Tag Archives: sugar free kids

The Halloween Switch-a-roo

It never ceases to amaze me how utterly maddening the search for Sugar Awareness can be. Just when you think you’ve found her, she dodges away licking a lollipop and singing “Got-cha!!”

I’ll give you a for instance. As we all know, Americans just experienced one of the most unabashed displays of sugar worship known to our calendar: Halloween. As I’ve mentioned before, despite the sugar onslaught I do love Halloween. In our house we devote an inordinate amount of time to Costume Development… for example my older daughter Greta decided to go as a medieval princess character from a favorite movie. Consequently a large portion of my October was spent communing with yards and yards of burgundy velveteen while Greta patiently sewed imitation pearls to the bodice, one… by… one.

30 Pounds of Fructose
30 Pounds of Fructose

Ilsa, meanwhile, announced early on that she wanted to go as “a pair of pants” with her good friend Brett; they would each be one leg of course. Therefore, when I wasn’t up to my eyeballs in gold brocade and eyelets, I was hemming an enormous wad of elastic into a pair of polka dotted trousers that would have fit Andre the Giant.

This is the fun part. The candy part, however, presents problems that can’t be solved by embroidery and clown shoes. Thus, about a week prior to the holiday, I was delighted to receive a flyer in Ilsa’s backpack advertising a “Candy Buy-Back and Fall Festival” at a nearby dentist’s office.

YES! I’d heard about Halloween candy buy-backs before and was soooooo curious: would anyone actually go? Would it be a dreary, grey event, kids lining up to reluctantly part with their hard-earned fructose and food coloring, before taking an oh-so-exciting tour of the dentistry facilities? How could you actually make getting rid of candy… fun?

Well, unfortunately, I’m here to tell you how: you give them more candy.

But let me back up. My friend Robin and I arrived with our corresponding kidlets to what looked surprisingly like a fun event: there were kids everywhere and loud, weird music playing (the theme from “Grease” was blasting from the DJ’s console when we arrived). There was a variety of low-tech games and activities such as a ring toss, mini-bowling and a spin art booth. At a craft table kids were coloring pictures of pumpkins and weaving friendship bracelets from embroidery floss. There was a booth for face-paint and temporary tattoos and every twenty minutes or so they’d announce a door prize, which varied from an iTunes gift card to a new haircut.

It was surprisingly festive. I was totally impressed. It was a beautiful fall day (unlike Halloween- upon which it rained) and it was working. Kids were showing up, turning in pounds of candy, and they were clearly having fun.

My eight year old was determined to do it ALL- Ilsa hit every table and played every game. When it was all over she left with face paint AND a tattoo AND a colored paper pumpkin AND a spin art masterpiece. The only thing she didn’t leave with was less candy.

In part that’s because of the truth of that old saying about bringing a horse to water. After explaining the principles of the Candy Buy Back to Ilsa the night before (one dollar for every pound), and weighing her candy (which amounted to juuuuuuuuust over one pound), she was of the considered opinion that it “just wasn’t worth it.”

I didn’t blame her. Because of the rain we had come home with substantially less candy that other years, and I certainly wasn’t expecting to talk her out of her entire haul… But because the buy-back candy was being donated to make care packages for U.S. military  (I had a lot of ambivalence on that count as well- couldn’t we just send them a nice brisket, maybe?) I did manage to talk Ilsa into cheering some nice soldier somewhere with a single, solitary piece of candy. She picked a Dum Dum lollipop.

Do you know how small a Dum Dum is? It is pretty much the smallest piece of candy you can possibly find that isn’t a breath mint. So if you’ve ever supposed that going an entire year without sugar would henceforth transform one’s kids into sugar-shunning tofu-heads, let me correct your misapprehension.

(For our part, at home, we’ve instituted a two-piece-per week rule. At that rate I figure they’ll finish off their candy bags just in time to start buying candy with their social security money.)

Meanwhile Ilsa’s friend Brett- who has an allergy to nuts and consequently couldn’t have most of his Halloween candy anyway- turned in his pound and got a nice crisp dollar bill in return, as well as a dentist’s idea of a goody bag: toothbrush, flossers, and a two-minute timer.

Replacement Fructose!
Replacement Fructose!

But something was amiss… what was it? It took me a minute, but then I put my finger on it: grown-ups were wandering around eating enormous sugary donuts on paper plates. Robin directed my attention to the refreshment table by the DJ where electric-colored cupcakes, gigantic pastries, and gallons of apple cider rested: a sugar buffet of the highest order.

