Having a healthier Halloween

Parents can find plenty of alternative treats to offer than traditional sugary snacks

BIG RAPIDS — Halloween is a night of plunder and booty for children everywhere who dress up in costumes and masks to run door-to-door seeking bagfuls of treats. For parents, the holiday can be nightmare with howls from tummy aches and sugar crashes.

No one wants to be “that parent” who trades their child’s collection of sweet snacks for healthy fruit and veggies, but there can be some middle ground to all the sugar the little ghost and goblins gather.

Michigan State University Extension offers parents information on some healthier options during those spooky celebrations that won’t scare the kids away, said Effie Jack, MSU Extension SNAP-Ed health and nutrition instructor in Mecosta County.

“There are many options for schools and family parties to cut back on the sugar,” Jack said. “Make the good food look frightfully delicious. Some examples are bowls of grapes served as eyeballs or skeleton fingers which are plastic gloves—designed for kitchen use— with a candy corn in each finger and filled with popcorn. Be creative and have fun.”

Keeping school parties or home halloween parties filled with creative healthy snacks is one way to help, but parents can’t control what their children receive in their trick or treat bags.

One idea Jack suggests is parents sitting down with their children and placing collected Halloween candy into snack bags.

“You have snack bags with four pieces of their collected candy,” Jack said. Then you take the bowl full of snack bags and offer them to chose one for the evening.”

Doing this you are not keeping the candy from the children, but actually teaching them control.

“You’re teaching them about portion size, limiting the amount of sugar intake,” Jack said. “Make it a fun, positive experience.”

Children can mix and match candy and chocolate so they don’t have to choose just one kind for each snack bag. Placing the snack bags in the freezer makes them last longer and reduces the urge to eat everything in a few days.

“Kids love candy,” Jack said. “What it comes down to is not making it a bad thing. Make it realistic, but don’t take the fun out of it.”

Other options MSU Extension lists are pencils, plastic spiders, marbles, fake tattoos, play money, coupons and more.

“If you need help with ideas, call the extension office,” Jack said. “If I don’t have an answer, I can research it and get back with them. We are here to help.”

Another option for Halloween is candy with less sugar. That way you’re not the parent giving a pencil, said said Dr. Keith Kantor, a nutritionist, an author and chief executive officer of all-natural food company Green Box Foods Inc. of Georgia.

Children could be given organic candy, in addition to have them follow a good diet, Kantor said.

Halloween is the beginning of weight gain that continues through New Year’s, when Americans gain 6 to 8 pounds, he said.

“The problem is we don’t lose it all. And we tend to keep 2 to 4 pounds and over 5 years you’ve added on 10 pounds or more,” Kantor said. “That’s why as parents we have to be careful because when candy’s, in the house we all tend to snack on it.”

Kantor also doesn’t recommend preventing your children from having candy.

“It could make them resort to bad habits like hiding the sweets from parents, Kantor said. “Don’t turn into the food police. Take control of your kitchen by making healthy snacks accessible and save the sweet treats for special occasions. Don’t tell the kids ‘no candy will make you fat,’ they don’t care about that. Educate them and explain what too much sugar does to the body and of give examples like reminding them how they felt with a tummy ache or other times they were sick.”

He also explains scarfing down a Snickers bar isn’t leading by example.

“I think it’s important for the parents to educate themselves,” Kantor said. “Eat your fruits and vegetables and promote healthy lifestyle. Kid’s don’t buy the ‘do as I say, not as I do behavior.'”

They can reference plenty of books, including one Kantor recently published, “The Green Box Foods League of Nutritious.” The book, published earlier this year, is partly described as an exercise guide, a cookbook and a call to make the best healthy choices.

Kantor provided a selection of 10 healthy candies that can be given out during Halloween. They include Newman’s Own organic chocolate; Annie’s Homegrown organic fruit snacks; Pirate’s Booty gluten free cheese puffs; Planters nut and seed trail mixes; Sunspire fair trade milk chocolate Earth balls; Pure Fun organic fruit rocks; YumEarth organic lollipops; Endangered Species Bug Bites; Betty Lou’s Golden Smackers; and Equal Exchange chocolate minis.

“The thing to remember is these items still have sugar,” Kantor said. “Even too much of a good thing can be bad for you.”