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Are there healthy alternatives to all that candy on Halloween?
When I was a kid there was a family down the street that always gave apples. Interestingly, it was a popular stop. The mother who came out had a terrific act, having dressed up in a dramatic witch costume and handing out the "magical" apples. Sometimes getting us to eat better is just in how the message is delivered!
Years ago I lived next door to a woman who gave money. She saved up her spare change through the year and doled out about 30 - 35 cents to each kid (about the cost of candy). The kids were always delighted at this - even more so than getting candy. I do this now and love the squeals of "Mooomm, I got money!" almost every time.
Along healthy lines trail mix is a great way to go. Choose those with a mixture of nuts, seeds and dried fruits and avoid the mixes that contain candies like M&Ms. It's less expensive to purchase in bulk at a Whole Foods or a natural foods market and bag them yourself, or make your own trail mix. It's easy: about 1/2 nuts or seeds to 1/2 dried fruits. Choose peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and slivered almonds along with raisins (regular and golden) and other dried fruits like cranberries, apricots and pineapple.
Small boxes of raisins are also a great choice. Kids generally love them and there's nothing better than dried fruit.
If you do want to give candy, the best choice for your kids and those coming to the front door is to remember smaller is better. Your guide should first and foremost be calories. Select candies that are less calorie dense. Starburst Fruit Chews are small, have only 20 calories and each one takes a longer time to open, slowing down snacking. Another good choice along this line is Hershey's Kisses. They're only 25 calories each.
Other similar choices are Smarties, Tootsie Rolls, Jolly Ranchers and small lollipops like Dum Dums. While these all have sugar and are candy, it's important to remember that it is Halloween and there is a time and a place for such treats. It's a good opportunity for a teaching moment with kids to let them know about making choices and finding moderation. Talk about all of this in advance and discuss portioning out their booty to be eaten over time. Putting the snacks in small ziplock bags for them and handing them out gradually prolongs the magic of the holiday and also helps teach restraint.
About chocolate. We know that it's really good for us and it's better to choose dark chocolates that are higher in antioxidants. They can be more expensive, but choosing something like Ghirardelli's intense chocolate squares are not just great quality but they're also higher in flavonoids and antioxidants than milk chocolate (and a single square is 50 calories).
There's great research that shows that when we don't have snacks around tempting us, we're much less likely to eat more. This is a challenge at Halloween because the temptations are everywhere. Not only are treats available because we've bought them in preparation for Trick or Treaters, but they are there afterwards as well. Even at work this is an issue because folks will often bring candy as part of decorating for the holiday and then more after the fact. Getting the snacks out of the way by portioning them, putting them in the cupboard or even giving them away are good strategies. Here are more tips on handling all that candy without overdoing it.
Again, it's important to remember that there's a time and place for healthy snacking and Halloween is one of them. With a little planning you can have your Smarties and eat them too.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
Originally posted: 10/20/08