Rachel Willen, chef and creator of the blog “Food Fix”, offers her personal experience and tips to create a healthy Halloween that won’t disappoint the kids.
“Halloween is all about the candy,” my teenage daughter tells me when I bring up the idea of healthy snacks to hand out to trick-or-treaters this year.
For parents who are trying to curtail their family’s sugar intake, reduce the health risks associated with a growing obesity problem in our children, or just keep the little ones from bouncing off the walls, Halloween can be a scary holiday.
“What’s the big deal,” my daughter asks. “It’s just one day. Can’t you just relax and give out candy?”
Oh, if only it were just one day. But more so than Christmas, Halloween leaves us with gifts that keep on giving. That shopping bag or pillowcase full of candy your child collects might be around for daily sampling until sometime around Thanksgiving, which has its own onslaught of fat and sugar-laden treats.
By then, it’s just a weekend away from December and its whirlwind of holiday events that provide even more opportunities to indulge. Without some plan, Halloween can be the beginning of a two-month-long sugar spree that can affect your kids health, weight and performance in school and sports.
My mantra for a healthier Halloween is: “Do No Damage … and Do Damage Control.” That means you have healthier treats going out your door, and set up a game plan to minimize the influx of candy that comes back in.
Here are some healthy Halloween give-away treats that will please little trick-or-treaters and their parents, and satisfy older ones enough that your house won’t be covered in eggs and toilet paper. Keep in mind that homemade or home-wrapped treats are usually tossed by parents and kids who are wary of the dangers of tainted foods. You might also have local or state ordinances that prohibit the distribution of such items. The same goes for pieces of fruit or raisins that are not individual shrink-wrapped and sealed.
1. Think Salty and Savory: Candy is not the only treat that kids crave. Chips, crackers, popcorn and puffed cheese snacks are all high on the list of treats that kids and teens love, and they can be wholesome and much healthier than candy. Trick-or-treaters might welcome a savory item to eat on the spot if they’ve been house hopping for any length of time, especially if they skipped their usual after-school snack or dinner to do it.
To make these give-aways a healthy choice, look for brands that don’t use trans fats (hydrogenated oils), sugars, corn syrup, artificial flavors and a long list of chemical additives and dyes. In today’s marketplace, most of the following brands are available in large chain grocery stores and big-box stores around the country. And are all available in individual snack sizes. Pirate Brands, Pirate Booty has even released a special 1-ounce, Halloween snack size, available in stores now. Choose from this list of healthy, kid-friendly snacks:
2. Think Refreshing: Even if Halloween temperatures in your area are classically autumnal and cool, in many parts of the country kids will be running around neighborhoods sweltering under their polyester costumes. Even in cooler weather, trick-or-treaters show up red-faced and overheated from racing door to door.
Last year I used an empty planter I purchased on sale after the season, and filled it with ice and mini bottles of spring water. It was surprising how many kids were thrilled to have a cool drink while making their rounds. With an icy bottle of water and a crunchy snack to add to their “booty,” there were very few cries of “what, no candy?”
To keep your refreshing treats healthy, stick to plain water, flavored and enhanced waters that are sweetened with juice or juice concentrates only, or juice boxes that do not contain any added sugars, corn syrup or sugar substitutes. Smaller portion drinks are more practical and economic as a giveaway. No need to give out 20-ounce bottles or you might have to let some of those kids in to use the bathroom.
Now, what to do with all the candy your kids bring home? For years, I’ve been negotiating with my kids to “trade in” their candy for something that they’ve been wanting: a video game, a certain pair of jeans, a special dinner or just cash toward a higher priced gadget for which they want to save.
You can decide, based on your budget, what amount of bartering you are willing to do. Then, go through the treat bag together, letting them choose a set number of goodies to keep, (a week’s worth or so of their favorites), after which they hand over the rest in exchange for their earned gift.
Before you toss the loot, try looking for a dentist or orthodontist in your area who runs a candy trade-in program in his or her office. My daughter’s orthodontist will make donations to a local charity based on $1 per pound of candy we turn in. It’s a sweet solution to handling a scary amount of sugar this Halloween.