Halloween is by far my favorite American tradition. Many times, I have spent more money than I could afford to create the Halloween I wanted for myself my kids while they were still little. It was a good investment – the memories were worth every penny.
However, before our kids were even a twinkle in our eyes, and we moved into our house, fourteen years ago and newly married, our new neighbors regaled us with terrible Halloween stories.
Not of ghosts and ghouls but of the 250+ children that would descend on our block that is placed high on the crest of a ridge, the only level street for miles around.
Zombies and witches and fairies, oh my!
We didn’t believe them, thought they were reliving their nightmares, but they were, indeed, correct. I counted. The kids in their costumes at our front door were like strange-looking bees swarming around the entrance to the hive, queuing to make it up our driveway.
Just a walk around our modestly-sized block made you feel you were in a special kind of hell – houses decorated to the nines and kids hauling catches of candy as big they were. This was a big deal.
The long-time previous owner of our house had been a dentist. She’d given out toothbrushes so you can imagine the delight when we gave out chocolate. The kids cheered as they walked back down our driveway. We felt quite the candy king and queen.
Monsters grow up
But over the years, as we have had our own children and those hundreds of neighborhood children have grown up and moved on, so have we. Where we once tossed out Kit-Kats and Mars Bars with abandon, we pause and consider carefully the effects of all this candy on the kids at the receiving end. Where before we were thrilled at the delight on the kids faces, we now ponder our values and our responsibilities.
Halloween can be something of a nightmare for hardcore paleo folks. We want to join in the fun, allow our kids to share in it but at the same time we’re wary of the conflicting messages we are giving out (literally.) And we worry about the effect on the individual and collective health of the next generation as, once again, celebration in modern times is inexorably entwined with, well, crap.
My kids are now 12 and over the years I’ve tried a swathe of ideas to be a good role model, without being a party-pooper, balance the fun with an eye to the consequences and send the right message without being so rigid that they tune me out. It’s a delicate dance and as ever with kids, you have to adjust for age and temperament. Halloween is no different in that regard.
One Halloween costume size does not fit all
If you want to join in with the Halloween fun, here’s a list of ideas you can consider as you seek to avoid following the crowd and instead make conscious choices about the way you celebrate the holiday. Not all of these will work for everyone – we all have different ideas, tolerances and values – but maybe you will find one idea that will work for you or the list will stimulate one of your own. If you are expected to give out candy, I’ve also included a list of paleo alternatives at the end.
How to Keep a Paleo Halloween
1. Fill up with nourishing paleo food before you go out. Essential. Do this always and especially if your kids tend to eat candy en route.
2. Decentralize the role of candy in the tradition. Hold a party with friends and include all the Halloween trimmings but with healthy paleo food and treats. Go to pumpkin patches, costume parades, corn mazes, enjoy fall holiday crafts and pumpkin carving – anything that celebrates the holiday without involving candy.
3. Set expectations and the consequences of not meeting them. Our culture will eventually, ultimately, drag us towards the candy so have a plan. Do this before you are spreadeagled in front of your front door, as the kids beseech you like wailing banshees longing to go out. Do it earlier in the day or even before that when they are calm and repeat it more than once. Explain the rules – no running, no grabbing, ‘Happy Halloween’ or ‘Thank you,’ etc. Doing this makes for a happier time and slows kids down so that they aren’t so frenzied. Frenzy plus candy plus kids equals bad time, IMO.
4. Establish a rule of no eating en route and give the kids a firm limit on the amount of candy they are allowed to eat. Take away the bag when they have done so, if necessary. My kids get so much candy the main thrill is to count it and sort it. Eating it as they go around ruins that. When we get back home we take pictures of this haul then they eat 1-3 pieces and away it goes.
5. Give them a small basket if you are likely to gather hoards of candy. Round where we live, the candy bags literally get too heavy for the kids to carry so I devised a cunning plan. With a small bucket, you can switch them out when they get overfilled. The kids don’t notice or really care, they are much too busy shouting ‘trick or treat’ and receiving.
6. Sort the candy before your kids eat any of it. We have a ‘pixy-stix-over-mom’s-dead-body’ rule in our house…hmm, I should make that into a costume one year.
7. Switch it out for better quality candy. You can trade it – say 3 pieces of collected candy for 1 piece of the better quality stuff. Or use a different token for your transaction – cards, legos, beads to make a necklace.
8. Negotiate a buy-back. Give your kids money for turning in their haul, reduce it drastically for each piece of candy they eat. One year, I offered a sum of money for my kids haul but if they ate 3 pieces, my offer dropped drastically. They chose to eat three and settled for the lower amount. I tossed the candy and we were all happy (if a bit broke, in my case:-))
9. Donate your candy. Look out for local donation drives – one dentist in our city makes a donation to the schools for every pound of candy handed in. If you need to, encourage this or reward their donation by giving your kids a healthy treat – some paleo icecream or other such goodness.
10. Switch it out. Agree to buy a toy you agree on in exchange for the candy. You can make this a fun idea by building a big story around it – using the “Switch Witch” or the “Monster Pumpkin” or similar – and doing it the night after Halloween so they wake up to their new toy. The more creative you can get the more the kids will focus on the fun rather than the candy.
11. Put it away. Young children will simply forget about it.
12. Let them eat their fill for one night. But please sort it first, there is no reason on this earth for kids to eat candy that will survive a nuclear holocaust. Then throw it away or donate it.
13. Ration it out. Let them have one or two pieces each day. It can last a long time this way but it might work for your family. Please see #12 above about sorting it (I am on a personal mission! Death to Nerds!) and don’t let them take it to school for lunch. Spare the teachers, the other kids and separate it from otherwise healthy meals so they don’t associate candy with nutritious food.
14. Focus on handing goodies out to trick-or-treaters. Go out trick-or-treating for a short while, collect your candy but then return home to hand out your offering. Kids often love to hand out as much as to receive and now my kids are older we will focus on this. See below for some paleo alternatives to candy.
15. Instead of eating it, use the candy for experiments or art projects. There is a good website for showing you how to do experiments with candy, the aptly named Candy Experiments. And if you make art projects with your candy, make sure to use glue, crayons, glitter and the like so the kids aren’t tempted to eat them later.
16. If you have older kids, ask them to choose when they feel they have had enough. This is what we are doing this year. Done in a family where paleo is the norm, this can be empowering for the kids and quite enlightening and gratifying for the parents.
17. Hand out paleo-acceptable alternatives to candy. One year, our neighbor gave out used books – they were quite old as her children were grown-up but everyone in our party was delighted. When they got back home the kids ignored the candy and read the books! So brainstorm other ideas to the standard fare of candy. You can offer dollar store toys, unused party favors, pencils, erasers, stamps, sealed packets of nuts and dried fruits, temporary tattoos, stickers, tiny pots of play-dough, silly bands, toothbrushes. If you only have a few visitors, you could give out Lara Bars.
How do you celebrate Halloween now you’re paleo? And what do you hand out to the neighborhood kids? Tell us in the comments!
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