Food is used to mark special occasions in culturally distinct and personally valuable ways. People love their food and celebrations, but they don’t love the consequences of lower-quality diets. Halloween can be a time of fun and festivities as well as a frenzy around sweet treats that can be quite unsavoury to parents.
A poor-quality diet is characterized by eating foods high in fat, salt or sugar often — foods such as processed meats, chips, white bread and soft drinks. As a result of these diets, obesity among children and youth has nearly tripled in the past 30 years in Canada.
More children are becoming picky eaters as they are exposed to ubiquitous processed foods. Children’s taste buds can be modified with more exposure to junk food and it may be more of a challenge for them to eat healthy foods.
Consuming unhealthy foods on special occasions would not be a concern if this was rare. But these special occasions seem to be increasingly commonplace. As a result, some schools are seeking to increase healthy options and ban unhealthy ones.
Putting healthier consumption of food at the centre of seasons in fun ways will have lasting impacts. It may also take the edge off excessive intake of sugary and fatty foods every once in a while.
Read more: How to avoid a Halloween sugar disaster
Year-round positive food choices
Interest in changing children’s eating behaviours is growing. But families must also exercise caution. Research suggests that restriction strategies may create the opposite results. Restricting a food may increase a child’s preference for and consumption of it.
More covert, less controlling parental approaches are helpful. These strategies include having more fruit and vegetables on hand and buying little to no undesirable foods. Kids cannot eat what is not there. Simply not buying it reduces arguing.
Not just around Halloween but throughout the year, parents might want to have kids become active in their food choices. Research shows that involving kids in selecting their own food can help with getting them to eat it.
Involving children in food preparations can also ignite positive eating behaviours. For example, students involved in school or community gardens become excited by their new-found abilities to grow food and are more likely to eat more fruit and vegetables.
Healthier harvest consumption
Harvest time in the fall can be an opportune time to talk about choosing sustainable diets, eating more whole foods and reducing food waste.
For example, children might participate in gleaning activities where food that would be wasted is turned into soup to benefit a community group. You may want to also visit farmers’ markets for fun fall food events. You could see Halloween as the time to discuss how children can help plan and prepare food on special occasions.
The night before Halloween
Pumpkin carving is a superb example of active family fun.
Jack-o’-lanterns can show off haunting faces but pumpkins also pack a whole bunch of vitamins and minerals: vitamins E, A, and C, thiamine, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. They’re a very good source of dietary fibre. Pumpkin puree can be made into scrumptious soups or curries as well as pie or muffins.
And the pumpkin seeds? They are mighty. These wee green seeds are rich in antioxidants, iron, zinc and magnesium, and deliver a pack of protein.
If you carve your jack-o’-lantern the night before Halloween, you may find more time for children to separate seeds from pumpkin guts and have kids help roast pumpkin seeds.
And if you cook a Halloween night supper the day before, that will also mean more time for a quality meal before trick-or-treating. That means there’s less likelihood of kids rushing into an abyss full of candy on an empty stomach. It might be the perfect time to try a slow cooker or stew recipe.
In addition to putting healthy foods at the centre of the season, you might inspire kids to print their favourite Halloween photos to create colourful scrap books.
Children can capture their ideas of fun things to do in the fall along with what was memorable about Halloween.
By placing the emphasis on family fun and creating better connections to respecting food, Halloween can become part of family rituals that celebrate sustainable eating and playful living.