I love Halloween! I love dressing up, handing out candy to neighborhood kids, and attending as many costume parties as I can. I’ve already worn three different costumes this year, and I still have one more chance to be something else this weekend! Most of all, I love Halloween because of the candy. It’s not just the candy, it’s the way we share and indulge in all that sugary goodness. I know it’s bad to eat 30 mini Twix bars or 25 bite sized Snickers bars in one sitting- I mean, it’s not like I downed a bag of sour gummy worms or maybe about 45 squares of Starburst fruit chews…
Well, I actually didn’t this year, I only ate an entire bag of mini Kit-Kats and a bag of mini Twix bars over a 5 day period sometime in September. I know, I got the bug early this time around, but I can’t say the same for years past. This year, my Halloween candy intake allowance is going to be small, maybe one or two chocolate treats versus an entire bag.
Too much candy is bad for you. There! I said it.
I spent the last two days reading every Eat This, Not That! book that Howard County Library System (HCLS) owns and I learned a few things:
(1) America is fatter than ever.
(2) Labels lie, but nutrition facts don’t.
(3) A couple Twix candy bars have the fat content equivalency of 12 strips of bacon. I’m surprisingly both intrigued and disgusted by that. Also, I feel like there’s probably a Pinterest pinned recipe or something on Reddit about bacon-wrapped-Twix hors d’oeuvres. (Update: I did find something “Twinkie” not “Twix” related and I think my arteries just clogged)
(4) Food products that use beloved characters, movies, etc. to market to children usually have terrible nutritional content.
(5) Eating healthy isn’t always cheaper, but it’s worth it.
(6) Just because something is “low-fat” or “low/zero-sugar” doesn’t mean you can eat more of it.
(7) Knowing is ⅓ the battle. Practicing good food swaps is ⅓. Exercising is (at least) the last ⅓.
(8) These books aren’t an excuse to eat whatever you want. These are practical guides to navigating your daily food choices in not-so-ideal situations. It’s imperative to read these titles cover-to-cover to benefit from the information therein.
(9) What constitutes as “food” these days is kinda scary.
(10) Candy is a terrific!
And when I say “terrific” I mean massively intense, terror-inducing “terrific.” After reading through the statistics and comparative nutritional facts, I ran the gamut of emotions. I felt validated and then, duped. The pendulum swung from “I already knew that!” and “That’s so obvious!” to “How can we fix ourselves if we’re so deep in it?”
Candy cravings seem to intensify the moment you say you can’t have it or it’s just a “once in a while treat.” Also, candy is so cheap and accessible- and it makes us feel good. The pleasure centers in our brain get over-excited and the cravings for more “feel good” edibles takes over like an addict’s yearning for an abused substance. With just hours before welcoming kids onto my patio and giving them handfuls of sugar & fat laden bombs also known as Kit-Kat and Snickers bars the guilt settles in…
Has the annual Halloween candy haul turned into a slow, painful death-march of candy-drenched-diabesity? No. Truly, we are responsible for what we eat and put into our bodies. Having a few bite sized candy bars isn’t going to kill you, but if you can’t pass up the candy, or find yourself sneaking around for that taboo junk food- there’s a problem and it needs to be addressed. Recall our friend, Sugar Addict Anonymous.
All I want to impart with you is this: Halloween candy may be something you and your children struggle with over the next week or so. Be strong. Be prepared. Make good real food choices, and don’t be so hard on yourself if (when) you mess up.
Zinczenko’s books basically say three things:
(1) Be aware of and eat healthy foods when you’re truly hungry.
(2) Treat yourself once in a while, not once an hour, and not after every meal.
(3) Change is challenging and may feel time consuming, but it’s not impossible. Making one or a few healthier exchanges each day will help you trade up to that healthy, balanced diet you know you need.
Happy Halloween and good luck! I know I’ll need it!
The truth of the matter is, “healthy Halloween treat” is an oxymoron. The words just don’t go together.
When kids go out trick-or-treating in their witch and goblin costumes, they are not hoping to come home with a bag full of apples or mini-tubes of toothpaste. (Remember the neighborhood dentist who gave away little toothbrushes emblazoned with his name?) The apples get tossed in the refrigerator for someone else to eat. The pennies and nickels will be used to buy more candy.
