How I Handle Halloween Candy Craziness

by Sally on October 15, 2014

How I Handle Halloween Candy Craziness by Real Mom NutritionMy name is Sally. I’m a dietitian. And I hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.

In the past, I’ve doled out bags of pretzels, small tubs of Play-Doh, and sheets of stickers too (and see nothing wrong with going that route). But mostly, we hand out candy. Usually chocolate.

If you’re a regular on this blog, you know I can get riled up about junk food. Especially when it’s on the sidelines of kids’ sports every weekend (read: Soccer Mom Soapbox). I’m that mom calling the summer camp director to ask about switching from Powerade to water. I’m the lady stopping at the front desk of the rec center to chat about the junk in the vending machine. I even advocate for healthier school Halloween parties.

Yet when it comes to trick-or-treating, I’m cool with candy. Why? Because I think it’s okay to celebrate some occasions with food. (If goodies aren’t handed out every day for made-up special occasions like t-ball practice, it’s easier to do this.)

But I also know that trick-or-treating can spiral into candy craziness, so here’s how I make it work in our house:

1.  I wait until the very last minute to buy candy. Ideally, I’m at the store at 3pm on the day of trick-or-treating. Once upon a time, I made the tragic error of buying Halloween candy in advance, which of course meant we ate it, bought more, ate that, and bought more.

2. I give my kids free reign. We eat dinner before trick-or-treating, then all bets are off. They can eat as much as they want, which often comes with its own handy life lesson: If you eat too many sweets, sometimes your belly hurts and you feel gross.

3. I play the Switch Witch. After my kids return home to dump and sort their stash, they reserve a pile of their favorites. The rest (the stuff they don’t like or don’t like very much) goes into a bowl on the dining room table. While they’re sleeping, the Switch Witch arrives to take the candy and replace it with a toy or game. This is optional at my house. My kids aren’t forced to turn over their candy, and last year they kept a pretty sizeable amount. I know not everyone is a fan of the Switch Witch (read Red, Round or Green’s take in this post, “Switching Off“). But I like that this fun tradition teaches them to value what they like best–but not waste time on the stuff they don’t, simply because it’s there. In our culture of omni-present junk, that’s a useful skill.

4. I put them in charge of their stash. In our house, we have a one-treat-a-day policy which works most of the time. You can have your treat whenever you want: in your lunchbox, after school, after dinner, even WITH dinner. My two boys’ Halloween candy is kept in separate bags in a cupboard they can access. We decide together what a reasonable portion is (usually a fun-size bar or two small pieces of candy) and they serve themselves. They don’t obsess. There’s no sneaking of candy.  (Well, sometimes I sneak a piece and get caught when one of them finds the wrapper in my office garbage can.)

So that’s how it’s done in our house because this seems to work well (for now at least!). You may do things differently, and that’s okay. You may toss out everything with artificial colors, only buy GMO-free goodies, or hand out temporary tattoos. Or maybe you’re that fabled house with the full size candy bars. By all means, do your own thing.

But if you sneak your kids’ candy, do a better job than me of hiding the evidence.


My Number One Trick For Eating Right

by Sally on October 6, 2014

The question that keeps me away from junk foodI don’t have the stamina for junk food anymore.

As a kid, I could suck on Sour Patch Kids until my tongue was raw. I could wash down greasy pizza and Cheetos with a Cherry Coke and be no worse for the wear. These days, a donut for breakfast would send me crawling back to bed in a sugared stupor.

Even candy corn, my all-time favorite seasonal delicacy, holds little to no allure now. If I ingest more than a few kernels, my head begins to pound.

This is yet another sign that I’m getting older, but I welcome it. Because the old adage is true: With age comes wisdom. The older you get, the more you know who you really are. You know what you need (and don’t). You know what works for you (and what doesn’t). That includes food.

