If you have signed up for our online toddler course course (specifically the step on Sugar, Candy and Desserts), you know that our approach to Halloween candy may be a bit different than you would expect for people concerned with healthy eating. Sure, candy is not a "health food," and we know that excess sugar in the diet is less than ideal. As with most things parenting-related, it's all about balance and seeing the big picture. We want our kids to have some exposure to sweets and treats so that they don't binge on them, because when we restrict our children's access to sweets they tend to overeat when they're not hungry and have weight regulation issues.
Halloween is a fun holiday that should be low stress for everyone - including parents who want what's best for their kiddos.
So, what's a health conscious mama (or daddy-o) to do? Do we just let our kids have unlimited access to candy? Not quite. Follow these guidelines to make Halloween a wonderful exploration of food and sweets.
1. Offer a filling, high-protein dinner and plenty of water before trick-or-treating. Hangry kiddos will have a tough time listening to their bodies around candy. Before you head out, offer a whole grain pasta dish with diced turkey and veggies, Pumpkin Chili (vegetarian if desired), or veggie pizza.
2. Decide if your kiddo is old enough for candy. Most babies aren't ready for many types of candy because it's difficult to chew, plus babies don't quite understand what they're missing. One- and two-year-olds may be very aware that they're receiving candy and may want to try it. As the parent, it's your choice whether or not to start exploring candy with your young toddler. (In our home we allow our kids to try Halloween candy once they're one year of age, but this is a decision you'll have to make.) If your child is going Trick-or-Treating, it may be difficult for them to understand why they can't eat the candy.
3. Once you get back home, sort it! Remove any choking hazards or candies that may be difficult to chew like taffy, gum, or hard candy for kids under 4. (Use this opportunity to put together a Mom or Dad Stash of your favorites! You know, for safety and all...)
4. Allow your child to sort, explore and eat as much candy as he wants when you get home. Try not to comment on how much he is eating or pressure him to stop. Also, avoid overexcitement about candy - remember, we want our kids to see all food as food, not "something special." Let him feel his own fullness and decide when to stop. If you haven't been doing this with your kiddos, they may test you and overeat - which may lead to a stomachache. Try not to take the "see, I told you so" route with them; rather, gently discuss what happened and explain that sometimes if we eat more than our belly is hungry for, it hurts. If you start this approach young, you will likely be very surprised by how little your little actually eats!
5. You provide, child decides. Decide how often you want to serve Halloween candy again for the next few weeks. This doesn't mean that your child gets candy whenever they ask for it - see more below.
When you do serve it, let your child decide how much to eat and avoid tying it to behaviors ("You must finish your vegetables to get candy" or "No candy if you don't clean up your toys"). Rather, serve it with or after meals without making a fuss about it. You can do it once, five times, with every meal, or never again - this is up to you. If you remain neutral about it, oftentimes children lose interest.
Important caveat: this does not mean that we offer candy with every meal and snack or whenever our kiddos ask for it. Remember, you provide food of your choice at regular meals - they decide how much to eat.
6. Keep it out of sight until you decide to serve it again. A child who sees the candy in plain view will ask for it often. Put it out of reach, and if your child asks to have some when you weren't planning to serve it, explain that "We aren't having candy right now. Maybe tomorrow."
Need more help with mealtime? Check out our video-based online course, which has helped thousands of parents raise happy eaters!
One of the most common questions in our Feeding Littles Group on Facebook has to do with a baby's first birthday cake:
"What kind of healthy smash cake should I make for my baby? Do I need to do a low sugar cake?"
I always love reading the wide array of responses and seeing the smash cake photos that are inevitably posted. (True story: photos of babies eating are my favorite thing ever.)
What do Judy and I think about a baby's first smash cake? If you've taken our infant our toddler online feeding courses, you probably assume that we have a flexible approach to this. In honor of my daughter's second birthday this week, I wanted to share our thoughts. In short:
Do whatever causes you the least amount of stress. Seriously.
Not a baker? Buy something, don't make it. Super anxious about added sugar? Don't offer it (but make sure to read our thoughts on it below). Not into the idea of a smash cake in general? Do something different. Or do nothing at all.
Seriously, mama - this is meant to be fun. Don't let it stress you out.
You will have enough on your plate planning your baby's first birthday. Worrying about a smash cake only makes your life harder. Below are a few things to consider.
