Today I’ve got what I call a ‘tantrum hangover’.
Little B (age 4) had a rough time yesterday. What started as fun time stomping through the icy snow, turned into a full-blown, 45 minute long tantrum. The topic of the tantrum shifted many times, as it wasn’t really *about* anything, it was just a lot of pent up feelings, and physical discomfort looking for an outlet.
The timing was less than ideal. I had to carry a thrashing, snowsuit-clad kid home through the deep snow, and then do my best to be present with him and accommodate his ever-changing needs…*while* cooking dinner and getting my older son ready for his Dad to pick him up. The rest of the evening was a write-off, and I surrendered and went to sleep with Little B at 7:30pm.
As a result, this it what my kitchen looks like today.
So, I will follow Little B’s lead, and shift gears today. Tonight, we’ll stay home instead of going to a much anticipated event. Well, *I* have been anticipating this event. I didn’t tell the kids about it yet, since I didn’t know yet if the stars would align for us to go…and I didn’t want my sensitive little kiddo to be burdened with guilt that it was ‘his fault’. Because, truly, he has no ‘off switch’ for these tantrums. He feels remorseful afterwards, and has trouble understanding why Mommy is tired and emotional and doesn’t have much energy left to play. But this isn’t his fault.
And so, I am taking a step back today, and trying to reset things. Shifting his vitamin protocol a bit. Removing the gingerbread cookies from sight, so they won’t be so tempting. Scheduling some quiet family time to fill his emotional tank.
And being easy on myself too. Tonight’s dinner will be simple. We’ll lay low tonight, play a boardgame, and watch a Christmas show while cuddled on the couch. I’ll refill *my* tank too, so that I can be prepared if another tantrum is brewing.
And yes, the kitchen might look like this for a couple more days. And that’s okay.
Navigating a child’s food sensitivities can be challenging on a regular day. Bring on a holiday, especially a food-centered holiday like Halloween, and things get even trickier.
As parents, we’re inundated with mostly well-intentioned, but ultimately guilt-inflicting opinions from all sides.
- It’s only one day, just let them eat the candy!
- Just let your kid be a kid!
- A little candy never hurt anyone!
- You’re taking the fun out of Hallowe’en!
- Halloween isn’t supposed to be healthy!
- You’re being too strict!
- You’re making candy a ‘forbidden fruit’ and making him want it even more!
- Everything in moderation!
Of course, we want our kids to have fun and enjoy Halloween (and every other day). But like anything related to food, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution.
So how do we approach Halloween in our house?
My goal *is* for my kids to have fun. And I firmly believe that junk food does not have to be the key source of the fun associated with Halloween.
The kids and I get excited about planning costumes, and the idea of pretending to be someone else for the evening. We do Halloween crafts, and anticipate the amazing decorations in our neighbourhood.
I surprise them with Halloween-themed foods – foods that are fun, *and* also nourish them for the upcoming busy evening and late bedtime.
On this year’s menu:
Monster Smoothies for breakfast: pineapple, mango, kale & coconut smoothies with spooky dollarstore faces on our glasses
Dirt and Worms for after-school snack: coconut avocado pudding with homemade grass-fed gelatin gummy worms
Spooky Tacos for dinner: the orange pepper “jack o’lanterns” held our taco meat and avocado cashew cream.
And leading up to the big day, we have a family meeting about the Trick or Treating plan, so that there are no surprises.
As much as I cringe when I read the ingredient lists of Halloween treats, my older son’s body is resilient enough to handle a few of these foods. I’ve empowered him to read labels, listen to his body, and balance those foods that fuel our bodies with those that are full of junk ingredients. He knows that he feels better when he doesn’t eat gluten and dairy, and knows that everyone should steer clear of foods with bright (fake) colours. And, on Halloween night, he indulges in a handful of his Halloween stash, and then trades the rest in for a toy or a ‘cleaner’ food treat (e.g. a high quality dark chocolate bar). He’s happy with this agreement, as am I.
But things are different for my younger son. For him, the ‘in moderation’ and ‘it’s just a once a year’ theories just don’t fly. If he ate even one of the dairy- or gluten-filled treats, then his eczema would flare up, he would have a sore tummy for days, and he would have a restless nightmare-filled sleep. These foods would damage his sensitive digestive system, ultimately causing poor absorption of nutrients, a weakened immune system, and trouble regulating emotions. If he had something bright-coloured, he would be wired for hours, after which he would have an epic meltdown which wouldn’t end until he was exhausted enough to crash and sleep.
For him, I can’t let him have free reign of choosing treats from his stash. He is prepped in advance that he is welcome to collect lots of candy, but that there would only be a few things that were ‘okay for his body’, and from those, he could choose 2 or 3.
