Tricks for Treats: A S'more-ror Story


In honor of Halloween, I want to talk about fear. Not fear of the zombie apocalypse or a chainsaw murderer, but the fear of change. Changing your lifestyle can be scary because we humans have an innate fear of the unknown. Change brings lots of unknown variables: Will I fail to make lasting change? Will I succeed? If I succeed, will that success really change my life the way I’m hoping it will? What will my life as a changed person be like? Will my friends and loved ones accept that change? These fears are amplified when holidays or special events come around. Even a “lower profile” holiday like Halloween can make you feel like an outsider, like you have to choose between being “healthy” and being part of the fun. I get it. It is precisely this fear which made it possible for a Hershey’s commercial to draw me into a full-blown melt-down.

I was in Austin for a two-week training at Whole Foods Market’s Global Headquarters on Lamar Street (or as health food junkies call it, Mecca). Our group was being coached by nutrition and lifestyle medicine pioneers for a pilot wellness program in stores across the country. It was the opportunity of a lifetime (and did, in fact, change my life forever). I came to the program still skeptical and on high alert for any trace of a “vegan agenda.” A week in, after learning about calorie density, the dopamine pleasure cycle, and food addiction, I felt as if I’d had the very intimate story of my 15-year toxic relationship with food told to me by complete strangers. I was convinced that a whole foods, plant-based diet was the missing piece to the puzzle of permanent remission from my eating disorder, which I was managing with the occasional binge and constant fear of a full-blown relapse. As I was sitting on the bed in my hotel room decompressing from ten hours of workshops and training, a Hershey’s commercial came on TV. Beautiful, carefree, young people, dressed in white bathing suits and board shorts, sitting around a bonfire on a beach laughing and eating s’mores. All of a sudden, I panicked. I panicked because this training was confirming a deep-seated fear: I’d never be one of those people.

I’d never seen myself as one of those “pretty people” who could relax and have fun on the beach, or in any situation where there was food. I couldn’t remember a time I’d worn a bathing suit without feeling ashamed. And I certainly couldn’t recall being able to eat a piece of chocolate without plummeting into mental and emotional anguish. Agonizing over whether or not to binge because I’d “ruined my whole day” with that one s’more, working out the logistics of a purge “just in case” I chose to go down that rabbit hole. Now I understood physiologically what was going on inside of me. I knew that if I changed the composition of my food, there was a real chance for me to slay the dragon of my eating disorder forever. But somehow, knowing exactly what I needed to change and how to do it made me feel even more hopeless than ever. The life I’d always dreamed of, being a carefree, naturally thin woman who could eat without worry was slipping away. Someone who could be “normal” about food. I would never be that person. To be “right” I was going to have to commit to an alternative lifestyle that would forever separate me from social norms, traditions, and the people that I loved. The totality of that fear of change washed over me instantly, and, in a moment it took a lot of introspection to truly understand, I was sobbing alone in a hotel room “because I’d never be able to eat s’mores again.”

Six years later I’m here to tell you, those fears were totally baseless. It took a long time and a lot of work, but I can now eat a piece of candy or French fries or bread, or yes, even s’mores, without fear of spiraling out of control. A big piece of that was learning to no longer equate my food choices with my identity or self-worth. Below you’ll find some whole foods, plant-based versions of candies that are nutrient dense and delicious, BUT if date paste and double boilers aren’t your thing, that’s ok, too. I would argue that even more important than providing yourself with healthy alternatives to the treats you love, is to experiment with what it would be like to embrace, relish, and honor yourself while enjoying a piece or two of Halloween candy. Below are a few mindfulness practices for when and if you choose to indulge. Remember, we all have things we need to work on. The capacity for change and growth is one of the things that make us human. But it’s important to embrace those changes with self-compassion and flexibility. An occasional or even habitual unhealthy behavior does not define who you are. You are NOT what you eat.

My Top Four Mindful Eating Tips:

  • Begin cultivating a mindset of choice and abundance. Eliminate the words “I can’t have that” from your internal and external script when it comes to food. If you are a financially independent adult you CAN eat candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you don’t, it is because you are choosing not to. If you do decide to indulge, own that choice and eat mindfully.

