Halloween and sweets go hand in hand, or claw in claw if we’re in the real spirit. But what isn’t so sweet is the amount of sugar our children end up consuming during all the spooktacular festivities. And the facts on the dangers of artificial colors found in most candy are downright scary. While some might say, “C’mon, it’s only one day,” many parents are saying, “Enough is enough.”
According to a recent estimate, the average American consumes 3.4 pounds of candy over Halloween. Insert ghastly ghost screech! It may only be one day, but when nearly 37 percent of children living in Cuyahoga County are overweight and almost 25 percent are obese, we can certainly use to cut back on sugar, even on holidays.
One reason Americans eat too much is because food dyes make all that candy look so pretty and even more tempting. However, research has linked compounds in man-made food coloring like Yellow 5 and Red 40 to diseases such as cancer. In addition, artificial food coloring is associated with problems in children including hyperactivity, allergies, learning impairment, irritability and even aggressiveness. There’s nothing sweet about that.
Here are some tips and a recipe or two that will help you create festive Halloween treats that are low in sugar and free of artificial colors and flavors. These definitely won’t leave you or your kids feeling tricked.
Who needs Green #3 when we have spinach? Nature provides us with so many naturally bright and beautiful flavors that we don’t need chemicals like benzidine to color our foods or high fructose corn syrup to sweeten them. Like I always say, fruit is nature’s candy.
By serving up fruit and veggies in spooky ways, they can be just as festive as their sugar-laden competition. It’s all about the presentation. That’s where my next tip comes in.
Sharpie to the Rescue
Food that looks like markers colored it isn’t the best choice, but a good black permanent marker can be your best friend. Not for the food, of course — for the display. With a Sharpie and a little imagination, you can turn a cup into Frankenstein, a bag into a monster or a clementine into a Jack-o-Lantern. Here’s one way to combine the natural goodness of fruits and veggies and clever packaging into a spooky snack.
A quick trip to the craft store or the dollar aisle will provide lots of eerie inspiration. Witch fingers, fake eyeballs and plastic spiders offer endless possibilities for transforming healthy foods into spooky snacks without the added sugar. Put them in dips or on top of drinks. With a bit of thought, suddenly guacamole becomes a wicked witch’s potion.
Crazy for Cookie Cutters
Who says cookie cutters can only be used for cookies? They are one of the simplest ways to add instant holiday flair to anything and everything from cheese to fruit, even bread and vegetables.
Carve it Up
When in doubt, cut it out. A green bell pepper plus a knife equals a fun and frightening Frankenstein bowl for your salsa. Carve a mini pie pumpkin to create a bowl for your vegetable dip. Or create a ghoulish face in a melon and magically it becomes a monster vomiting out fruit.
Eye am Watching You
If all else fails, you can always add eyeballs to anything and it immediately looks like a monster peeking at you. In place of candy eyeballs, you can use raisins, blueberries or dark chocolate chips for sweets or cucumber slices, cheese and olives for eyes on other savory snacks.
Ok, so you’ve got to have something sweet on this holiday known for candy, right? I like to take traditional dessert recipes and find ways to make them healthier by substituting flour alternatives for white flour, honey for sugar, coconut oil for vegetable oil, or natural colors for artificial ones. You can try it with virtually any recipe. Here’s one to get you started.
The trick with this is not to tell the kiddos the secret ingredient in this treat until after they’ve come back for seconds or thirds and licked their plate clean. I promise you, they (and you) will not taste the black beans and when you insist they’re really in there, they still won’t believe you. They are that good!
Franken-Slime Green Smoothie
4 small clear plastic cups
1 black permanent marker
½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
½ cup water
2 cups fresh spinach
1 banana, frozen
½ cup pineapple chunks
- On the plastic cups, draw Frankenstein’s face, a monster eye or a witch.
- Add all ingredients to a blender. Blend well until all spinach has been liquefied. Pour into cups. Before you know it, your little monsters will have slurped down all that green goodness.
Black Bean Brownie Spider Bites
1.5 cups black beans, rinsed and drained well
½ cup oats
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup coconut oil
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
½ tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips (plus 1 Tbsp. for melting)
¼ cup original Fiber One cereal or pretzel sticks
- Add all ingredients except the chocolate chips, eyeballs and cereal or pretzels to a food processor and blend very well until everything is combined and the oats are not visible. Stir in the dark chocolate chips.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a mini muffin pan. Spoon the brownie batter into each muffin cup, filling it nearly to the top (these won’t rise much). Bake about 15 to 20 minutes. Check doneness by inserting a toothpick into the brownie; it is ready when it comes out clean. Let cool thoroughly.
- When cooled, use a small knife to cut around each brownie and to help you scoop it out of the pan. Create each spider by dabbing a bit of melted chocolate on the back of each eyeball and pressing it gently onto the spider. If you prefer to not use the candy eyeballs, try golden raisins or a whole chocolate chip. Then add eight pieces of cereal or pretzels around the spider’s body to create legs, pushing them in gently.