Ever since I’ve been a mom I’ve been much more aware of the relationship between food and health. And being a mom naturally spills over into my work as a camp director, because what’s good for my child is good for my campers!
So two summers ago we rolled out some healthier measures at camp to try to make a dent in just how many sweets were on hand. Oh, it didn’t mean the end to milk and cookies, or a night of s’mores. But it did mean removing sodas from the store. And it meant taking a look at our food offerings overall, including what would be offered at the store in terms of candy going forward. (More about that in a future blog.)
Many parents embraced this change gladly, being equally concerned about just how pervasive are poor nutrients in the American diets.
But other parents weren’t so sure, feeling instead that camp was the one place where the rules no longer needed to apply since camp is a place meant for fun. They wanted more, not less, access to sweets for their kids at camp.
I took their feedback seriously and sat with it, wondering if that was the role camp was supposed to fill for girls? But after some long hard thinking, and some research, I ended up sticking with my original instincts on this. And I’ll tell you why (and then offer a few nice healthy Halloween alternatives for your fun and pleasure).
Welcome to the Sugar Shack
According to Dr. Oz, one of the big American health gurus out there,
The average (American) person consumes 150 pounds of sugar per year–compared to just 7 ½ pounds consumed on average in the year 1700. That’s 20 times as much!…Interestingly, 50 percent of the sugar we consume today comes from high-fructose corn syrup in fat-free foods like salad dressings and regular soft drinks.
In 1925, a few years after Camp Alleghany opened, the average American sugar consumption was about 60 pounds a year, meaning we’ve more than doubled our consumption in less than a century, with much of it hidden in breads, yogurt, even things like peanut butter, ketchup, starches, and processed foods.
Really, no average-eating American is suffering from sugar deprivation. In fact the opposite is true. According to the American Diabetes Association, “About 1 in every 400 children and adolescents has diabetes.” And over the past century obesity and overweight rates have skyrocketed, as have a host of debilitating diseases. We’re all fighting this thing together.
Sweet without the sugar (or the fake sugar substitutes?)
So like all moms — and like a responsible carer for other people’s children — I want to do what I can to lessen the tidal wave of sugar available to our kids all the time.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to police sugar out of existence. I believe in moderate tasty fun and I certainly believe in treats. But, being a bit of a stickler here, I want to look at what a treat is. The dictionary says a treat is,
noun 1. an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.
To me this means a treat is NOT an everyday occurrence. If a snickers bar or coca-cola needs to be available to kids every day, whether at sports games, after school, or at the camp store, it’s no longer a treat but rather is a dietary staple. And I can’t, in good conscience, make those kinds of things dietary staples at camp.
Camp treats ARE treats
I hope other moms will feel that, even if they keep treats limited during the school year, that camp can’t be the place where all bets are off. After all, we have to maintain good order, health, and an even keel at camp too, especially with long, demanding days, close quarters, and a large camp population. Crazy-mad sugar highs are not exactly the recipe for success there! 🙂
That’s why we think cookies and milk, cinnamon cooked apples, the occasional s’mores, and a real treat — something rare — are worth waiting for. That’s what makes a treat fun, different, and SPECIAL!
Food tricks for Halloween treats
That said, Halloween is upon us, in all it’s sticky, gooey, corn-syrupy glory. What’s a parent to do?
First off, let’s remember that like most things all-American, the way we do Halloween has been supersized into a cartoon version of itself. It’s okay to roll back from the excess because, in doing so, we’ll still be mired in excess! If we’re allowing ourselves and our kids Halloween candies, we can easily go back to the mini candy bars and ditch the now standard King Size versions for good. Yes, you can give a fun orange or black pencil instead of candy corn and M & Ms. And yes, that’s still a treat!
But if you really want to kick up your game, try making truly old fashioned, truly traditional treats at home and combine it with family pumpkin carving, storytelling, and a delicious, nutritious meal. This may be an easier tradition to cultivate with younger ones who haven’t yet been indoctrinated in today’s excesses. The following are a few slightly healthier recipes to make together and enjoy. I vary them by reducing whatever sugar amount is listed even by a little.
Sweet Potato Jack-o-Lanterns with Cinnamon Sugar
This recipe comes from Simply Recipes and is a true delight since sweet potatoes taste wonderfully sweet, are packed with nutrition, and, when cut like a jack-o-lantern simply look like a cookie!
- One 1 1/2 to 2 pound sweet potato, in a even cylindrical shape if possible, wide enough for your cookie cutter form to cut out patterns
- 3 Tbsp butter, melted (for dipping)
- 6 Tbsp white granulated sugar (for dredging) (I cut this in half and sprinkled delicately instead of dredged)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pumpkin shaped cookie cutter (small enough to fit within a slice of sweet potato)
- A sharp paring knife
Get the full recipe here and enjoy a sweet Halloween without giving up any pleasure!
Now check out Snack Girl and her many ideas for a healthy but celebratory Halloween all day. Just by playing with your food and serving it up with style you can spook the sugary addiction from your kids without them even knowing it. My favorite is her ghost banana!
There are also a trove of ideas from Kelly’s Healthy Kitchen. I love the raw apple slice vampire mouths with almond sliver teeth!
And don’t forget Chocolate Covered Katie’s Fruit-filled Jack-O-Lantern Oranges!
To me that’s what the spirit of this holiday is all about — it’s more about creativity, engagement, and play than about inducing a sugar coma! 🙂 You could even make your own in-home chef show themed with Halloween — give the kids some ingredients, tell them to make something spooky out of it, and let their creativity loose. That’s what we would do at camp!
–-Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls