The colors, smells, and cooling temperatures make autumn awesome – but let’s not forget the food! Fall offers seasonal favorites like pumpkin, apples, squash, and all things cinnamon. And with the Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays, there’s no shortage of sweets.
Many of these tempting treats are high in sugar and heavily processed, which only makes us want to reach for more. This time of year, it can be hard for not just adults but also kids to keep healthy eating a priority. But with a sprinkle of creativity and a dash of planning, you can make traditional autumn foods and treats healthy for the whole family.
Take advantage of seasonal produce
There’s a reason it’s called the harvest season. Fall is overflowing with delicious and nutritious seasonal produce. As the days grow colder, it’s easy to grab quick, less healthy (but oh-so-comforting) snacks. Utilizing fruits and vegetables that are abundant this time of year is a great way to incorporate more nutrients into your kids’ meals, too.
Using apples to make homemade applesauce is easier than it sounds and an activity the whole family can be involved in. Slicing apples and topping them with nut butter, granola, or nuts and seeds yields another healthy snack that you can get the whole family involved in making their own. This apple crisp is made with real, whole ingredients; sweetened naturally, with maple syrup; and all tied up with some delightful homemade dairy-free caramel.
These cruciferous veggies have gotten a bad rap, most likely because we were served them steamed as kids, but they’re packed full of nutrients and are delicious when prepared the right way. The most popular method is to roast and then drizzle them with olive oil or balsamic vinegar. You can also shred these green gems into a salad with tahini and roasted squash, another fall favorite.
Our list would not be complete without this autumn staple. But the iconic pumpkin spice latte isn’t the only way to enjoy pumpkin this season. Pumpkin is full of fiber and powerful antioxidants and is perfect whisked into overnight oats, mixed into waffles, or made into this hearty pumpkin soup.
Sweet potatoes have the ability to be included in both sweet and salty recipes. You probably know them best as the iconic American Thanksgiving side dish, topped with brown sugar and miniature marshmallows. Simply skip the sugar and marshmallows and bake the potatoes, for the healthier version of this dish. They’re also perfect in these healthier brownies, and they mix well into a warm bowl of sweet potato chili.
Healthier Halloween treats to make at home
Just because a dish is labeled a “treat” doesn’t mean it needs to be full of sugar. Sugar often is added to processed, packaged foods and drinks that kids love but aren’t the best for them. The good news is that added sugar is becoming easier to spot on nutrition labels. You can avoid these added (and sometimes hidden) sugars by making your own goodies at home. This gets the kiddos involved in the kitchen, too!
Here are some ideas for you to try:
S’mores Stack (Recipe) ‒ Use dairy-free or dark chocolate and dye-free marshmallows, if you like. Skip the caramel and use ½ of a marshmallow on each side of the chocolate to make it stick.
Mandarin Oranges-Turned-Pumpkins (Recipe) ‒ A Pinterest favorite, these little gourds are too cute to pass up.
Dairy-Free Caramel Apples (Recipe) ‒ A fall festival favorite, you can make them at home with ease.
Pumpkin Spice Dip (Recipe) ‒ This is a great seasonal way to mix up your traditional dip.
Not-so-spooky swaps for healthier trick-or-treating
If you’re looking for healthier Halloween options, there’s no crime in not giving out candy! Don’t feel obligated to do candy at parties or even for trick-or-treating. Not sure what to have or give out? Play-Doh, pencils, glow sticks, mini erasers, and even natural-juice boxes make great swaps.
For those who believe that Halloween does not happen without candy (no judgment!), there are tips and tricks to choosing healthier options.
- Avoid candy with food dyes. Instead, opt for those with natural dyes and that may have some vitamin C included.
- Opt for dark chocolate over the alternatives; milk- and white-chocolate products often have more sugar. Plus dark chocolate has antioxidants that support heart health!
- Steer clear of sugar alcohols or funky sugar alternatives like high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, and ethyl maltol. These can often cause digestive upset if eaten in large quantities, especially sugar alcohols.
Brands like Alter Eco, YumEarth, Endangered Species, and Surf Sweets offer great alternatives to hand out to trick-or-treaters.*
Treat yourself to better health
Fall flavors provide comfort, filling our souls as well as our bellies. We call this functional food, foods that have not only nutritional benefits but also mental and emotional benefits. These foods can help you crowd out some of the unhealthy options you may be tempted to partake in, meaning that you’ll be eating more of the healthful stuff and less of the not-so-healthful stuff.
Don’t forget ‒ it is possible to have a healthy autumn, even with the start of the holiday season, and it’s all about listening to your body and finding what feeds you in all areas of life. This is IIN’s core concept of primary food, and the Circle of Life exercise is a great way to check in and see how balanced you are in these areas.
*The Institute for Integrative Nutrition is not affiliated with and does not receive compensation for mentioning these brands.