What kids want (and don’t we all?) are chocolate bars—full size and lots of them. The goal is to hit as many houses as possible, bring home bags of goodies and then gorge on candy until passing out from a sugar high. Of course, none of this is healthy, but it’s a lot of fun. And no matter what, kids are going to have chocolate on Halloween.
However, knowing what we do today about sugar and childhood obesity and diabetes, is there a way we can take some of the sugar out of Halloween without taking out all of the fun?
Some healthy Halloween treat giveaways might be mini boxes of healthier drinks—100 percent juice, low-sugar drinks or flavored low-fat milk. Little bags of peanuts or low-salt veggie chips are another idea. Pre-packaged popcorn balls with Halloween wraps provide a lot of fiber with much less sugar than a candy bar. Kids also like mini boxes of raisins or cheese crackers. Trail mix fortified with chocolate chips or M&Ms is both healthy and a little sweet.
Another idea is to start with a party at home and fill them up on some healthy food before they go foraging for candy. There are lots of spooky and fun, but healthy, treat ideas for parties or even to be offered to eat at the door.
Cut the flat edge off (on an angle) the top of baby carrots to make nail base. Use cream cheese for glue and stick on an almond slice for nails. Serve with hummus or your favorite dip.
Pretzel broom sticks
Glue (cream cheese again) thin strips of cheese onto the end of pretzel sticks and wrap the top of the slices with the green ends of cooked scallions.
Take apple slices and cut a notch out of the back side to make the mouth and then stick in almond slivers for teeth. (Dip the apples in lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.)
Use cookie cutters in the shape of cats, witches, ghosts, etc. to cut out spooky shapes from slices of square cheese (sliced thick).
Put popsicle or craft sticks in the stem end of small apples. Dip halfway in melted white chocolate bits (you can make it orange with a little red and yellow food coloring) then decorate with chocolate chips or Halloween sprinkles.
Roll out pizza dough and cut mini pizzas with cookie cutter. Add favorite toppings (tomato sauce, sausage, green peppers) and then use thin strips of mozzarella cheese to make mummy wrap with black olive slices for eyes.
Search the internet for healthy Halloween treats and you’ll find an abundance of photos and recipes to make Halloween a little bit healthier and a lot of fun.
I hope you have gotten some great produce from your garden this summer. Our garden is beginning to wind down, as yours probably is unless you have made great plans for a fall garden. This is actually a good time to begin thinking about next year’s garden! Now, when your “failures” (no, scratch that) “disappointments” are decomposing in the compost heap, is a good time to record what you would do differently. Do you really want your bean plants that close together? Your carrots that far apart? And what a disappointment that new variety of tomato was! Now, the good variety—let’s save some seeds!
It apparently is a good time to introduce new books on vegetable gardening as well. Here are some shiny new additions to Howard County Library System‘s shelves.
Timber Press has published several guides to gardening with advice specific to the climates of various parts of the U.S.–the Pacific Northwest, the Mountain States, the Northeast, and, luckily for us, the Southeast. The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast (2013) is by Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I was happy to see her association with a seed exchange group since the gardener at my house is looking for advice on saving seeds from the best of our tomatoes. I really like the organization of this book. After a brief introduction to our climate, we have Gardening 101, and a section on garden planning. Following these are chapters for each month, covering “To do this Month,” what to “Plan, Prepare, and Maintain,” what to “Sow and Plant,” and “Fresh Harvest.” Each month is closed with a “Skill Set” project like staking or drip irrigation or starting a compost heap. The final 50 pages are an alphabetical guide to “Edibles A to Z.” There are some gems of advice in here—I want it for my home bookshelf!
Jean-Martin Fortier, in his The Market Gardener: a Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming (2014), demonstrates how a “micro-farm” of only one and a half acres can produce enough to feed 200 families in their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), in Canada, no less! In their 10 years at the business Fortier and his wife have developed some clever techniques and devised special equipment, shared here in clear line drawings. His chapters on pests, starting seeds, fertilizing, and more are enhanced with sidebars giving tips and advice. In spite of the author’s Canadian home-base—cooler by far than our climate—very little of his advice would not be useful in Maryland!
Do you like to browse through magazines to see how other peoples houses look inside? Do you like to see how beautiful their gardens look and long to replicate their successes? Take a look at Niki Jabbour’s Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden (2014). The gardens vary from “Wildlife Friendly” to “Critter Control,” from “Eggs and Everything,” built around a chicken coop, to the “Edible Campus” planted between buildings at McGill University. You won’t find gorgeous photos here, but colored sketches that I find more instructive. There is truly something for every gardener in these 250 pages.
Niki Jabbour’s previous book, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener (2011), is a similarly useful guide, especially for the gardener who does not want a break from planting and harvesting. She promises to show “how to grow your own food 365 days a year no matter where you live.”
Josie Jeffery’s new book, The Mix & Match Guide to Companion Planting, promised great things— “an easy organic way to deter pests, prevent disease, improve flavor, and increase yields in your vegetable garden,” but was a mild disappointment to me. I really liked the short introductory chapters, but got lost trying to use the colored dots to mix and match the strips (three to a page) that represent the central crops, aboveground companions, and belowground companions. Maybe with a little more study I could appreciate it more, but it seemed like too much work. Still it’s a useful directory of plants—and pretty to look at!
Maybe these garden planning books will help you decide to become a year-round gardener—or just a better summer gardener! Good luck!
Monday, Oct. 20, 3:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Blood Pressure Screening at Glenwood Branch. Free, walk-in blood pressure screening and monitoring offered by Howard County General Hospital: a Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. No registration required.
Monday, Oct. 20, 3:30 p.m. Superfoods at Miller. Some foods promote health and longevity better than others. Licensed nutritionist Karen Basinger names these powerhouses and how to best use them. Register online or by calling 410.313.1950.
Tuesday, Oct. 21, 9 to 11:30 a.m. Diabetes Screening & BMI. Free. Held in Howard County General Hospital’s Wellness Center. Meet with an RN for a glucose blood test, BMI measurement and weight management information. Immediate results. Fasting eight hours prior recommended.
Tuesday, Oct. 21, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Choose Your Pediatrician and Promote Your Newborn’s Health. Free. Held in Howard County General Hospital’s Wellness Center. Learn factors to consider and questions to ask when choosing your pediatrician and ways you can promote your newborn’s health. Presented by Dana Wollney, M.D.
Thursday, Oct. 23, 7 to 9 p.m. Get Moving Again: Total Joint Replacement. Held in Howard County General Hospital’s Wellness Center. Free. Learn about total hip and knee surgery from health care professionals, past patients of our Joint Academy and Richard Kinnard, M.D.
Monday, Oct. 27, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Adult, Child and Infant CPR/AED in Howard County General Hospital’s Wellness Center. Cost is $55. This course will teach the skills needed to clear an airway obstruction, perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED).
The crisp cool temperatures, the gradual appearance of colored hues in the vegetation, and the leaves falling one by one in their choreographed descent, are all signs that autumn is officially upon us. In addition, there are your traditional celebratory markers of the season’s arrival, such as hayrides, Halloween stuff everywhere, and (of course) pumpkins galore! There are plenty pumpkin patches ready to be explored, pumpkins being sold for carving and decorating, pumpkin drinks, pumpkin deserts, and pumpkin dishes. Coincidentally, pumpkins begin to ripen in September, which makes them readily available through fall and winter. And though, we primarily associate pumpkins with Fall and Halloween, we should also begin associating them with healthy eating (if we don’t already).
Pumpkins aren’t simply great as porch decorations, or for adding seasonal flavor to your beverage of choice. Pumpkins are vegetables rich in antioxidants and vitamins (particularly vitamin A), and low in calories. On October 5, 2014, the Huffington Post published an article titled 8 Impressive Health Benefits of Pumpkin, which notably mentioned some of the many healthy reasons we should all be incorporating more pumpkin into our diet. The health benefits listed in the article include keeping eyesight sharp, aiding in weight lost, promoting heart health with pumpkin seeds, reducing cancer risk, protecting the skin, boosting one’s mood, post-workout recovery, and boosting the immune system. Each of these benefits may come as no surprise due to the high level of antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E found in pumpkins.
According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute website, antioxidants are “chemicals that block the activity of other chemicals known as free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive and have the potential to cause damage to cells, including damage that may lead to cancer.” While the body does naturally produce internal antioxidants known as endogenous antioxidants, it also relies on external antioxidants known as dietary antioxidants found in the foods we eat.
