As much as you feel the need to play "treat police" this Halloween, try not to. It's no fun for you as parents, and it takes the joy out of Halloween for your kids. Instead, take advantage of this holiday by using it as a teaching tool for healthy and balanced eating habits—an excuse to actually improve your child's long-term relationship with food.
Parents often struggle with how to manage Halloween treats. The go-to solutions for the candy frenzy are often:
1) Let it be a candy free-for-all: Kids are allowed to "go for it" on Halloween night without interference or policing from parents over the amount or type of candy consumed.
2) Switch candy out for something else ("Switch Witch"): Kids choose a few of their favourite candies and then leave the rest out for the "Switch Witch" who takes it away and replaces it with a desired toy or game (a non-food gift). Here's a great alternative to the "Switch Witch" that Dina Rose, PhD, came up with and wrote about on her blog "It's Not About Nutrition" (which makes a lot more sense to me!).
3) Manage it tightly by only allowing kids to have one treat a day: This often leads to sneaking and overindulging when parents aren't around.
Although they are quite different, there is one thing in common with all of these strategies—they provide a short-term solution for the Halloween candy overload without really teaching kids how to handle future situations where treats are involved.
Make Halloween less about managing your child's short-term sugar intake and more about teaching them how to manage their indulgences long-term. The latter is much more important.
It's much easier to manage treats before they are in your house, so make sure to wait until the day before (or day of) to buy Halloween candy, so that you don't have to deal with the "see-food syndrome." Also, send your kids out with smaller bags or buckets and limit the time that they are out or the number of houses your kids visit so that their stash is smaller to begin with.
Here are 4 life-long eating lessons you can teach your kids on Halloween:
I often encourage parents to "spoil their child's treat palate" with higher quality sweets and to really enjoy them (after all, that's what treats are for—to bring joy). I often ask my kids to tell me their favourite part of their treat-eating experience ("do you like the cream cheese icing the best, or the pumpkin cake part?"), and get them to help me prepare it. This gives kids a better appreciation for real food made with real ingredients, and how delicious treats can really taste (and that they don't need a lot to feel satisfied). Halloween often teaches kids to eat what they've collected, not what they actually want.
When your child returns from trick-or-treating, get them to sort through their candy and choose the "can't-live-without" treats (a number that you have negotiated with your child and that seems fair to both of you), and put the "just ok" treats in another pile. Then, ask your child if they would like to trade their mediocre candy in for some homemade chocolate chip cookies (that you make together the next day) or something sweet that they love even more (let's say an ice cream cone from their favourite ice cream shop). This teaches kids to be choosy with their treats and eat what they love (and enjoy it) instead of eating what's in front of them just because it's there.
We often encourage our kids to try new foods at mealtimes. Instead of policing treat foods, do something that your kids don't expect and encourage them to try a new candy or chocolate treat that they've never had before. For example, if they always go for gummy-type candies, encourage them to try a mini chocolate bar with nuts in it for a change to see if they like the taste. This will not only put treats on a more level playing field with other foods (which will decrease the desirability of them), but will also encourage them to be more adventurous with all foods (including healthier ones at mealtimes).
If you take charge of the candy stash and police when and how much candy can be consumed, you're sending the message that your kids cannot be trusted with candy. In other words, this doesn't teach them how to moderate their intake of treats. Up until the age of about 4, together with your child, choose a daily amount of candy that seems fair to have (maybe it's one, two, or four) and allow your child to decide when they are going to have it (it could be for dessert after lunch, as part of a snack in the afternoon, or even WITH a meal). After the age of 4 (this varies depending on the child), they are likely ready to manage and store their own stash with the expectation that they will adhere to the daily amounts that were negotiated and eat their candy in a designated area (usually the kitchen table where there's few distractions). Giving kids the opportunity to manage their candy stash will take some of the power away from the candy and give them the confidence to manage their treats in a healthy way.
