Healthy Hallowe’en conversations

  • Catherine Burns recommends the Annie’s brand of fruit snack treats, available at Supermart and Lindo’s (Photograph supplied)

    Catherine Burns recommends the Annie’s brand of fruit snack treats, available at Supermart and Lindo’s (Photograph supplied)

Over the weekend ,Belle had a friend to sleep over. The excitement levels had been at 11 out of ten for weeks and that was nothing compared to the Big Day.

Because it had been a while in the making, every tiny detail had been planned. We made slime (kill me now), we watched Harry Potter, I cooked sausages and mash (menu had been submitted in advance — hilarious!).

Finally, I left them to it and hung out with Chloe (making more slime — ugh!) while we listened to peals of laughter coming down the stairs.

And then there was silence. If you’ve ever met Belle, you’ll know that silence is dangerous.

Previous episodes of quiet have included (but not been limited to) a fox being painted on the wall in nail polish and icing sugar being flung across all kitchen surfaces and the living room floor.

This time, I tiptoed upstairs and found them giggling quietly over a bag of contraband.

At the innocent age of 8, we’re only talking Push Pops, sour spaghetti and chocolate. At least we haven’t reached cigarettes and alcohol.

I had to confiscate the sugar bomb. I had to! It was late and there was no way I was going to ride out the sugar rush.

Instead, we pulled the mattresses off the bunks and made a den with old sheets, fairy lights and the dining room chairs.

By the time we were done, it was so awesome, I wanted to sleep in there. Actually, I did.

The only way I can deal with sleepovers is to lie there with the children until they fall asleep.

Sometimes, I sing songs too — I’m pretty much Mary Poppins as you can see — but this time I fell asleep as well.

I woke up an hour later, by which time Chloe and the cats had snuck in too.

Getting myself out of the tent in the dark, without waking any sleeping children or animals was a challenge, though.

A little like sneaking into the room and trying to be Santa, the Tooth Fairy, or — with Hallowe’en on its way — Susie Switch.

No one tells you that, when you become a parent, it helps to be a ninja too.

If you don’t know who Susie Switch is, and if you’d like a way to handle the sugar rush at Halloween (not to mention all the food dye too) then this might just be the resource you need.

If you leave out candy for Susie Switch (it could be just some, it doesn’t have to be all) ,then she’ll drop by on her broom in the middle of the night and switch it for a surprise gift.

To help you set the scene for your children (and for some extra Q&A on how it can work), just go to the resources section on

In fact, Hallowe’en can actually give you tons of teachable moments when it comes to children’s nutrition and passing along some key messages.

I’ve listed some ideas for you below. Getting the conversation started is the first step.

You might not see behaviour or attitude adjust right away, but you’ll create some great awareness.

In my experience, children respond better to the idea of healthy eating when it’s been part of the conversation, rather than dished out as a set of strict rules.

Here are some topics for you to raise around the dinner table:

Understanding how much sugar there is in your food

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 one 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 between the ages of 4 and 6 should have no more than 5 tsps daily, children between the ages of 7 and 10 no more than 6 tsps and anyone over 11 years old, no more than 7 tsps (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!

Figuring out food marketing — and not being tricked

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 are tons of messages on the front that imply good health (for example 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?! If you want to buy fruit snack treats, then try the Annie’s brand instead, which is dye free.

The power of colours and characters

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

Increasingly, more natural companies are doing this too. I’m not saying it’s wrong, per se, but it’s worth showing children 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.

Spotting the difference between natural and artificial 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 & M’s and Fruit Pastilles become a good replacement for Life Savers.

Take a look at the labels together and see!

Catherine Burns is a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. For details:, 236-7511 or, Facebook, Natural Nutrition Bermuda

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Published Oct 12, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 11, 2018 at 10:26 pm)

Healthy Hallowe’en conversations

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