Healthy Halloween

With Halloween just around the corner, it’s high season for all things sweet, sticky, and gooey. So what’s a parent to do who wants her child to participate in the fun, but doesn’t want to send mixed messages or undermine the encouragement of healthy eating habits?

I’ve collected a few tactics to increase the Halloween health-conscious quotient while still maintaining the excitement of this fun-filled holiday…

Pre-Trick-or-Treat

pumpkinHitting the Halloween path on an empty stomach is a sure-fire way to promote grazing and overindulging on candy. Instead, have your children start the evening with a healthy meal or snack (including a fruit and a vegetable) before they head out.

You might also consider the size of your child’s trick-or-treat bag. While the goal for most children is to collect as much candy as possible, this can be limited by providing them with a bag or basket that is appropriate to their size (shopping bags and garbage bags not included).

Finally, and with the help of your child, chart a trick-or-treat path before the journey begins. Plan for a moderate distance that results in a manageable amount of treats rather than a whole cartload of candy.

Alternatives to Candy

If you’re accustomed to handing out candy on Halloween and are considering something a little different this year, there are plenty of great alternatives. With upwards of 350 calories in just four bite-size candy bars, it’s also not a bad idea! If you’d like to go the route of healthier food alternatives, here are a few ideas:

  • Sunflower or pumpkin seed packets
  • Cereal bars
  • Animal or goldfish crackers
  • Mini raisin boxes
  • Sugar-free gum
  • Small bags of pretzels

Non-food treats are also an alternative, and often appreciated by kids since they tend to be novel. Consider these:

  • Temporary tattoos or stickers
  • Small bottles of bubbles
  • Pencil erasers
  • Glow sticks
  • Bouncy balls
  • Glow-in-the-dark markers
  • Coins

And then there are those of us who can’t bear the thought of handing out anything but candy on Halloween. If this sounds like you, you might consider some of the “healthier” candy options that are lower in fat and calories. These include items such as, Peppermint Patties, Raisinets, Starburst, and 3 Musketeers.

Post-Trick-or-Treat

You’re feeling pretty confident about trick-or-treat itself, but what about the hours and days that follow? This is the perfect time to role model healthy behaviors, and to teach children how to enjoy treats in moderation. Here are some suggestions

• While it’s not a good idea to restrict or forbid your child from eating candy, it is a good idea to establish boundaries for amounts, especially if he or she has difficulty self-regulating candy consumption. Allow your kids to enjoy a few pieces of candy following trick-or-treating, and limit them to about two small pieces each day after that.

• Keep the candy in a place where it’s not visible. Out of sight, out of mind. After a week or so, the family might even forget about it.

• For larger candy bars, cut them into smaller pieces and stick them in the freezer for bite-size treats months later.

• Pair a small Halloween treat with a healthy snack, such as a piece of fruit or a cheese stick. Again, this teaches moderation.

• Arrange a buy-out. If your children come home with boatloads of candy, offer to “buy back” a certain portion of it, paying a nickel or dime for each item you purchase.

• Encourage your kids to pay attention to how much candy they have eaten, and to stop eating before they feel “stuffed” or physically ill.

Oh, and don’t forget about brushing and flossing. Halloween is tooth decay’s favorite day of the year.

Some Final Thoughts

Lucky for all of us, Halloween is just a single day each year. If your family eats well the remainder of the year, and is physically active each day, these healthy messages and practices and your positive role modeling will overshadow a couple days of overindulgence.

Have a Happy (Healthy) Halloween!

Anne Marie Kuchera, one of our Kids Plus Nutrition Consultants, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Dietician.