Pumpkins, bright red leaves on trees, scarecrows, and Halloween costumes – all are certain signs of autumn. For parents it is a time of too many holidays approaching. But for children, October means Halloween. The stores are filled with costumes, masks, and candy, more candy, and even more candy.
In wondering how children on the ketogenic diet can enjoy Halloween to its fullest, we asked Beth Zupec-Kania of The Charlie Foundation (http://www.charliefoundation.org/) for suggestions. She referred us to two parents – one found that despite “no eating candy” on Halloween, their child has developed the art of friendship. The other parent said that their child has learned the spirit of giving.
Eric Kossoff, MD, editor of The Ketogenic Diet News , also commented about ways to keep children sugar free for Halloween.
Here are their stories.
Haunted Houses and Friendship
Leslie Moccia told us this story about how her son enjoys Halloween.
Where we live in San Antonio, Texas, the children are not able to trick-or-treat because there are no street lights and the houses are too far apart to walk door to door safely. But when Zach was younger and we lived on the Air Force base in Edwards, California we did a lot of trick-or-treating on the keto diet. Zach is now 18 years old and has been on the diet twice -- once from age 5-9 and then we restarted it when he became a teen.
When we lived on the Air Force base, most of the neighbors all knew Zach and they would make sure they had something other than candy for him. So when we went off our street he loved to get the candy. Then he would come home and put it all into a big bowl to give back out to children that came to our door.
He also went trick-or-treating for epilepsy and donated the money to our local Epilepsy Foundation chapter. We never really focus on food at holidays as we try to focus instead on the holiday itself.
Now that Zach is older and on the diet, he really does not want to trick-or-treat any more. Now we look for the Haunted Houses to go to and Zach takes along a friend, or we get a group together and go out to celebrate at the Haunted House. He is happy to spend some fun time with his friends and enjoys eating out with the group.
Halloween and the Spirit of Giving
Joan Parent tells us this story about Justin, who is 7 years old and has been on the ketogenic diet for 6 years.
Halloween is a celebration for Justin. We make a big deal of all of the aspects of Halloween. Just as with all of the other candy-filled holidays or celebrations, Justin is able to see, touch and receive all the candy or treats available to the other children.
But in our household there is one big difference -- where and when he gains the pleasure from the treats. Most children gather candy to take home and eat, devouring each morsel and gaining the greatest pleasure in the world from the experience.
On the other hand, Justin’s pleasure is in the receiving of the treat, checking out what it looks like, smelling it, then passing it out to folks around him.
He brings candy treats home for his sister. Even his bag of goodies that he received from a special event he gave out at school to his classmates. I hope that the joy of giving continues.
We do let Justin have ketogenic snack treats. He likes them and seems to be pleased when his ketones are high. Thank the Lord.
Justin gets pencils and other small trinkets from the teachers. I let him go to lots of houses when trick-or-treating. The fun is being out there with the other kids and seeing all the decorations and enjoying the festivities of the day.
From a Physician’s Perspective
According to Dr. Kossoff, “Children on the ketogenic or modified ketogenic diet must significantly restrict carbohydrates. Chocolate bars and other candy given out at Halloween are about as pure a carbohydrate as you can buy.” Dr. Kossoff is a pediatric epileptologist and the Medical Director of the Ketogenic Diet Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland.
He said, “Many ketogenic diet centers will have special Halloween parties at the hospital or an outside location as it can be difficult for children. Also, many of our families at Johns Hopkins on both diets will make their own treats (keto-friendly) at home.”
He also encourages parents to have non-food items as treats available at home such as games, toys, and money, thus taking food out of the fun factor equation. “It’s always nice to start new Halloween family traditions, such as dressing up, watching scary movies as a family, and going to farms for pumpkin picking and hay rides. Eating sweets doesn’t have to be part of any of those activities.”
More Alternative Ways to Enjoy Halloween
Mask decoration party -- Have a Halloween party at your home and let children decorate masks with as many fanciful items as you can find. Children are creative if you supply them with paper, glue, curly macaroni, feathers, buttons, stickers, ribbons, and crayons.
Family Film Party – Create a party around a theme and rent movies that your children will enjoy. If it is Casper the Friendly Ghost, let the children turn your family room into a haunted house. Find props and costumes that will give the evening a special flair.
Gifts for a Neighbor-in-Need Party – Just as people have toy collections at Christmas, you can create the spirit at Halloween and bring other families treats – the sick or the elderly always welcome thoughtfulness. The children can collect toys, gifts, or even Halloween candy in advance. Then that afternoon, have them celebrate “treating” by putting together baskets and decorations for a neighbor in need of a cheerful, friendly face.
Wishing you and your family, a safe day filled with happy memories, the best of all treats.
Edited by Steven C Schachter, MD