  • Create awareness around moral judgments about food. Notice if you’re using words like should, shouldn’t, bad, good, right or wrong around food. The mindset of, “I’ll be bad today and have a piece of candy. I’ll be good tomorrow.” is a destructive one. Give yourself permission to have a piece of candy (or two, or three) without deeming it “bad.” Not eating candy the next day will not make you “good.” That kind of moral judgment can very quickly turn into the more punitive, “I’ve failed. I’ve ruined today. I might as well eat the entire bag of candy. I’m going to start over tomorrow, and I’m going to try to be good and never eat candy again.” You will (and you should) eat a piece of candy again.

  • Enjoy the candy with an open and curious mind. Take your time and treat your candy tasting like a scientific experiment, without judgment. Sit down, take a deep breath, and eat with all your senses. Pretend you are a Martian who landed on this planet just in time for Trick-or-Treating. Explore the look, feel, texture, smell, and flavor of the candy as if for the first time. When experiencing the candy through this fresh perspective, it may lose some of its allure and not be as tasty as you had built it up to be in your head.

  • Combine candy with whole, natural foods to up your nutrient density and transform a tiny treat into a filling snack:

  • Top a cut-up apple with sliced Snicker’s, Milky Way or Reese’s peanut butter cup.

  • Jazz up your oatmeal by stirring in some chunks of Hershey’s chocolate bar.

  • Blend a frozen banana with unsweetened almond milk and a fun-sized candy bar for a nutrient dense twist on a candy milkshake .

Choose a handful of treats to conduct these experiments. For any remaining candy:

  • Donate it! The Soldier’s Angels Treats for Troops program collects leftover candy sends it to our soldiers and veterans. Many dentists’ offices and other local businesses do a candy buy-back where kiddos can trade their candy for cash. Click here to search for a buyback event near you.

  • Trash it! A “no-waste” principal is irrelevant here. We are not talking about nourishing food that saves lives. Prioritize your health. Guilt is a paralyzing emotion. Take action and get it out of your house. If you’re concerned about the trash, compost the candy and paper wrappers when applicable.

  • Store wisely! If you can’t bring yourself to toss those extra treats, store any leftover candy in an opaque container in the back or top shelf of your pantry. You are less likely to indulge if it is not in plain view in your kitchen.

  • Ask for help! If you feel your eating is out of control or are feeling overwhelmed and anxious about your food choices, consider talking to a therapist who specializes in disordered eating. Remember, the willingness to ask for help when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness. Check out The Awakening Center in Chicago or go here for help finding treatment.

Tricks for Treats Recipes!

Plant-Based Peanut Butter Cups

You’ll need:

  • 2/3 cup pitted dates (soaked in hot water for 20 minutes or until dates soften)

  • 1 cup raw cashews (soaked in hot water for 20 minutes or until cashews soften slightly )

  • 1 cup salted peanut butter (no sugar or oil added)

  • 1 ½- 2 cups dark chocolate chips

  • ¼ tsp sea salt

  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

  • 2-in aluminum mini muffin cups

  • Pastry brush (optional)

Method

To make chocolate cups:

  • Melt chocolate chips using double boil method:

  • Fill a large pot halfway full with water.

  • Bring water to a boil.

  • Place a large metal bowl on top of the pot of boiling water.

  • Pour chocolate chips into metal bowl resting on top of the boiling water.

  • With a pot holder in hand, carefully stabilize the bowl and pot with one hand as you use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir the chocolate chips until melted.

  • Use a pastry brush to coat the mini muffin cups with melted chocolate. Coat to about halfway up the sides of the cup. Alternately, you may wish to spoon the chocolate into the cups and gently spin and turn the cup to allow the chocolate to coat the cup evenly.

  • Place the coated cups on a tray or sheet pan and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour. Meanwhile, prepare the peanut butter mousse.

To make peanut butter filling:

  • Place the soaked cashews, dates, salt, and vanilla in a high-speed blender or food processor.

  • Pulse the mixture several times, and then blend until the ingredients are thick, smooth, and creamy, scraping down the side of the blender/food processor with a spatula as needed.

  • You may need to add some of the reserved cooking liquid to help the cashews blend smoothly. Add 1 tablespoon at a time of reserved soaking liquid to the processor until cashews start to form a paste-like consistency.

  • Continue processing until mixture is fluffy and smooth. This will take several minutes.

  • Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl. Gently fold peanut butter into cashew crème mixture.

  • Set aside, covered until ready to use.

To assemble cups:

  • Remove chocolate cups from the refrigerator.