A little sugar will not hurt your baby or cause her to become a sugar fiend. Your baby already knows what sweetness tastes like and is predisposed to favor sweet flavors. Don't believe me? Taste breast milk or formula. Yup, your baby has been drinking sweet milk for a year now. (Yes, it's perfectly and healthy for her to have milk sugars and fruit sugars, and while they're probably "healthier" than added sugars from sucrose, honey and syrup, they're still technically sugars. Your baby's diet has not been "sugar free" up until now.)
It's very important for our kiddos to have a normal relationship with food and to know how to manage their food environment. Introducing baby to some added sugar on her first birthday will not ruin her taste for healthy food, I promise. Most babies who go to town on their cakes act no differently afterwards either (according to the hundreds of parents we've asked!). Plus, don't you want your child to be able go to a party when he's older, have some cake (until his body tells him he's satisfied), and move along? Promoting a "good versus bad" mentality around food increases your chid's risk for an eating disorder. We recommend not even talking about the food itself - just serve it, eat together, and enjoy the food. No biggie.
Most "Paleo" or "healthified" cakes still contain added sugars. Yes, maple syrup, agave nectar, and coconut sugar are still sugar. They may be nominally healthier, but the difference is pretty small. These cakes may be great options for kiddos or party-goers with food allergies, and some of them taste pretty darn good. Want to use one for your baby's birthday? Great! Just don't feel pressured to make a maple syrup-based cake if a more "traditional" (or heck, store bought) cake is easier for you.
Oh, and watch out for "sugar-free" cake recipes. If they're sweetened with applesauce or fruit, that's great (and technically they'd be "free from added sugar" since fruit has fructose, or fruit sugar). Truly sugar-free cakes usually contain artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame, which we don't recommend for babies, children or adults.
Many babies do not touch their smash cakes anyway. Parents oftentimes go overboard ensuring that their baby's cake is beautiful (or healthy, tasty, themed)...and baby won't even eat it. This happened to my first baby, and it happens all the time with our clients.
See that frosting on her hands and face? Yup, it's because we pressed her hand in the cake and put some on her lips just for the photos. Girlfriend refused to try any at all. I'm glad I got a bundtlet from Nothing Bundt Cake because it was so easy (and it photographed so well)...and when she didn't eat it I wasn't disappointed that I had spent too much time.
This photo from one of our group members cracks me up. Baby wanted nothing to do with her beautiful cake, but mmmmm, that carrot! (Just be careful if it's bitten through since raw carrots are a choking hazard!)
Remember, offering your baby a birthday cake (or something else) is all about the moment, the memory, the tradition. It's a rite of passage for many families. Think less about the "healthfulness" of the food and focus more on the memories you'd like to make. Your baby's first birthday is a celebration of surviving the first year (more for you than for them!), and having birthday cake if you want to is about celebrating. Food has an important part in our culture, and it's OK to eat certain foods as part of a celebration. Think long-term about what you want for this moment.
I think super messy cake smashes are a hilariously appropriate way to usher in toddlerhood and the joyful craziness that it brings.
You don't have to do a smash cake. If you still want to do "smash" food or messy play, get creative! Check out the awesome ideas here and here. The sweet girl in the photo below did a quesadilla/taco smash, which was a perfect option for her family.
What if your baby has allergies? Check out the links below to some allergen-free cake recipes:
Gluten-free allergen-friendly smash cake by the Pretty Bee
Corn and rice-based cake by Huffington Post
Allergen-friendly chocolate cupcakes by Allergy Awesomeness
Healthy first birthday cake by Mamacado
One thing I personally look for in cakes? Artificial dyes. I personally don't feel good eating them, so I try to get cakes that don't use them. However, they're hard to avoid when using fondant and specific cake designs, so it's usually that's something I let go of and just enjoy.
Remember, your baby's first birthday is a momentous occasion for the entire family! Enjoy it, and have some cake if you'd like - or not!
Why Dietitians Don't Freak Out About the Unicorn Frappuccino (or Churros, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, etc.)
People are FREAKING OUT about the new Unicorn Frappuccino from Starbucks. Only available through April 23rd, it starts off "sweet and fruity transforming to pleasantly sour." You can swirl it "to reveal a color-changing spectacle of purple and pink." People are heading to Starbucks in droves, demanding this pink and blue drink with "magical" sprinkles.
