Sugar Overload! Strategies for a More Healthful Halloween by Jill West

When October rolls around, I think of shorter days, pumpkin bread and Halloween, which marks the beginning of sugar overload all the way to January. It is a challenging time for parents who have worked diligently to provide healthy meals and don’t want their efforts wiped out by a barrage of unhealthy choices promoted by advertising, school parties and junk food.
The good news is there are many foods to offer as snacks, to share at school parties and to hand out to trick-or- treaters that are festive and healthy. Some of my favorites are Ghost Bananas, Fruit-Cup Pumpkins, Mandarin-Orange Pumpkins, Ghost Hard-Boiled Eggs. These snacks are simple to make and work great at home, in lunch bags and for school parties.

Ghost Bananas:Cut bananas in half. Place dried currants, raisins or chocolate chips at the pointed end of each banana for eyes and a mouth. Place a dollop of peanut butter (or cream cheese for those with nut allergies) on the flat portion of the banana and stick upright on a plate. Kids will think these are great fun.
Fruit-Cup Pumpkins: With a black Sharpie, draw a jack-o-lantern face on the clear plastic cover of a fruit cup filled with peaches or mandarin oranges. Add it to your child’s lunch for a fun surprise.

Mandarin-Orange Pumpkins: Peel a mandarin orange or a Clementine, and place a piece of cucumber or celery in the center to make a pumpkin. If serving the orange unpeeled, draw a jack-o-lantern face on the peel and add to your child’s lunch. It’s sure to bring a smile when she opens her lunch bag.

Ghost Eggs: Place eggs in a pot and full with water two inches above the eggs. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat, cover eggs and let eggs cook for 13 minutes. Drain and immerse in ice water for about 10 minutes or until cool. Peel shell, add chocolate chips for eyes and mouth and serve.

Tips for the Big Night

Fill Up First: Despite the rush and excitement of Halloween night, be sure to serve a healthy dinner, including making half of the plate fruits and vegetables, along with lean protein and whole grains. A full stomach helps decrease the the temptation to eat candy while trick or treating.

Your Candy Game Plan: Before trick-or-treating, talk with your child about the plan for the candy loot. Setting expectations about how much candy is reasonable to eat on Halloween night and establishing what you will do with leftovers is very important for minimizing battles and provides an opportunity to talk about healthy eating habits and moderation. Some Game Plan examples include:

Ask your child to wait to eat candy until she gets home. This strategy minimizes distracted eating, encourages your child to focus on the fun of trick-or-treating and allows you to monitor how much is eaten and a good stopping point.

Have your child choose favorite pieces that he will eat gradually over the next week, and remove the remaining candy. Some parents refer to this as a “keep pile” and a “giveaway pile.” Some options for dealing with surplus candy are to freeze it, take it to work, throw it away, trade it in at a local dentist, donate it to the military, save it for a party pinata or a combination of those.

Establish a “number of pieces” of candy that will be allowed each day. If you have caregivers other than yourself, it is important to communicate this game plan with them for consistency and a successful plan. My recommendation is not more than two or three pieces per day, depending on the size of the candy. For example, on after lunch and one or two after dinner for up to a week. Frequently, the novelty has worn off by then, making it easier to remove any remaining candy.

Put the candy stash out of reach and out of sight. This works well for younger children, as they frequently will forget about the candy after a few days.

Offer Non-Candy Alternatives: When the trick-or-treaters ring your doorbell, offer them healthy alternatives. For example, pretzels, popcorn, trail mix, coins, pencils, erasers, temporary tattoos, and stickers are popular options that some children will choose over candy when offered. By having both candy and non-candy options available, it allows kids with food allergies, celiac disease and type 1 diabetes to choose a favorite that works for them.

Be a Roll Model: Eat Halloween candy in moderation yourself. To help avoid temptation, buy your candy at the last minute, buy small portions and remove leftovers. Remind yourself and your child to pay attention to the amount of candy eaten and to stop before feeling full or sick.

Halloween is only one day, but the treats can extend into several weeks when unmonitored. If your child eats healthy most of the time, then eating candy on Halloween night won’t be a problem. The key is establishing moderation for the days following the fun-filled night.

February and March Round Up

The last two months have been busy ones at Grace! At the beginning of February, we greeted the groundhog … learning about Punxsutawney Phil, making groundhog stick puppets, and then going outside on the sport court to trace our shadows.

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Shortly thereafter, we celebrated Valentine’s Day with our friends! The children enjoyed distributing Valentines to the “mailbags” for their classmates and teachers. We also studied the Lunar New Year. The children learned about different traditions associated with the holiday; artwork emphasized the importance of the color red, with lots of dragon faces on display! The celebration culminated in a class parade around the courtyard. The children took turns in the dragon costume, and noisemakers were distributed and used with enthusiasm. The teachers even put out bubble wrap for the students to stomp on, to simulate firecrackers.