As a dietitian, I know exactly why a handful of almonds is a better snack choice for me than a handful of candy corn. I understand protein and fiber and blood sugar. But let’s face it: I could ignore all of that and plunge my hand into the bag of Brach’s. So instead, I focus on this one simple question:

How will I FEEL after eating this?

The answer to that question is always clear and impossible to ignore. If I eat the candy corn, I’ll get a headache. Eat more than a handful and I’ll break out in a light sweat. I’ll feel tired. And cranky. I’ll wish I’d eaten the almonds instead.

Junk food has massive sensory appeal. It looks good, and it’s engineered to taste really REALLY good. It’s hard to muster up enough energy to constantly resist it, especially because it’s everywhere. When faced with it, thinking about what’s nutritionally superior doesn’t always work. But for me, asking myself that question usually does.

With my kids, I sometimes talk about how food can make us feel (read: “Why I’m Glad I Bought The Gatorade“), but I know it doesn’t motivate them in the same way. Gummy bears don’t make their temples throb. They seem to have even more energy after a sticky-sweet birthday party cupcake. But I hope the basic message gets through: Different kinds of foods can make us feel different ways, good and bad.

So does that mean I never eat sugar? Hardly. I nibbled on the candy corn I bought for that photograph. I love to make homemade desserts like pies, cookies, and cakes and lick the bowl when my kids aren’t looking. But I also know that I feel best if I have non-starchy carbs (like a smoothie) for breakfast, so pastries are easy to pass up. I know that a big dose of sugar will render me useless for at least an hour, so candy and soda have barely any appeal and I eat a small amount of dessert after I have some dinner in my belly.

Sure, sometimes I eat against my best interests and regret it. Nobody’s perfect (read: “The Myth of Perfect Eating“). But knowing myself has helped me stay on track more often than not. And this one little question has become a powerful tool that squashes the same cravings that used to get the best of me.

How about you: Has your tolerance for junk changed over time?


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I love old things. Our house is filled with pieces from my grandparents’ house and items my dad has found at flea markets. Our china cupboard houses my grandmother’s collection of Depression glass, which I treasure. One day recently, the dessert dishes caught my eye, and I was struck by how incredibly tiny they were. I was […]

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{Recipe} Dark Chocolate Mixed Nut Butter

February 20, 2014

I’m a sucker for chocolate nut butters and can’t be trusted in the house alone with the store-bought kinds, which tend to be very sweet. So I make my own in smaller, less expensive batches that are still chocolately but not as sugary. All you need for this recipe is 2 cups of mixed nuts and […]

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Let Them Eat Cupcakes

July 1, 2013

I was at a party recently with other families. It was a potluck, and the food was on a buffet. Someone had brought mini cupcakes and put them on the table along with the rest of the food. So when the kids went down the line with their paper plates, guess what they wanted? Mini […]

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Lessons Learned From The No Added Sugar Challenge (And Why It Didn’t End With Cupcakes)

March 2, 2012

When I embarked on the Two Week No (Added) Sugar Challenge, I thought it would be one of the hardest changes I’ve made. Instead, it was one of the easiest. Easier than exercising every day. Easier than not eating at my computer. So easy that when I hit the two week mark on Wednesday, I […]

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Project 40: My Two Week No-Sugar Challenge

February 7, 2012

I have a deep and abiding love for sugar. As a child, I passed up all manner of candy bars in favor of sticky-sweet Pixy Stix, SweeTarts, and Lik-M-Aid. I sneaked spoonfuls of powdered sugar when my mom was baking and sucked on Sour Patch Kids until my tongue felt numb. But lately, sugar has […]

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{Recipe} Homemade Marshmallows & Hot Cocoa

December 28, 2011

Looking for something to do with your little people while they’re home from school this week? Making homemade marshmallows is easier than it sounds–and your kids will be amazed by how a few simple ingredients whip up into white, gooey, sticky deliciousness. (And it goes without saying, but from-scratch cocoa trumps Swiss Miss any day […]

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