After release of the Unicorn Frapp, an interesting internet backlash ensued. People were quick to criticize Starbucks and the amount of sugar in their limited edition beverage.
This meme is for a Venti sized Unicorn Frappuccino. The Grande (medium) has 59 grams of sugar.
Yes, this is a lot of sugar. Fifty-nine grams is the equivalent of almost 15 teaspoons, or 5 tablespoons of sugar. That's over 1/4 cup of sugar. Yes, it's a lot.
But is anyone surprised?
I am the first to say that the Unicorn Frappuccino and any of the blended beverages at Starbucks are hardly "healthy." What gets me more than the sugar is the other strange ingredients and artificial flavors, but that's a completely different post! I just think that the internet backlash on the "evil" qualities of this drink are a bit extreme and feed into our "good versus bad" mentality around food. Here's why:
1. Helloooooooo - it's a pink and blue sparkling drink topped with whipped cream and magic fairy dust. Did we expect it to be a low sugar option? Furthermore, is anyone drinking it because they think it's going to be the healthiest part of their day? No. Consumers want to know what the hype is about and are curious about a limited offer product. I'm pretty sure most well-informed adults know that it's not a low-sugar health drink.
2. The Grande Gingerbread Frappuccino has 58 grams of sugar - almost exactly the same as the Unicorn Frapp. It should be no surprise that most Frappuccinos are high in sugar.
3. Technically (and my dietitian friends will appreciate this), not all of the sugar in this beverage is added sugar. (Stay with me for a second.) The second ingredient is milk, which is inherently high in lactose - yup, a sugar. You can't take the lactose (sugar) out of milk. Anything made with milk/yogurt or fruit will contain sugar, even if it's not added sugar. Seeing a sugar content on a label doesn't automatically make a product "unhealthy."
4. Does anyone really drink a Venti...or a Grande for that matter? I've had sips of some seasonal Frapps and they are HUGELY sweet - so much so that I am done after a taste or two. Sometimes enjoying a few bites or drinks of something we really want to try satisfies our cravings and allows us to experience something new without putting us into a sugar coma (or literally causing diabetes, like some of these memes have suggested).
5. The sugar shaming has gotten a little out of hand and is borderline offensive. Every post I see on social media of someone excited about this drink is peppered with comments about how much sugar it contains. Why don't we do that for donuts or ice cream or other sweetened beverages? Friend is in Hawaii enjoying shaved ice? Why aren't we looking up its sugar content? What about this Unicorn Frapp makes it OK for people to point out how "unhealthy" something is? I constantly see foods on social media...but I don't go around commenting about their healthfulness (or lack thereof) or shaming the poster about the amount of sugar in their snack. We eat for reasons other than health, and that's OK.
The more you get to know the Feeding Littles philosophy (perhaps through our online courses), the more you will learn that freaking out about the healthfulness of a food, especially one that's not eaten very often, is counterproductive. Kids pick up on our food neuroses and begin to internalize our good versus bad mentality, which can set some kiddos up for struggles with food down the road. If you don't think obsession with healthy foods is a problem, I urge you to read more about orthorexia, or sit with me every day as I work with clients whose lives revolve around food.
Moral of the story? Serve your family tasty, mostly healthy foods and leave some wiggle room for "play foods" (a term coined by Elyse Resch, author of Intuitive Eating). When you eat, pay attention to your food and try to savor the flavors. Don't freak out about a cookie or Frappuccino here or there; sit, enjoy the food, and try to take in the flavors and the experience. Perhaps your taste buds love it but your stomach doesn't, so listen to that signal and make a choice about how that food makes you feel physically. Keep your language around food neutral so that your kids don't think that there are "good foods" and "bad foods." Let them have their fill when you serve desserts without commenting on every bite.
As for me, will I try the Unicorn Frapp? Probably not - but that's mainly because I don't like tart flavors. Chocolate Lava Cake Frappuccino? You best believe I'd have some of that!
Megan and Judy, co-owners of Feeding Littles, bring you helpful info on food, nutrition, picky eating, and feeding young children. Megan McNamee MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Judy Delaware, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist specializing in feeding therapy with children 3 and under in Boulder, Colorado. Megan and Judy are both moms of two and love helping families develop a healthy appetite for all foods!