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Teaching healthy choices for Hallowe’en

A few weeks ago, I was searching online for an image of a grass-fed beef brand to send to a client. I typed in “Naked Beef” (because that’s honestly what it’s called) and, well, you can imagine what happened ...

I know it sounds naíve to say I wasn’t expecting the avalanche of naked men in thongs that hit my screen, but I had been in full on work mode until that moment. Anyway, ageing men posing on their beds in shiny, tiny bits of fabric seems to be a trend in American suburbia ... who knew?

After the hysterical laughter had died down, I wiped my search history — I’m always using Google Images with clients so they get good brand recognition, so was a little worried these fellas would pop up unexpectedly.

While I was there I found a long list of Hallowe’en costumes the girls had been browsing in the office — seems we’re having a snowy owl and a spider this year, although the snowy owl is proving tricky.

A friend of mine had sent me through some Pinterest ideas as her daughter wants to be an owl too. Unfortunately, Chloe had a good look-through. I was hoping for something I could just click and buy, but it looks like I have lots of hours ahead of me with a bag of feathers and a hot glue gun. I’m always last minute too, so it will no doubt be done at 3am on the big day. Pass the wine!

Despite the costume pressure and crazy sugar rush, Hallowe’en remains one of my favourite events in the year. The children get so excited, it’s impossible not to be caught up in it too. Decorating the house, dressing up, trick or treating and then the main event: the arrival of Susie Switch Witch. She drops by on her broom in the middle of the night and switches out most of the candy for a surprise gift. As the girls are older now, I’m pretty sure the gig’s up when it comes to Susie, but they’re playing along still. I hope they give me one more year of Santa too, but we’ll see!

Susie Switch has been a life-saver for me when it comes to letting the children enjoy Hallowe’en, without stressing about all the sugary cr*p they’re given. In fact, it turns out Hallowe’en can give you tons of teachable moments when it comes to children’s nutrition and passing along some key messages. There’s no need to lose the fun at all. You can pick and choose from this list, but here are some ideas for some conversations to get you started!

Remember, all the Susie Switch downloads are in the resources section on my website (Natural.bm), so have a look and enjoy: Teachable moments — nutrition conversations to have at Halloween:

1. Understanding sugar content in terms of teaspoons

Currently “sugars” are listed as grams of sugar on nutrition labels. This doesn’t make things easy because who knows what 30 grams of sugar looks like? Is it a little or is it a lot? Well just so you know, 2g is a little and 10g starts to be a lot. However it’s easier to convey in terms of teaspoons. As an approximate guide 4g “sugars” is roughly 1 teaspoon. So if something lists the total sugars content as 60g sugars, then that works out as 15 tsps.

It’s important to check labels for serving sizes too as sometimes you need to double the total in order to be more accurate about the volume you are consuming.

Ideally, children from 4-6 years should have no more than 5 teaspoons daily, children ages 7-10 no more than 6 teaspoons and anyone over 11 years, no more than 7 teaspoons (that includes you as adults.) So, have a look at the candy labels you give out and receive, and see how quickly you reach your limit!

2. Spotting food marketing designed to trick children (and their parents)

Food manufacturers have a lot to answer for when it comes to their marketing tactics. One of the biggest tricks is packaging that says “Natural flavours” or “Real fruit flavours”, but then still contains artificial sweeteners or artificial food dyes. The purpose of this is to make you think you’re buying a healthy option, without actually lying. It’s a trick that most of us fall for when we’re buying treats. Welch’s Fruit Snacks are the perfect example here.

There’s tons of messages on the front that imply good health (eg fat-free, gluten-free, vitamin C, etc), but they’re also full of corn syrup and artificial dyes. So …. is it a trick, or is it a treat?!

3. Understanding how companies target children with colours and characters

It’s also worth showing your children how marketing companies use bright colours and fun characters on their packaging to attract them.

Increasingly, more natural companies are doing this too. I’m not saying it’s wrong per se, but it’s worth explaining how marketing companies try to win them over so they are aware of the influences they are under. At Natural Kids camp we had the children design their own packaging for the brownies and lemonade they made, and they used many of the same tactics so their “product” looked fun.

It was a really good way to raise awareness of marketing influences and techniques.

4. Knowing the difference between natural dyes and chemical dyes

Most mainstream brands of candy use artificial dyes as the pigments are more intense (therefore more attractive to children) and they are cheaper too (so they make more money.) Unfortunately, artificial dyes (think Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 3 and all that gang) are linked to a worsening of symptoms in children with ADD and ADHD and have a history of accelerating tumour growth in animal lab experiments.

In addition, there’s lots of anecdotal evidence linking artificial dye intake to headaches/migraine in children and general behavioural issues.

UK brands tend to use natural dyes (mainly fruit and vegetable extracts) that are a much better option. So, chocolate Smarties become a good replacement for M & Ms and Fruit Pastilles become a good replacement for Lifesavers. Take a look at the labels together and see!

5. Keeping the magic alive

This is where Susie Switch comes in.

If your children are fans of Santa, the Easter bunny and the Tooth Fairy too, then Susie is a fairly low-maintenance addition that comes with a ton of benefits! Kids can put aside all of their candy, just some of it, or maybe just the stuff that’s artificially dyed and then Susie will come along and switch it in the middle of the night. It can be replaced with books, toys, movie tickets … whatever you like — just not something unhealthy. I’ve written a story that explains the process to children (and there’s an extra story about her bats too) which is on my website. It’s a great way to get the excess out of your house, while still keeping all the Halloween magic alive.

•The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the Managing Director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK Please note that she is not a Registered Dietitian. For details, please go to www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda