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Ask an Expert: Healthy Halloween school treats, and more.

This Sunday marks the beginning of the holiday season. Boo! Halloween will indeed launch us into three (four, if you include Valentine’s Day) months of busy schedules, celebration and a shift in our normal routine. Stores are already filled with Christmas and Hanukkah decorations and that is indeed scary. Maybe you’re wondering how you’re going to stay healthy this year in the midst of the food-centered celebrations. For starters, there is the essential – and traditionally sweet-saturated – school Halloween party.

Alternatives to candy Set an example by handing out alternatives to the traditional candy. Consider non-edible treats such as stickers, little toys, balloons, whistles, erasers, pencils, or crayons. You can also give out granola bars, single-servings of trail mix, packets of pretzels, hot cocoa or cider, or natural fruit leathers.

Innovate your Halloween treats Rather than doing the stand-by cupcakes, cookies and marshmallow goodies, make these fun popcorn bags filled with non-buttered popcorn and add-ins of your choice, including:

  • Yogurt covered raisins
  • Dried cranberries
  • Cashews
  • Coconut flakes
  • Pretzels
  • Dried cereals
  • Naturally sweetened chocolate chips
  • Raisins or other dried fruit

Don’t buy the big bag of Halloween candy I know it’s tempting, but that big bag of Halloween candy sets off weeks of madness on your kids’ blood sugar, brain chemistry and eating patterns. Your kids are bound to eat some candy this time of year. Not to worry, they’ll survive. But why put their little bodies under duress? Here’s a thought: Limit their intake. Have them choose 20 favorite pieces, and allow a piece every few days.

Don’t pack the candy in their lunch, but rather save it for a special treat. This way, the candy will last a few months, and you’ll be teaching your family that sugar is OK in limited quantities. Remember, this is not torture, this is discipline. Sugar decreases immunity and is linked to increased rates of obesity and diabetes in children. You can then put the rest of the candy on the front porch for the “sugar fairy.” She picks it up and leaves a small gift behind – usually a coupon for a special day with mom or dad at the movies, or a voucher for a $10 to $15 toy or trinket.

Monitor your “whoa!” foods Review your holiday party schedule and plan where you and your kids are going to embrace the merriment of food. If you have several parties in a week, eating sugar and high fat foods at each one is sure to add extra weight and make you feel sluggish. I teach my families to follow the “Whoa!” Food Rule. Whoa foods are candy, cakes and ice cream. For adults, throw in wine and other alcoholic beverages as well. My general rule is to have “whoa foods” three times per week. If you have five parties in one week, then you can simply say ‘no’ to the whoa foods at two of five parties. The same goes for your kiddos.

Beware of the sugar monster When you choose sugar, make sure to eat more fruits and vegetables. You see, sugar is void of nutrition so it steals nutrients from your body – things such as Vitamin C and other antioxidants – to break it down. You know what happens next? Your immune system weakens because it doesn’t have the weapons it needs to ward off viruses and other pathogens. It’s no coincidence that cold and flu season kicks off with Halloween! When you replenish those nutrients with fruits and vegetables, your body can handle a little sugar and stay protected.

Pre-party planning and buffets Eat a healthy snack prior to going to a party. When you feel satisfied, you will be less likely to pick at high sugar, high fat foods. Also, better to choose from the trays that have vegetables, hummus, fruit, cheese, salmon, nuts and dark chocolate. Scout the buffet line and decide what you’re going to select before filling your plate. Choose a sampling of items you really enjoy, but don’t sample everything just because it’s there. Rather than standing by the trays and grazing mindlessly, put your food on a small plate and leave the buffet to enjoy your food in proper portions.

Time for yourself Whether exercising, watching football, reading a book, or taking a hot bath, schedule it as though it were an important work appointment and DON’T CANCEL IT.

Follow the 5-for-15 rule I know you can fit in exercise five days a week for at least 15 minutes. Studies show that just 15 minutes of near-daily exercise will help keep the weight off over the holidays. It can be a walk, a quick run, or part of an exercise video. Gets your kids to join you! This is a great way to relieve the stress of work and school, and it encourages life-long habits around the holidays.

Heal your mind Think, feel and live with positive wellness in mind. Practice yoga, meditation or breathing exercises, even if only for 10 minutes a day. Spend time with friends who are nice to you and support your efforts. Be accountable for your actions and resist blaming others. Find a place to hear live holiday music such as a church or a concert.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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