It might seem odd for a dietitian to love Halloween so much, but I can’t help it. The energy in the air is so contagious! It’s all just so fun.
I’m supposed to be the big stick in the mud who reminds everyone how completely unhealthy a night devoted to candy is, especially for our beloved children. Did you know the average Trick-or-Treater collects an estimated 3,500 to 7,000 calories in candy? That’s almost three cups of sugar, depending on the candy. You (or your kid) would have to walk 180 miles to balance out those extra calories!
Sound the alarm, people! This is not a drill!
Here’s the thing, though: Halloween is really just one night. The average American child consumes 32 teaspoons (2/3 cup, over four times the daily maximum), of sugar every single day. That’s basically like going Trick-or-Treating once a week. Cut out the Trick-or-Treating on this one night a year, and we still have a huge health problem on our hands.
Still, the heavy emphasis on candy surrounding Halloween doesn’t help. If we get creative, it can be a fantastic opportunity to make holidays in general healthier without losing that wonderful spirit.
WHEN IT COMES TO GIVING OUT TREATS…
You don’t have to be the lame house that gives out pencils. No one gets excited about pencils. Consider these tips for balancing out healthy treats with a healthy dose of fun:
– If you’re going to stick with candy, at least go for the fun-size bars. Yes, the houses that give out full-sized bars are the talk of the town, but when kids are loading up pillow cases with candy, a smaller portion size can make a big difference.
– Look for brands without all of the “junk” in them. High fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, dyes, and artificial colors can all be avoided with a little attention to the label. Candies without these ingredients will still contain refined sugar, but it’s a step in the right direction.
– Experiment with darker chocolates. Kids tend not to love super-dark varieties, but even a 72% can help increase antioxidants and fiber while minimizing added sugar.
– More and more, kid-friendly brands of non-candy foods are coming out with Halloween-friendly packages, but take a moment to consider whether they’re really much more nutritious. Fruit snacks, pretzel sticks, and graham crackers are also pretty empty calories that break down in the body quickly into sugar. Fruit leather made from 100% fruit (not juice), air-popped popcorn, or a mini fruit-and-nut bar make better options.
– Think outside the candy wrapper! Stickers, bouncy balls, temporary tattoos, and bubbles are just some of the ideas that are a bit more fun than a pencil or eraser, but not food-based. I tend to shy away from plastic trinkets that will likely wind up in the trash the next day, but something they can nevertheless be a nice alternative to candy.
– Consider going allergen-friendly this year, either with non-food treats or allergen-free ones.
WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR OWN CHILDREN….
– Drum up the fun by putting a larger emphasis on the fall season than Halloween itself. Go pumpkin and apple picking, spend a day on a farm, come up with homemade costumes together, or host a party full of healthier snacks and spirited activities.
– If you can, try to send them off trick-or-treating with small bags or baskets as opposed to large pillow cases.
– Rather than them trading candy with friends, encourage them to pare down their haul and donate ones they don’t like as much.
– Freeze some to pull out later in the year: Gingerbread house decorating, Valentine’s Day, Easter, or just the occasional snack in the context of an overall well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet.
– Bake up a delicious dessert together that you can share with friends, family, or neighbors. It’s still dessert, but sharing it with many people can spread the candy out, and it gives you and your kids an activity to participate in together.
– Turn it into a competition! My sister and I would always try to see who could make their candy last the longest; it wasn’t at all uncommon for me to still be savoring my stash into the new year. (Guess you can’t take the dietitian out of the girl, huh?) If your child doesn’t have siblings, the same concept can be applied to cousins, friends, or even just a personal record carried from year to year.
In the end, it is just one night. Try not to let all of the spooky statistics paralyze you. Build a healthy foundation for your children every other day of the year, do your best to celebrate the holiday in creative ways, but not matter what, enjoy it.