Kids learn by making mistakes and however upsetting it is for us parents to see our kids gorge on treats (and even get sick), ultimately, this will teach our kids to moderate their intake of them. Instead of getting angry and punishing kids for eating too many candies, approach the situation calmly and get your child to talk about it. Ask her why she thinks she feels sick and what she might do next time to avoid the same feeling again. Explain the difference between "everyday foods" (healthful foods) and "fun foods" (treats) and how the fun is taken out when too much is consumed. You can say something like, "Our bodies don't like too many fun foods at once because it doesn't leave enough room for everyday foods, so they fight back by feeling sick." Or something like that. Instead of feeling embarrassed and ashamed, your child will learn from her mistake and think twice before doing it again.
Instead of dreading Halloween, think of it as a great opportunity to teach your kids about moderation, balance, and healthful indulging.
Want to learn more about how to teach your kids to indulge mindfully? Here's a post on how to handle treat foods in your house
Feel like you need to work on being a more mindful eater yourself? Read this post with tips on how to avoid mindless snacking.
Feel free to check out my Facebook Page where I post free daily nutrition tips, resources, and recipes for parents
It's almost turkey time! If you're anything like me, you LOVE turkey dinner, but you get a bit squeamish at the thought of handling raw poultry. When it comes to thawing your turkey, you want to pay close attention to food safety in order to avoid cross-contamination and bacteria growth. The safest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator, where the entire turkey will remain at a cool and at a safe temperature while thawing, or in cold water if you're tight for time.
A turkey is safe indefinitely while frozen (especially in a deep freeze), however when it starts to thaw, bacteria can start to grow. A package of frozen meat or poultry left on the counter at room temperature for any longer than two hours is unsafe. Even though the middle part of a turkey is still frozen, the outer layers are in the "danger zone" (between 4-140 degrees F), where foodborne pathogens can grow fast.
Place turkey breast side up in a clean container or on a clean platter that has elevated sides and corners to keep juices from leaking out. If on a platter, cover with plastic or lid. Always place the turkey, whether in a container or on a platter on the bottom shelf of your fridge in case juices run out, to prevent cross-contamination with other foods. The turkey should be defrosted for 5 hours per pound of bird (10 hours/kg).
Refrigerator thawing times according to size of turkey:
If you need to re-freeze defrosted turkey, it is safe to do so only if the meat is still cold and if ice crystals are still present. When in doubt, cook immediately and avoid re-freezing after thawing.
Make sure that your sink is wide enough and deep enough for your turkey to be fully immersed in cold drinking water. Thoroughly clean and sanitize your sink prior to defrosting. Wrap your turkey leak-proof plastic (or keep in original plastic wrapping) to avoid cross-contamination and place into a clean container for holding. Place your turkey breast-side-down and cover completely with cold drinking water. Change the water every 30-60 minutes to keep the surface cold until the entire turkey is thawed. Thawing your turkey in cold water takes about 1 hour per pound of bird (2 hours/kg).
Cold water thawing times according to size of turkey:
Your turkey can be refrigerated up to 48 hours prior to cooking after it has been thawed, however cooking it immediately is ideal.
You can safely thaw a turkey in the microwave (if it's smaller or if you're only cooking turkey parts like breasts). Make sure to follow your microwave's manufacturers instructions carefully and plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas may begin to cook or become too warm during microwaving. Partially cooked meat is not safe, as bacteria that are present will start to grow.
Here are some tips and tricks to manage treat foods in your house, during the holidays (or anytime!).
And here are nine easy ways to make Thanksgiving a bit healthier for both you and your kids.
If you're a parent and want to learn more about how feeding your kids well, picky eating, family meals etc., jump on over to my facebook page for helpful tips, resources and recipes!
