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Enjoy a Sweeter (and Healthier) Halloween

Setting rules for candy-eating is important — and you can do it without being a ghoul.

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Trick or treat — give me something healthy to eat!
Trick or treat — give me something healthy to eat!

Seven year-old Jack is ready for Halloween. He's had his Spider-Man costume picked out since July, and at least once a week he gives his mother a rundown of the candy he must have for his Halloween party.

"Mouth-foaming gumballs are high on the list," says Jack's mother, Barbara, who lives in suburban New Jersey. She guarantees that Snickers, jelly pops, and anything that "turns your mouth blue" would make her three sons happy too.

Barbara doesn't approve of too much candy, but Jack and his brothers, Conner, age 12, and Matt, 10, are healthy, active kids, so she feels that occasional sweets are okay. Registered dietician and certified nutritionist Marni Schefter agrees. Schefter insists that depriving children of candy will not help protect them from health risks related to a poor diet. "The key is to teach moderation," says Schefter. How do you keep Halloween sweet without encouraging unhealthy eating habits? A combination of creativity and planning may go a long way to helping you strike a balance.

Something good to eat
Alternative treats
Acts of sweetness

Something Good to Eat

  • Let kids enjoy a little bit of trick-or-treat loot at a time — say, two snack-sized candy bars a day.

  • Don't allow candy to substitute for healthy stuff. Plan a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner for Halloween day. Serving well-balanced meals should ensure that sweets do not replace essential nutrients.

  • If you're hosting a children's party, serve plenty of fruit and vegetables as well as a kid-friendly meal like pizza. Set up one bucket of candy and let kids take just a few pieces.

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Alternative Treats

A growing number of parents are bucking the candy-giving tradition altogether. The 2000 American Express Retail Index estimated that 18% of adults distributed non-candy treats. In some of these homes, children may have special dietary needs. Other parents are alarmed by reports about the increasing rate of child obesity, and some parents just hope to lessen the day's sugar intake.

A recent study even showed that kids welcome such alternatives. Researchers offered trick-or-treaters in five Connecticut neighborhoods two bowls to choose from: one with lollipops or fruit candy and one with inexpensive Halloween-themed trinkets. About half the kids skipped the sweet stuff and took a toy instead. So consider making the switch at your house.

From the grocery:

  • sugar-free lollipops
  • fruit
  • raisins
  • granola bars
  • popcorn
  • trail mix

From the party-supply store (purchased in bulk, these items should cost about 20 cents each):

  • plastic vampire teeth
  • glow-in-the dark stickers
  • temporary tattoos
  • spider rings

More cool options:

  • crayons and stickers: Crayola makes special crayon packs that feature three Halloween-inspired colors. The cost of twenty packs plus twenty color-in stickers is about $3.99.
  • personalized photos. Start the unique tradition of becoming the neighborhood "phantom photographer." Dig out your child's i-Zone camera and give everyone who comes to the door a sticker picture of himself in costume. At approximately $18 per three-pack of film, you can expect to spend about 50 cents per trick-or-treater.

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Acts of Sweetness

Halloween is a great time to teach children about sharing. This is a day when kids are inspired to be like Spider-Man or other heroic do-gooders. Encourage their charitable attitude by turning trick-or-treating into a save-the-world mission. In addition to candy, have your child ask for donations for a non-profit organization or school program.

  • Your family might support the "Trick-or Treat for UNICEF" campaign, a 52-year custom where kids collect donations in their Halloween UNICEF boxes. Contributions fund worldwide medical, education, and emergency relief programs. Visit www.unicefusa.org/trickortreat for more information.

  • LensCrafters and Lions Clubs International also sponsor a Halloween fundraiser called Sight Night. Volunteers gather old eyeglasses that are redistributed to people in need. You can download the materials and information at www.sightnight.org.

  • Work with your child's teacher or a local community group to create posters and organize kids into "Halloween heroes" who will go door to door to raise money for a local charity. While kids enjoy the thrills of trick-or treating and dressing up, it won't be "all about the candy."

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