Finally, the month of February culminated in the 26th annual Pancake Breakfast fundraiser. This is always a fun event, and this year was no different. Throughout the course of the morning, as families arrived for their volunteer shifts, it was amazing to watch the children’s eyes light up as they entered the Oak Room, which had been transformed (over the course of the two evenings prior, and with the help of all the families at the preschool) into a celebration of all things “Up in the Air.” The themed artwork completed by the preschoolers over the preceding month covered just about every square inch of the walls, and you could see the kids scanning the room for their masterpieces and excitedly pointing them out to friends and relatives once they’d been spotted! The food was delicious (as always), the weather cooperated, and the community turnout was wonderful.

As we entered the month of March, the unit of study shifted to “growing things.” Children planted wheatgrass and vegetables, carefully watering and checking them each day they came to school. The joy that lit up their faces when the first shoots emerged from the soil was palpable! They will continue to track the growth in the upcoming weeks. Two other popular Grace traditions were celebrated this month — Saturday School and Pajama Day. Saturday School is a chance for the non-cooping parent to experience a typical school day, but at a time more convenient to those with Monday-Friday, 9-5 work schedules. The children were so proud to spend a Saturday morning showing their “other” (read: not the usual co-oper) parent around the school. Pajama Day was also a success — what’s not to like about coming to school in cozy pajamas?

After a week-long Spring Break, April is underway, and classes will resume. It will be exciting to see what the last two months of school have in store!

January Round Up

With the new year in full swing, some quick reflections on our January activities ….

This month the children studied space — always a popular unit, and this time was no exception! Our space shuttle backdrop made an appearance, the astronaut suits and backpacks were ready for wear, and the classroom came alive with planetary decorations. The children made comets out of tennis balls and cut up cloth, planetary collages made of found objects (such as pen caps, old glue stick tubes, and rocks) and LOTS of glitter paint, and rockets from toilet paper tubes and colored paper. They studied constellations and made their own patterns of stars, and crafted “telescopes” for viewing objects in the classroom. Music with Ms. Lavenia complemented this experience, as the children sang old favorites such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” as well as new ones like our planet song:

Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars,

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune,

And little Pluto, now demoted —

That’s our solar system!

Our older classes have also begun bringing items for “Letter of the Week.” It’s always fun to see the items that each child chooses — for instance, our “s” items ranged from a can of soup to a stingray to Superman!

As we charge ahead into February, anticipation is building for our annual Pancake Breakfast fundraiser. Art projects are underway, and our children are looking forward to seeing their decorations hanging in the Oak Room. This year’s theme is “Up in the Air,” so it will be another great one! Mark your calendars for February 28th from 8-11:30 a.m., and be sure to bring your appetites!


November and December Round Up

As we emerge from the holiday season, it’s time to take a quick look back at the last few months of school! In November our students studied woodland homes. We talked about all kinds of creatures who make their homes in or around trees. The children had fun creating their own woodland homes (out of painted paper bags) and decorating pictures of the animals who live there. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, we also talked about gratitude and the sorts of things each child is grateful for. These ranged from “toys” and “my Frozen stuff” to “Family Feast” and “having pumpkin pie” to “macaroni and cheese” and “the cars on my pajama dresser”! November culminated in our Family Feasts, where each class holds a potluck lunch outside the classroom in the courtyard. Parents and extended family members are invited to attend, and each family brings a dish to share that is somehow meaningful to that family. This can range from mac and cheese (a.k.a. “this dish is the only thing my child will eat”) to “Grandma’s pumpkin pie” to homemade lumpia and … well, the sky is pretty much the limit! The children also made festive decorations beforehand that were displayed on the tables, including handprint turkeys that showcase just how tiny our preschoolers’ hands can be. The feasts were a wonderful way to ease into the Thanksgiving break, surrounded by friends and family in the Grace community!

November and December both brought cooler weather and lots (and lots — and lots) of rain, so there were ample opportunities to ride scooters, bikes, and trikes on the sport court. It is so much fun to watch the children gain confidence on the equipment and go speeding around the traffic signs with their friends. In December, we also studied holiday traditions for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. The classes held a food drive benefiting the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano and collected 117 pounds of food for area families. The children sang carols for the seniors at Tice Oaks, and it was wonderful to see children and families from all four of our classes attending this event! Finally, we welcomed the winter holidays with a visit from Santa!

Upcoming events include Saturday school (a chance for the non-cooping parent to participate in the cooperative experience at a time that fits better with the traditional Monday-Friday work week) and, of course, our annual Pancake Breakfast fundraiser. Stay tuned for more exciting events at Grace Preschool!

