Don’t let harmful amounts of sugar overshadow Halloween fun
Published: September 28, 2019
By: Kimberly Blaker
It’s no wonder Halloween is among the most eagerly anticipated family holidays. What youngster doesn’t love dressing as a superhero while visiting vibrantly decorated places filled with happy people who are giving out free candy? Who can resist a parade of adorable trick-or-treaters?
However, even the most fun-loving parent can’t help but cringe when kids dump all of their collected candy onto the living room floor. Although there have been numerous scientific studies that claim that children’s behavior is not affected by excess sugar, anyone who has witnessed a roomful of kids jazzed up on sweets would certainly disagree. No one can argue that candy is nutritionally void and full of sugar that can contribute to obesity and tooth decay. According to the U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service, some kids already consume an average of 21 teaspoons of sugar a day.
Fortunately, there are many steps parents can take to keep harmful amounts of sugar from overshadowing the Halloween fun.
FOCUS ON FUN AND HEALTHY ALTERNATIVES: Caregivers should make a conscious and yearly effort to create alternative Halloween traditions that focus on the activity, not on the treats, says Susan Nitzke, PhD, a professor of nutritional sciences.
“Children caught up in the excitement of other Halloween activities are less likely to be focused on the candy,” she says.
Suggestions for fun activities include hosting your own Halloween costume or craft party; coordinating a scavenger hunt (with toys, not candy, for prizes); participating in candy-free carnivals offered by many communities; or spinning spooky tunes in the front yard to entertain trick-or-treaters.
A recent Halloween study found that many children were just as likely to choose toys as candy when given both options, so don’t sweat offering alternatives. Non-food Halloween items like pencils, stickers, and temporary tattoos are great choices. You can also offer healthy food alternatives like individual packages of graham crackers, mini-boxes of raisins or sugar-free gum.
LIMIT THE DAMAGE: No matter how conscious you are about how you spend Halloween, it’s inevitable that your child will be exposed to at least some candy. You’ll just need a plan to dispose of any excess.
Some parents have success with allowing a few small pieces per day until most of the candy (or the interest) is gone. You can also offer to trade most of the candy for a bigger, more desirable prize like a coveted game or toy. Even offering $5 for all but a few handfuls of candy is cheaper than filling a cavity and less painful than a toothache.
Dentists say that letting children eat candy after a meal will allow their body to produce more saliva to help neutralize acids that can attach to tiny teeth. The worst time for candy eating is right before bed. Have kids rinse out their mouths and brush thoroughly after a candy feast, no matter what time of day.
What do dentists consider the worst candies for teeth? Anything that sticks to the teeth and stays there — like Dots, gummy bears, suckers and hard candies. Because it melts quickly, chocolate is the best choice for “oral clearance,” or spending the shortest time on teeth.
If fat and calories are a concern, some popular candies are better choices than others. Licorice only contains 30 calories and Hershey’s Kisses only have 25. Some chocolate candies like Peppermint Patties, Junior Mints and Three Musketeers are significantly lower in fat than other choices. Read labels and consider snack-sized varieties.
PURGE THE EXCESS: Once you’ve convinced your child to give up the extra candy, put it out of reach so that it’s no longer a temptation. Freeze some chocolate bars to melt for s’mores, brownies or fondue. Consider cutting up the rest to use as chocolate chips for baked goods intended for military personnel, teachers or anyone special to your heart. Packaging up homemade goodies for the school crossing guard, for instance, will place the focus on serving others instead of on eating candy.
USE HALLOWEEN TO STRESS SMART CHOICES: Halloween is a great time to talk to children about the importance of making good nutritional choices, but you may not want to portray that message as one of overwhelming sacrifice. Once you’ve come up with a workable game plan that allows everyone a little indulgence, explain the limits — but don’t dwell on them.
“If you get too restrictive, they tend to hide food or snack secretly,” reassures dietician Linda Davenport. “Most of the Halloween feeding frenzy is in the first few days and
then it will settle down.”
“Gathering and eating Halloween candy can be a lot of fun for kids and caregivers alike,” says dental director A. Riley Cutler. “You can’t raise a child and take away everything that is fun. The key is moderation.”
What to do with Candy Castaways
- Immediately recycle it. Have kids quickly pick out their favorite few handfuls of candy. Send items still tightly packaged and sealed right back out the door to the next batch of trick-or-treaters.
- Package up candy (along with other food items) and create a care package for soldiers that weren’t able to celebrate a traditional Halloween this year.
- Save many varieties of candy for a Thanksgiving day piñata.
- Save hard candy for Christmas gingerbread houses, wreaths and ornaments.
- Save a few handfuls of candy for a scavenger hunt on a school holiday.
Candy Alternatives for Trick-or-Treaters
TINY BOTTLES OF BUBBLES. They are sold by the case at the dollar store.
KID-SIZED WATER BOTTLES. Trick-or-treaters get thirsty and the water will help to keep sugar from sticking to their teeth.
TAILGATING-TYPE TREATS. My neighbor’s front yard is the most popular trick-or-treating destination in our neighborhood — and she doesn’t serve candy. She grills and hands out bulk hot dogs. All of the neighbors stop by to grab a snack and visit. The children play and we all take a break from trick-or-treating.
GLOW-IN-THE-DARK BRACELETS. These are popular with kids and make them more visible at night.