junk food

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.

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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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Want To Improve Camp Food? Now Is The Time To Act!

August 27, 2014

You may be in back-to-school mode, but if you were unhappy with the snacks or meals your child received at summer camp this year, now is the time to speak up. Why now? Because camps are sending out end-of-summer evaluations and surveys–and there’s plenty of time to look at parent feedback and make improvements for next summer. This summer, […]

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School Wellness: 3 Ways To Get Involved This Year

August 18, 2014

School is starting in the next few weeks. Are there are changes you’d like to see in your child’s school, like less sugar in the classroom or more events that get kids moving? If so, make this the year you get involved! Here are three ways to jump in: 1. Attend PTA meetings. It’s the very best way to know […]

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Why I’m Not Lovin’ McDonald’s New Go-Gurt

June 24, 2014

The news that McDonald’s is including yogurt as an option in their Happy Meals should be, well, happy news. Especially since it’s a specially-formulated version of Go-Gurt that contains 25 percent less sugar than Go-Gurt sold in stores. But I’m not cheering. When I attended the McDonald’s shareholders meeting last month with Corporate Accountability International (read, […]

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Are Artificial Food Dyes Safe For Kids?

June 10, 2014

If you’re wary of artificial food dyes, you’re in good company. A lot of parents are questioning whether these rainbow hues are safe for their kids, while scientists are working to get to the bottom of this decades-long debate. I recently spent months researching and writing a feature for Parents magazine about artificial food dyes […]

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Soccer Mom On A Mission…Watch It!

March 13, 2014

Two years ago, I tromped around the soccer fields in my community, snapping photos of the snacks I was seeing. I set the photos to music and turned them into a video slideshow called “Soccer Mom On A Mission”, with the hopes of raising awareness and mobilizing a new wave of Snacktivists to create change. After […]

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What Are The Olympics Teaching Your Kids About Food?

February 11, 2014

“McDonald’s is, like, the official restaurant of everything.” That’s what my nine year old said to me as we were watching the Olympics the other night. That’s because every 10 minutes that McDonald’s commercial was on the screen. You know which one I’m talking about: the split-screen showing an Olympian biting their gold medal on […]

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A Call for Candy-Free Valentines

February 4, 2014

Remember Valentine’s Day as a kid? If your school was anything like mine, you found an old shoebox, cut a slot in the top, and decorated it with paper doilies and puffy heart stickers. You stationed it on your desk at school and made the rounds in the classroom, giggling and dropping valentines in your […]

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Why You Should Cut Your Mother-in-Law a Break

November 26, 2013

When hanging out with a group of fellow moms, there’s only so long you can go before someone starts complaining about their mother-in-law. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes there are legitimate grievances (“She told me I’m a bad parent and a terrible cook!”). But more often than not, the complaints feel a little thin (“Can […]

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