We went out Trick or Treating for an hour and a half. My younger son skipped from house to house, chatted with the neighbours, ooh-ed and aah-ed over the decorations, and generally, had a blast. And when we came home, he carpeted the floor with his treats and joyfully sorted through them all. We chose a bag of plain chips and a juice box, and the rest went away.
There were no tears. He was happy to indulge in these once-in-a-while foods. And if there had been tears, I would have been okay with that. From his perspective, it’s hard being different than most of his peers. If he needed to grieve that he couldn’t open and eat the things in those shiny wrappers, then I would have supported him through that with empathy and a hug. But I know that giving in and letting him eat those foods would have undone all of the healing work that we’ve accomplished, and that is DEFINITELY not worth it.
End result? We had a GREAT Halloween…on *our* terms.
Once our eyes are opened to the effects that food have on the physical, mental, and emotional health of our kids, it’s impossible to put the blinders back on…even if it’s for a once-a-year holiday. Please remember that it’s okay to tune out the unwanted advice, and block the unnecessary guilt. Do what you know is best for *your* family.
And if you need some help figuring out what the best plan-of-attack is for *your* family’s nutrition, I’m happy to help. 🙂
Growing up, our holiday celebrations included many food traditions. Platters of Christmas cookies, a homemade gingerbread village, hot chocolate with marshmallows and a candy cane stir stick. So many great memories…and traditions that I would love to share with my own kids.
But when you have a child with food sensitivities, navigating day-to-day meals is challenging enough. Holidays? Unfortunately, it is easy for some of the joy to be bulldozed by stress and guilt. Sorry, kids, we can’t go to the family gathering because the menu would be too tempting to a carb-loving (and carb-sensitive) 3 year old. Hot chocolate? No Timmie’s drive-through; it has to be made at home, with dairy-free mix and almond milk. The cookie that our friend gave you? Yes, it’s beautiful…and oh-so-tempting. But if you ate it, you’d be sick for days. Social gatherings are chosen carefully, and usually require food to be brought from home.
I’m not sure what nudged me to take a risk last week. I don’t recall if it was a childhood memory that surfaced, a Facebook photo that flashed by, or maybe a display in the grocery store. But the guilt hit: my youngest had never joined in the tradition of making a gingerbread house. Being sensitive to dairy and gluten, the store-bought kits wouldn’t fly. So, breaking our grain-free streak, I bought gluten-free graham crackers. Carefully carving them with a knife, I stuck them together to form a makeshift house with dairy-free icing. I had already planned on using some ‘weird, my-Mom-is-a-Nutritionist’ toppings like raisins and dried cranberries. But the guilt, combined with my love of food, convinced me to buy a few candies as well. Off to the bulk store I went, to get a tiny sampling of some dairy-free treats. There. Now things seemed more traditional, and the guilt was momentarily eased.
The boys had a blast decorating the houses; it was such a joy to watch their faces. Memories and photos? Check.
And then came the aftermath.
Little B had sampled a few of the candies, and munched on one wall of the house. Within a half hour, complete chaos hit our house. He was spinning in circles, fidgeting non-stop. Talking so quickly that he was interrupting himself, often with pure nonsense, rather than words. He would be happily laughing and singing one minute; the next he was lying on the floor in a full-blown tantrum. This continued until he finally collapsed into a restless sleep, an hour later than his usual bedtime.
And…food dyes are now added to the list of forbidden foods.
It broke my heart to see him reacting so strongly like that. And my heart broke again the next day when he repeatedly asked why he couldn’t have any more of his beloved gingerbread house (which, by then, had been tucked out of sight in the compost bin).
Cancelling get-togethers, avoiding restaurants, spending a small fortune on speciality flours and ingredients, and altering family food traditions. I admit, it can be easy to get stuck in a “woe is me” cycle. It is very easy to feel overwhelmed and isolated.
Knowing that these emotions will easily fester if I let them, I remind myself to breathe and release the self-pity, guilt, and frustration. To look at my son’s sweet face and remind myself why I go to this extra effort.
Time to brainstorm a *new* family tradition. A creation made from fruit? A hand-painted cardboard gingerbread house big enough to play in? I’m not sure yet exactly what next year’s celebrations will entail. But I do know that with some extra effort, a little creativity, and lots of love…we can create a family celebration that allows *all* of us to focus on the joy of the season. Do I miss all of the treats? Honestly, yes. And, I also know that, even for this foodie, a smile on my (healthy, pain-free) child’s face is much more delicious than any edible treat.
Happy Holidays, everyone.