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It’s really hard to think of Halloween as a time to practice healthy eating habits. Kids love the holiday because it’s a festive day when they can get dressed up and get some treats. For most kids, it’s a time to get as much candy as possible for their own private stash, but as a parent or grandparent, you can intervene a little and still let it be fun. You can help kids enjoy the holiday without overindulging.
Set a good example by what you purchase to be passed out at your house on Halloween. Think outside the box when choosing treats. Perhaps you can pick small boxes of raisins, individual bags of snack mix, nuts, seeds, trail mix, cereal bars or pretzels. Other things kids love are gold fish or animal crackers, low fat-cheese and peanut butter crackers or individual packets of low fat microwave popcorn.
According to Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension, “If you choose candy for treats, look for those that are lower in fat and sugar. Choose bite-size candy bars based on the least amount of fat and calories per serving. Better choices include: 3 Musketeers; 100 Grand Bar; Butterfinger; Milky Way; Raisinets; Starburst and York Peppermint Patties. In addition, consider healthier dark chocolate versions.”
Halloween treats don’t need to be food or candy. Think about passing out stickers, Halloween puzzles or pencils. Glow sticks, costume jewelry (plastic rings, necklaces and bracelets), funny Halloween glasses, pencils toppers, fancy erasers, bookmarks, rub-on or temporary tattoos, coins or toothbrushes are other possible ideas.
Halloween is the perfect time to teach moderation. Let your children choose a few pieces of candy to have on Halloween night and then choose a few pieces each day after that. Children need to avoid too many foods and drinks that are high in sugar. If they are eating too many high sugar foods, they don’t have room for the healthy foods that contain the important nutrients they need for growth and development.
Another thing to remember when all of the Halloween candy is in the house is that sugary foods contribute to tooth decay. Since we know there is a good chance that children will be consuming sugar on Halloween, encourage them to brush their teeth often.
Here are some other tips that can help:
Make sure your child gets a healthy meal before they go to the party or trick or treating. This will reduce that urge for them to snack on treats along the way.
Limit the houses your child can visit. That way the treats will likely come from neighbors and friends. It will also help moderate the amount of treats you’ll need to manage later.
Have them walk from house-to-house, if possible, to get some physical activity.
Once the kids get home, set limits on when and how much candy they can have, and stick to those limits. You may even want to start telling them about these limits before they head out trick-or treating, so this won’t be an unexpected surprise.
Keep candy out of reach to prevent continuous and mindless eating. Most candy has a long shelf life, so hide it away and bring it out for occasional treats.
Encourage eating candy with a glass of milk or apple slices to add some healthy nutrients.
Forbidding or restricting candy altogether may cause children to develop patterns of hoarding and obsession with candy. Think moderation.
There is a national program called Halloween Buy Back (halloweencandybuyback.com) where dentists “buy” the candy from trick-or-treaters and send it to U.S. troops overseas. There are several Brunswick County dentists participating in this program. You can check the website for names and locations.
While you don’t want to spoil all the Halloween fun, this is a great time to show your kids and grandkids how much you care. Teaching them to choose wisely now can help them begin a lifetime of healthy habits.
Sources: Nutrition Know How blog (http://nutritionknowhow.org); Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension and Lisa Franzen-Castle, RD, PhD, Nutrition Specialist, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
Cheryle Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center, at 253-2610.