Grace parent featured on the Discovery Channel!


We are excited to announce that one of our Grace Co-op parents, Jungle James, will be featured on the Discovery Channel this Sunday at 9:00pm (check your local listings).  He is hosting a special segment highlighting the differences between Pythons and Anacondas during the Discovery Mega Week presentation of Eaten Alive (featuring a man’s quest to be swallowed by an Anaconda). Not sure how toddler-friendly “Eaten Alive” will be, so parental supervision is definitely recommended should you choose to watch it, but the Jungle James segment is safe and educational for the young ones! Also, for more Jungle James animal entertainment, be sure to tune in to to the Jungle James Adventure YouTube channel and check out their awesome series on reptiles of the Southwest.
And don’t forget:  on January 9, 2015 at 6:30 p.m, Grace will be hosting a special fundraising performance by Jungle James featuring insects, amphibians, reptiles, and possibly even some of the pythons featured on his Discovery Channel show.  Tickets are still available for $20.  Grace students, family, friends, and alumni are all welcome.



October Round Up

October has been a busy month at Grace Preschool! We have been studying oceans in preparation for our school’s trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The children had great fun making ocean-themed paintings, building hermit crab collages out of found objects, and studying all sorts of different sea life — from kelp to starfish to sharks and whales. In music, in keeping with the ocean theme, they sang along to such classics as “Slippery Fish” and “Baby Beluga.” The aquarium trip itself was great fun — the children were so excited to see their school friends in a different context! The interactive exhibits were amazing, and of course no trip to the aquarium would be complete without standing under the wave wall and watching the waves crash down around you!

October also brought Pumpkin Day, an annual Grace tradition where families spend a Saturday  morning at school carving pumpkins, decorating cookies, and enjoying time together on the playground. The morning culminates with an “awards” ceremony of sorts — each child is given a ribbon recognizing some distinctive feature of his/her pumpkin (in the past, our family has “won” for having a pumpkin with the “toothiest grin,” and this year it was for the “smallest nose”!). Pumpkin Day is a fun way to connect with other Grace families outside the typical school day (and it’s a great opportunity for interaction with families who have children in other classes).

We ended October with another Grace tradition — the Halloween parade. Children brought their costumes to school and, during the last 30 minutes of class, donned costumes and paraded through the school courtyard. The children enjoyed seeing their friends and family members cheering and waving as they marched by. The younger classes ended their day singing fall-themed songs with Ms. Lavenia (“Roll Those Pumpkins Down to Town” is a perennial favorite), while the M-Th class enjoyed classroom crafts.

As we move into November, the children will be studying woodland homes. In the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday, they’ll also be discussing gratitude and participating in a canned food drive benefiting a local food shelter. November concludes with our family feasts, where families and friends are invited to the school to share a potluck meal and enjoy the Grace community. It’ll be another exciting month at Grace Preschool!


Welcome Back Picnic!

Let’s welcome in the school year with a fun-filled picnic! We’ll be having our annual Welcome Back Picnic at Rudgear Park on September 21 from 4-7 p.m. It’ll be a great opportunity for the kids to get to know their new friends and catch up with those they missed over the summer!

Families are asked to bring an appetizer, salad, or dessert to share. Please pack your own main course (if desired) and plates/cutlery. If your family wants to grill there, we’ll provide charcoal as well as water and lemonade. Reminders/sign-ups will be sent out closer to the picnic. In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding the picnic, please contact your class VP. Look forward to seeing you there!

Twilight Parade this Saturday

Mark your calendars for Saturday, September 13th!

That’s when Grace Preschool will be marching in the annual Walnut Festival Twilight Parade, which runs along Main Street through downtown Walnut Creek (from Mt. Diablo Boulevard to Civic Drive). This is our first big event of the school year, and it is always a lot of fun! All family members are welcome to participate as we march down Main Street together, displaying our school spirit and civic pride.

The parade route itself is very walkable (about six blocks long), though you will likely want to bring strollers or wagons for your littler ones — and even scooters for your bigger ones! In fact, we highly encourage it — and if you’d like to decorate those wagons in support of this year’s theme (“The Walnut Festival Celebrates the Walnut Creek Centennial”), so much the better. Indeed, we will have a decorating party at the school on Friday, September 12th, from 5-7 p.m. on the playground, if you’re looking for ideas or just some fun company!

The parade itself begins at 6 p.m. on September 13th. We usually gather as a group around 5:45 at our assigned starting point. This year we are Group 33, and we will meet on Olympic Boulevard at the corner of South Main Street. We will be staging by the Talbot’s, on the Olympic Blvd side. We encourage everyone to wear their school t-shirts or even come in costume to celebrate the joy of “learning through play” in beautiful Walnut Creek! Hope to see you there!