I'm not one to deny my kids a tasty treat, and I certainly don't make any food "forbidden," but there are some convenience foods that I don't buy for my kids, mostly because the ingredients list is a mile long, full of sugar, artificial flavours and colours, preservatives, fillers, and other chemicals. When it comes to feeding my kids, my number one priority is that they eat real food, not food-like items (most of the time). And whenever possible, I make meals and snacks from scratch and get them involved in preparing and cooking meals.
But when I do buy packaged foods—after all, they do come in handy now and again when you're a busy parent—I rarely read the nutrition facts table. Instead, I skip right to the ingredients list, which is the most important bit of information on the package or box. The shorter the list, the better, and ideally you want to see real food ingredients instead of a long list of additives, fillers and preservatives.
With some help from Registered Dietitian colleagues of mine (who are also parents), I've come up with a list of products that most nutrition experts won't feed to their kids:
Yogurt tubes such as Yoplait's "Gogurt" (as well as most yogurt drinks) have become very popular in the past few years. They're easy and convenient and can be eaten on the go. What most parents don't realize is that they're packed full of sugar, thickeners, and preservatives—they are far from "natural." It's not surprising that sugar is the second ingredient followed by additives like modified corn starch, potassium sorbate, gelatin, and carrageenan. One of these 64 gram tubes contains 9 grams of sugar (that's a lot for a little tube), only 2 grams of protein, and only 0.5 grams of fat. Because of this, your child will get a hit of sugar but won't be satisfied for long (protein and fat keep us fuller longer).
What to serve instead: Buy plain 2-3% Greek yogurt and add a bit of natural sweetener such as pureed fruit, honey or maple syrup. I like Greek yogurt because it contains double the amount of protein than regular and 2-3% milk fat because kids need fat! Make homemade "yogurt tubes" by combining plain Greek yogurt, fruit puree (apple sauce), cinnamon and a touch of honey to a small freezer bag. Make sure it's tightly sealed and cut a small hole in one of the corners for kids to eat from! Your kids could help make them!
"Fruit" flavoured snack foods such as Dora snacks, fruit leathers, fruit by the foot, fruit roll-ups, fruit gushers are not equivalent to fruit in any way. In fact, they rival most dessert foods in the sugar department and should be considered a treat rather than a snack (or just not eaten at all). Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, Medical Doctor and Weight Management Specialist wrote a great article for the Huffington post about how shockingly sweet most fruit snacks are and how the Heart and Stroke foundation's stamp of approval on many of these products tricks parents into thinking that they're healthy choices. He mentions in his post that SunRype fruit source bites are "80 percent sugar, with sugar being responsible for 96 per cent of their calories," which is similar to most other dried fruit snacks. Yikes!
Unsweetened dried fruit now and again is fine (and provides more nutrition than candy, I suppose), but without the water content that fresh or frozen fruit provides, it won't keep kids full for very long and provides exponentially more sugar per gram in weight. On top of that, many fruit snacks add MORE sugar.
What to offer instead: Fresh or frozen fruit. Plain and simple and portable too!
In all honesty, I hadn't heard of or seen these until a few RD colleagues mentioned them in our "most loathed kids snack food" thread on Facebook. These morning cookies are a far cry from "healthy morning snack," which Dare markets them as beautifully. In fact, they encourage parents to "pack a Bear Paws Morning Snack in the kids’ lunch box for a nutritious treat during morning recess." Well, at least they admit that it's a "treat." These cookies contain a long list of ingredients with sugar right at the top, and modified palm oil, soya lecithin, corn starch, and potassium sorbate thereafter. And that's not including the filling!
What to offer instead: For a morning snack, it's best to stick to real food such as yogurt, cheese, fresh fruit, milk, or veggies sticks and hummus. These homemade granola bars are nut free and can serve as a great snack option for lunch boxes. If it's a treat we're talking about, try my healthy oatmeal raisin cookies!
