncing off the walls. They are actually healthy for us!
Next, explain to your younger kid that the recommended limit (note that this is not a daily target!) is 3 teaspoons of added sugar (up to 5 teaspoons for tweens). Having more than this, on an ongoing basis can lead to many health problems — feel free to show them this video.
So, how do they, and you, begin to cope with the scary season that’s just kicked off with Halloween? You make a deal with them – something like the following:
- Give kids a healthy meal or snack before they head out to ‘trick or treat’, or to the Halloween Party
- Explain that most of the candy made for Halloween is cheap, and full of sugar (don’t get me started on the artificial colors, additives & other chemicals!)
- Suggest that they pick a few pieces of the ‘better quality’ chocolate, or trade some of theirs for healthier treats you have at home
- Agree that if they throw out all the unhealthy candy, they can have a little toy/computer time instead, or whatever floats their boat
- Your angels might suggest donating the candy to charity – but explain that because the stuff is so nasty, the under-privileged don’t need the junk, either
- It’s best dumped in the bin, with satisfaction!
- After they’ve enjoyed a few pieces of the ‘better quality candy’, put the rest away and agree with your kids that they can have a piece every day, to enjoy on a play-date, or whenever you deem reasonable.
- Finally, focus more on the fun side of this celebration – dressing up, telling ghost stories, Halloween games – and less on the candy.
As for trick or treat-ers that come to your door, you don’t have to hand out cheap candy to them – instead give a healthier treat, or a non-edible surprise like stickers, balloons, spider rings, Halloween pencils, erasers…the options are endless!
FYI – if you are looking for some Halloween treats to make with your kids – you can check out the following, as seen in the photos attached.
Frozen Banana GHOSTS
- halve a banana
- dip in fresh fruit juice
- roll it in dry unsweetened coconut
- freeze on a chopstick
- Add raisins or chocolate nibs for eyes
- Make up the mixture from my Energy Balls recipe
- Mould into spider shapes
- Carve out a pumpkin
- Fill with frozen fruits
Greeny Grins (Snap peas, red pepper, slithered almonds)
- Open the outer edge of snap peas
- Insert some red bell pepper as a tongue
- Use slithered almonds as teeth
- Cut cheese stick in half
- With a knife make small dash for finger ridges
- Stick on a little red or green bell pepper for the nail
- Make a sandwich of 2 round crackers, with whatever healthy filling your kid likes
- Use chopped raisins for eyes
- Stick dried noodles or pretzels in the filling as legs
- Make or buy pumpkin-shaped cookies
- Add a healthy spread of choice (e.g. cream cheese, honey & mashed pumpkin)
- Cut up 100% fruit slices to use for eyes & mouth
Look out for upcoming posts to get YOU (mamas) through the Festive Season and other celebrations. Trust me, it can all be enjoyed by you and your kids without consuming excessive amounts of sugar. You might also consider joining my Nutrition for School Kids or Healthy Festive Season workshops happening on 14 November and 28 November, respectively. With tips on everything from lunchbox ideas to dealing with picky eaters, ‘Nutrition for School Kids’ gives you the tools to get your kiddos eating right, including healthy snacks, hands-on demos, colorful handout and resources, and access to a treasure trove of great recipes!