Balch’s Prescription for Nutritional Healing touts the importance of vitamin A; as one of the types of dietary antioxidants, which promotes eye health, enhances immunity, maintains and repairs epithelial tissue, and protects against colds and infections, guards against heart disease and stroke, and lowers cholesterol levels. And in Nix’s The Functional Foodie we learn that some of the many antioxidant carotenoids found in pumpkins include beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A), beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Balch further explains that carotenoids, a class of phytochemicals, are fat-soluble pigments found in yellow, red, green, and orange vegetable and fruits; they have the ability to act as anticancer agents, decrease the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, and inhibit heart disease. One of the most commonly known carotenoids, beta-carotene, can be converted into vitamin A, and is therefore one of the main sources of dietary vitamin A.
Pumpkins are being sold in many places this time of year, and are plentiful in locally grown pumpkin patches right here in Howard County, such as Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City, and Gorman Farm. So whether you make it to a patch or your grocery store, get yourself a pumpkin and start reaping the health benefits that pumpkins have in store.
Are you guilty of skipping breakfast in the morning? Did you know there is science to support the belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? If you are like me, you answered “yes” to both those questions. Would you say “no” to getting more fiber, calcium, vitamins A and C, riboflavin, zinc, and iron? Would you say “no” to having lower blood cholesterol levels, better digestive health, and to helping your body regulate insulin levels? Of course not! Together we need to say “yes” to eating breakfast every day – and if you have kids, your kids will be more likely to eat breakfast if you do. If you need more compelling reasons to eat breakfast, read this.
Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to make healthy. The next time you are in the grocery store check out the cereal aisle. There are many healthy options. Look for a cereal with more than 5 grams of fiber and less than 5 grams of sugar. Grab a bowl, add some skim milk and fresh fruit, and take just a few minutes to start your day off right.
Howard County Library System has a great collection of cookbooks to help you plan your morning meal. The Mason Jar Soup to Nuts Cookbook by Lonnette Parks is a fun way to get started. In this book you will find recipes for pancakes, waffles, muffins, granola crunch and more. You can make the jar recipes for your family and then make some as gift jars for relatives and friends. The best part is that you can make them ahead of time. I hope this book will inspire you to make your own mason jar creations. You can create your own parfait by layering yogurt, fruit and oats or granola in a mason jar. You can choose any yogurt, but Greek yogurt usually has the most calcium and protein. Oats contain beta-glucan a type of fiber that has been shown to help lower cholesterol when eaten regularly. Add your favorite fresh or frozen fruit. Bananas have a healthy dose of potassium, an electrolyte that helps lower your blood pressure naturally, and bananas will help keep you feeling full longer. Strawberries and blueberries are rich in antioxidants and are lower in calories than many other fruits. You can make these colorful parfait jars in advance, so all you have to do in the morning is grab one and a spoon. If you take your jar to work you will have to beware of co-workers who follow you with spoons!
If you would like something hot for breakfast instead, you can try some of the protein-packed, low-calorie hot breakfast egg mugs recipes in Hungry Girl 300 under 300: Breakfast, lunch & Dinner Dishes under 300 Calories by Lisa Lillien. Some of the recipes to try in this book include the Denver Omellette in a Mug, Eggs Bene-Chick Mug, or the All-American Egg Mug. Most can be ready to eat in ten minutes! These recipes use a liquid egg substitute. Eggs are a healthy source of protein and nutrients like Vitamin D. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people with normal cholesterol, limit cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams per day. You can read more about the AHA dietary guidelines here.
You will also find a chapter (4) on “no-heat-required” morning meals. How about a Double-O- Strawberry Quickie Kiwi Smoothie? You can make this in five minutes with 1 cup frozen strawberries, 1 peeled kiwi, ½ cup fat-free strawberry yogurt, and 1 cup crushed ice. Smoothies are easy to make with little mess. They are great for breakfast on-the-go and are only limited by your imagination and what you have in your refrigerator. For more smoothie ideas try Superfood Smoothies: 100 Delicious, Energizing & Nutrient-Dense Recipes by Julie Morris. Finally, you might want to check out Whole-Grain Mornings: New Breakfast Recipes to Span the Seasons by Megan Gordon for some delicious seasonal recipes.
Are you hungry now? Are you already thinking about what you can have for breakfast tomorrow? If you are like me, you answered “yes” to both of those questions. Breakfast will give us the energy and fuel we need to get through the day. We are ready to make the commitment to break for breakfast!