Peanut butter that we all grew up with (think Skippy or Jif) and in many cases serve our own children tastes much different than natural peanut butter. It is much sweeter and does not need to be refrigerated. That's because sugar is the second ingredient followed by hydrogenated vegetable oil (trans fat). The hydrogenated vegetable oil is solid at room temperature, which gives the peanut butter a smooth and consistent texture and has a long shelf-life. If peanut butter is a staple in your house like it is in mine, you may want to consider going with a more natural alternative.
What to offer instead: Natural peanut butter, where the ingredients list contains one ingredient: peanuts.
Popcorn can be a really healthy snack choice, but when comes in a microwaveable bag with a bright yellow coloured powder mixed into it, it quickly because a not-so-healthy snack. With ingredients such as partially hydrogenated soybean oil, artificial colours and flavours (usually not specified) and TBHQ (tert-Butylhydroquinone--a preservative), microwave popcorn—as convenient as it is—is more of a science project than a healthy snack.
What to offer instead: Air-popped popcorn (preferably organic) with a bit of melted butter and a bit of salt to taste (optional). Keep leftovers and throw it into your kids lunch kit as a snack!
Most people believe that whole wheat bread is a much better choice than white bread. Not true. In fact, many whole wheat breads are white bread dressed up with a bit of fibre (not much), maybe some colouring for effect and maybe a few seeds sprinkled on top. Whole wheat bread (whether it's 60% or 100%) is not the same as "whole grain" bread. Whole wheat bread is made with whole wheat flour, which has been stripped of most of the germ (the most nutritious part of the wheat kernel) and some of the bran (where the fibre is housed inside the grain). What you're left with is the starchy endosperm and a bit of the bran. The resulting product—whole wheat bread—is slightly healthier than white bread, but not what I would consider a healthy choice.
What to offer instead: 100% whole grain bread. If the first ingredient is 100% whole grain (insert name of grain here), then you're on the right track. What it means is that the entire grain (including germ and bran) are present, which renders a healthier and more nutritious product.
Oatmeal is universally thought of as a healthy breakfast option, but what most people don't realize is that there are several different varieties of oats, ranging from very healthful to...dessert in a package. Instant oats are the most processed of all varieties because they've been steamed, pressed with a roller, dried, cooked, and dried again so that the resulting product cooks quickly. Because of this processing, instant oats are broken down quicker in our digestive tracks, rendering a product that is higher on the glycemic index (raises blood sugar faster). One small flavoured package of instant oatmeal also contains the same amount of sugar as 2 Oreo cookies (about 3 teaspoons of sugar). Eating this in the morning will not satisfy you or your kids for very long at all, but instead will give you a quick sugar buzz that will fade and leave you hungry again within no time.
What to serve instead: Although it takes a bit more time to prepare, making large flake oats on the stove top or in the microwave (it takes 2 minutes!), or even better, cooking steel-cut oats (you can now purchase quick-cooking steel-cut oats too) is definitely the way to go. These oat products are minimally processed (especially steel-cut), so provide the maximum amount of nutrition and will keep you feeling full and satisfied for hours. Steel-cut oats is my go-to breakfast, so I make a big batch either in the slow cooker or on the stove and enjoy it all week by reheating with some milk. Choosing an unflavoured oatmeal also allows you to control the amount of sugar or other sweetener that goes into it.
Our kids are inevitably going to be exposed to several unhealthy foods outside of the home, whether it be at a friends house, in the school yard or at a birthday party. We cannot control every bite that our child takes, nor should we try to. Having processed foods and treats now and again is fun for kids, won't likely effect their health in a negative way, and shouldn't be made into a huge deal. But as parents, we can control which foods our kids are offered at home on a daily basis. We can teach them the value of cooking and baking from scratch, and expose them to delicious whole foods that taste much better than the fake stuff.
Struggling to get your child to eat a balance of foods at meal time? Teach your kids to "eat in a circle"—you'll be amazed at how much more pleasant mealtimes become!
And here are 15 Dietitian-Approved Lunchbox Staples
Feel free to check out my Facebook page where I post daily nutrition tips, resources and recipes for parents.