Oct. 29, 2010— -- The scariest thing about Halloween may not be the little Palins and Obamas who will appear on your doorstep begging for handouts. It's the 2.2 pounds of extra weight the average child gains gorging on trick-or-treat candy.
This is according to a seven-year study by the University of Colorado, which also found the average Halloween haul of sweet stuff in a single evening is 22 pounds, about the candy limit most experts recommend for one year. And that doesn't even address the parental weight gain that results from dipping into the treat basket.
Read on for expert tips on how trick-or-treaters of all ages can enjoy a healthier, lighter Halloween.
"I can give you a list of healthy trail mixes, raisins and Power Bars but the truth is kids want the real thing," registered dietitian Lauren O'Connor says. "That being said, your best weapon against gluttony is educating them with good health values."
One game O'Connor likes for teaching moderation is numbering small pieces of paper from one to five and placing them into a hat. Every day for two weeks, have your children pick a number and whatever they choose, that's the amount of candy they may have for the day.
When sorting out which goodies, O'Connor says, let your kids keep the dark chocolate because it's packed with healthy antioxidants and magnesium. Also, the candy with the shortest list of ingredients will generally be a healthier choice than one that contains a laundry list. Try to toss anything that contains hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup.
It may not be easy but Martica Heaner, a behavioral nutritionist, exercise physiologist and author of "Cross-Training for Dummies," says to try shaping at least part of your kid's Halloween experience around something other than candy. Invent some new games to play, throw a party featuring healthy snacks, plan activities that involve art or a haunted house.
Paige Parker, a registered dietitian with Structure House in Durham, N.C., advises setting limitations by discussing ahead of time how many houses you'll hit and filling one moderately sized trick or treat bag.
It's also wise to limit the number of items per door rather than grabbing an entire handful as children tend to do with candy, or anything else they're given for free.