  • Spoon in about 1 Tbsp of peanut butter mousse into each cup and pat on the counter to release air bubbles and flatten the tops. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

  • Drizzle or completely cover the tops of the cups with the remaining melted chocolate (you may need to melt a little more).

  • Place back in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to set once more. Once thoroughly chilled, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to one week. Pop in the freezer for longer term storage.

“Mounds” bites

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup pitted deglet dates (soaked in hot water for 20 minutes or until dates soften)

  • 1 tsp coconut extract

  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

  • 1 tbsp almond butter (or other nut or seed butter)

  • ¼ tsp sea salt

  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Method

  • Drain dates and process in food processor until a sticky paste forms. Add in the almond butter, extracts, and shredded coconut. Process until well uncorporated combined.

  • Scoop out the sticky mixture into a bowl and refrigerate for about 20 minutes. Chilling it makes the caramel easier to shape into balls. After chilling, lightly wet your fingers and shape coconut/date mixture into small balls to make about 18 balls total.

  • Refrigerate balls for another 20 minutes on a parchment lined plate.

  • Meanwhile, melt chocolate chips using double boil method:

  • Fill a large pot halfway full with water.

  • Bring water to a boil.

  • Place a large metal bowl on top of the pot of boiling water.

  • Pour chocolate chips into metal bowl resting on top of the boiling water.

  • With a pot holder in hand, carefully stabilize the bowl and pot as you use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir the chocolate chips until melted.

  • Remove balls from freezer and dunk each ball into the melted chocolate, one at a time. Roll around to coat. Tap off excess chocolate and place back onto parchment-lined plate. Sprinkle with a few flakes of shredded coconut. Repeat for the rest.

  • Refrigerate again for at least 20 minutes until set. Once thoroughly chilled, cover and store in the refrigerator for up to one week. Pop in the freezer for longer term storage.

Boo-Nanas!

You’ll need:

  • 4 peeled bananas, halved and cut cross-wise to lay flat

  • ½ cup orange juice

  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

  • mini non-dairy dark chocolate chips

  • dried cranberries or raspberry jelly

  • 16 bamboo skewers or wooden craft sticks (bamboo skewers come to a sharp point and are not best for small children)

Method

  • Dip peeled bananas in orange juice.

  • Roll in shredded coconut to make white ghosts.

  • Add mini dark chocolate chips for eyes and dried cranberries or jelly for a mouth.

  • Insert bamboo skewer/wooden craft sticks for a handle so you can have some fun before eating.

  • Serve as-is or place in the freezer for 2 hours for a frozen treat!

Monster Mouths!

You’ll Need:

  • Granny Smith Apples

  • Raspberry Jam

  • Peanut Butter

  • Slivered Almonds

  • ½ cup Orange Juice

  • Toothpicks

Method

  • Quarter and slice quarters into ½ inch slices. Dip slices in orange juice to prevent browning.

  • Spread peanut butter or red raspberry jam on one apple slice to make the “tongue.”

  • Press slivered almonds into the apple slice along the rounded edge to make “teeth.”

  • Take another plain apple slice to make the “roof” of the mouth and use slivered almonds to make teeth on this piece as well.

  • Use toothpicks to assemble two apple slices perpendicularly with round edges facing out. “Tongue” piece should lay flat on the plate and “roof” should stand up vertically.

Hauntingly Healthful Caramel Apple

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup pitted deglet dates soaked in warm water

  • 1 tsp butter flavoring

  • 1 tbsp peanut butter (or other nut or seed butter)

  • healthy pinch of fine grain sea salt

  • 1 large granny smith apple

  • bamboo skewer

  • 1 cup preferred topping (chopped nuts, shredded coconut, etc.)

Method

  • Soak dates in warm water for 15-20 minutes. Drain dates and reserve liquid.

  • In food processor or high speed blender, process dates, butter flavor, salt, and peanut butter. Add reserved soaking liquid as needed to achieve a creamy, thick paste-like consistency and transfer mixture into a bowl.

  • Pierce apple with bamboo stick for a handle. Dip apple in date “caramel” and coat evenly. You may need to use your finger or a butter knife to spread the paste.

  • Dip coated apple in desired topping and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

#cleaneating #plantbased #bodypositive #nutrition #healthyeating #chicagonutrition #chicagofitness #chicagowellness

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