And then we noticed the prizes for the cute kids games: can you guess? Lollipops. In fact, all the kid games were being run by other kids, so whether you won or not they were pretty anxious to give all-comers a prize. Upshot: Ilsa donated to the soldiers one lollipop; by the end of the event she had accumulated five or six new ones.

Now I should qualify this by pointing out that, unlike the refreshment table, the lollipops being handed out did not contain fructose. They were clearly labeled as being sweetened with Xylitol, which is a ”tooth friendly” sugar alcohol. I’m not a fan of sugar alcohols because they have been known, to varying degrees, to cause gassiness and other gastric distress. But beyond that I’m just… skeptical. As No Sugar proponent and author David Gillespie rightly points out, after over a hundred years of ever-increasing sugar consumption, we’re only now just figuring out the health costs of fructose, so who knows what eventual side effects may be the result of such recent lab-borne ingredients as sugar alcohols?

But you know, we had a fun afternoon. Ilsa came away sad not to have won a door prize, but delighted to have a ghost popping out of a pumpkin painted on her cheek. When we first arrived the volunteers informed us they had already collected 27 pounds of candy, and by the time it was all over they said they had lost count. So for the low-low price of perhaps- what?- thirty-five dollars maybe, this dentists’ office had removed untold amounts of fructose from the diets of the kids running around. It’s actually a pretty noble thing, especially when you consider that, among many other things, more fructose= more business for dentists.

But then there’s that big, problematic refreshment table. I’m not suggesting they serve brussels sprouts and marinated kale mind you, but could they have had cheese and crackers and a big bowl of apples from a nearly orchard, maybe? Some of those cute little mini bottles of water? How hard would that be?

Not as hard as figuring out how to send a brisket to the troops, anyway, I can tell you that.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 88

Let me tell you- this whole Christmas in a No Sugar household business? It is not for the faint of heart.

But before I begin, I’d just like to issue a formal declaration to all friends and family members: you may not, repeat NOT use the following information as ammunition to forward your argument that I am off my gourd and have been for the last, oh, say, eleven months or so. If you are helpfully wondering if I would like to talk about this, the answer is no. If you make the ill-advised decision to taunt me with quotes from this essay, I promise to sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” loudly until you cease and desist. Listening to me sing, as many of you already know, does not promise to be a very pleasant experience. You have been warned.

But… the holidays are coming– and I mean this in the most ominous way possible. Sometimes, it feels like we’ve been in training for the month of December this entire year. Christmas– the mother of all sugar holidays, the most fructose-laden of them all: more than Thanksgiving, which is a limited, one-day-only gluttony, more than Halloween, which focuses almost exclusively on the kids, more than birthdays and Easter and Valentine’s Day combined… As the dozens of mail-order catalogs arriving at our house every day clearly confirm, Christmas, for many of us, is about celebrating the birth of Jesus through a month-long marathon of sweets, treats, cookies and cake.

Greta's Journal

But that’s not what bothers me. What bothers me is the dread that my children are already expressing at the prospect of facing a sweet-restricted Christmas. Sure, we’ve discussed that Christmas itself will be the day we have our “special dessert” for the month, and that otherwise we can use dextrose to make versions of our favorite traditional treats… but on this account my daughter Greta refuses all attempts at consolation.

“Oh help me… I feel so helpless like I have know will or say in anything,” she wrote in her journal tonight. “Like my mom’s & Dad’s say & will com(e)s first and overpowers mine.”


Her entry goes on to lay the blame for her situation on David Gillespie, the author of Sweet Poison, from whom I’ve derived so much inspiration. (Sorry David!) As we were getting ready for bed I tried telling her that Mr. Gillespie is actually a very nice man, and remind her that he has six children of his own who also avoid fructose, including one daughter just her age. But Greta isn’t having any of it.

“I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!” she explodes, pounding her fists on her mattress. Her eyes are shining with tears.

Now, you may not be aware of this, but my eleven year old has a bit of a flair for the dramatic. (Perhaps it’s our retribution for naming her Greta- as in Garbo.) But, believe it or not, this is by far the most displeasure she has expressed with our No Sugar Year to date, and I have to admit I was a bit taken aback. Of course, I hate the idea that “my” project is causing them angst, sadness, ridicule at school… but I knew there had to be that side of it, didn’t I? Didn’t I?

While Greta’s outburst worries me, Ilsa worries me more. Ilsa is six. The other day we were buying sandwiches at a local shop when she reached out her hand curiously to touch a bowl of something on the countertop near the coffee carafes. When Greta suddenly warned her “That’s sugar!”, she actually flinched.

Then tonight, as she was using a magazine for a craft project, she showed me an ad for Haagen Daz ice cream. “Mama, I’m glad we’re not keeping this.” she said. “It hurts me.”

Oh. Shit.

Really, honey?” I stopped what I was doing and looked at her closely.

“Yeah.” She looked at me a little seriously, a little incredulously, as if to say, What, you didn’t know?

SO it’s been a busy night around here tonight! (What with me color coding my Mildred Pierce coat hanger collection and everything…) Directly following the “I hate it” episode, I took a de-e-e-e-e-p breath and asked both girls to look at me from where they sat, half-tucked into their comforters in their parallel beds, each with it’s own sizable coral reef of stuffed-animal life-forms.

“Listen. I want you to know. I know this year has been really, really hard. And I want you to know how much I appreciate the fact that you’ve gone along and done this project with me all year long. And it’s almost over- the really strict part. It’s almost over.” I feel like a broken record, even though I mean it. Is there really nothing I can do to assuage this sadness/anger/pain I have willingly invoked in them? Will words- in which I put such complete faith- really fail me?

Suddenly, as if on cue, Greta raises her index finger in the air, in a dramatic professor “Aha!” pose.

“My First Biography!” she declares with an impish grin that has- at least for the moment- erased her tears. “My Terrible Childhood!”

I smile. Now, that’s more like it.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 84

If you had asked me to define “Game Supper” before I moved to Vermont 14 years ago, I probably would’ve guessed a potluck involving Scrabble, or possibly Bridge. Not only was I a “city mouse,” but I had been a devoted vegetarian for over a decade. To me, “game” meant only one thing: Monopoly.

I can imagine how horrified that version of me would’ve been- the me who insisted that our sit-down wedding dinner for one hundred consist entirely of vegetables and fish- to encounter the amazing annual phenomenon that is the local Game Supper.

Lucky for me, I’m a carnivore now. These days our whole family looks forward to enjoying the spoils of the hunt even though we didn’t get up at the crack of dawn to go sit in a cold tree stand sprinkled with deer urine for several hours. Then again, who knows? At the rate we’re going, maybe in another ten years we’ll be doing that too.

Pawlet Game Supper

Every November (read: deer season) each town around here has their own Game Supper benefitting deserving local causes such as the volunteer fire department and the sixth grade annual field trip to Boston. We’ve been to the Pawlet Game Supper for the last few years and the menu is reliable: Moose Meatballs (the whole reason to go), Bear Steak (to say you’ve had it), Chicken and Biscuits (for the very squeamish,) and Venison, Venison, Venison. Venison Stew, Venison Steak, Venison Sausage, and if you’re in luck maybe Gib made his famous Venison Salami- only one piece per customer please, supplies are limited.

Of course there are sides- mashed potatoes and squash- if you have any room left on your plate, which you won’t. Salads, rolls and paper plates filled with cocktail-sized blocks of Vermont cheddar wait on the tables once you’re done running the buffet line. And if you’re still hungry- which you won’t be- and still eating sugar, there’s always the football-field sized dessert table, with slices of apple, lemon merengue and chocolate pie making kids drool from all the way over by the fire exit sign.

But the word on the street was that “Rupert’s Game Supper is better.” So this year it was time to check that one out too. Which is how I came to try beaver. It’s also how I came to spit beaver out into my napkin .0395 seconds later.

Rupert Game Supper

If anyone ever asks you to define what “gamey” tastes like, you should send them to try a nice dish of beaver. One friend remarked that eating beaver is like “eating an oil slick” and I have to say I couldn’t agree more. But I tried it.

Rupert: Ze Menu

Another key difference between Pawlet and Rupert’s suppers is that they wear funny hats at the Rupert Game Supper- antler headbands, chicken hats, sombreros- you name it. Nobody I asked knew why.

This year, however, I had a whole new appreciation for our Game Suppers as the one local event we could attend with confidence in our Year of No Sugar. The distinctions were crystal clear, with one or two exceptions: the meat was on one side of the room, and the sugar was on the other. After all the back handsprings we’ve done to ferret out fructose this year, the clarity of this division was quite comforting.

Which returns me to an increasingly familiar refrain: the idea of going back in time a bit in order to avoid the health impacts our over-processed, over-convenient lifestyle has bestowed upon us. There is a point at which all these hippy-dippy themes- no sugar, no plastics, no pesticides, eat local- start to converge; suddenly we begin to see what it is we’re driving at- what great-grandma used to cook. And much of it looked a lot like the Game Supper.

Although I’m pretty sure Great-Grandma never wore a funny hat.