Is indulging in candy the reason kids love Halloween? Or is it more about dressing up in funny or scary costumes, decorating, parties and socializing that make the day? My view is that kids love having fun and the treats and sweets are simply a bonus.
To prove this point, I once used my neighborhood trick-or-treaters as a science project. In addition to offering a bowl of the smaller “fun-sized” candy, I also offered a bowl filled with items such as stickers, pencils, colorful shoelaces, arcade tokens, sugar free gum, bubbles, small packs of nuts, trail mix and lower sugar cereal bars. I asked the trick-or-treaters to choose one item from each bowl. I kept a record of how the kids responded and how many actually took something from the non-candy bowl.
My first trick-or-treater of the evening was so excited about the bubbles, he almost forgot to take candy. He actually ran from my house screaming “I got bubbles!”
By the end of the evening, 43 total kids had visited my house. All of them made a selection from both bowls. The most popular items in the non-candy bowl:
- Bubbles (by a landslide!)
- Sparkle stickers
- Low sugar cereal bars
The young children were especially thrilled by the non-candy “treats” & some even had to be reminded to take candy! I declared my experiment a success and have continued this Halloween tradition ever since. It’s also a great option for children with allergies or other special diet needs.
Below are a few more tricks that parents can use to encourage healthy habits and cut down on the candy “goblin.”
- Make sure kids eat a balanced dinner prior to trick-or-treating. Eating candy instead of a meal often results in upset tummies and crabby moods. Your child may be more interested in eating if you cook a hearty soup or stew in your “cauldron” and call it Witch’s Brew.
- Don’t send kids out trick-or-treating with a pillowcase! Instead, use a smaller bag or bucket. If kids can’t lift their bag at the end of the night, that’s a sign they have too much candy.
- Set a policy for eating trick-or-treat candy. In my view, it’s better to eat candy moderately over several days as a substitute for dessert or one or two pieces along with a healthy snack. It’s also been my experience that the kids get bored and actually forget about their candy after a few days.
- At Halloween parties, include healthy snack choices such as air-popped popcorn flavored with pumpkin pie spice and a light coating of honey, roasted pumpkin seeds (see below), whole grain pumpkin muffins (recipe below), whole grain crackers and hummus, baked tortilla chips and guacamole, punch made from a mixture of 100% fruit juice and seltzer water, fruit chunks, and cocoa made with fat free or 1% milk. The healthy choices will help balance out the treats.
- To get into the Halloween spirit, try one of the following fun food activities with your kids:
Using either light and dark breads (e.g. light and dark rye), white and orange cheeses, or thin melon slices (e.g. cantaloupe and honeydew), create contrasting designs with cookie cutters. Carefully cut identical sections out of both slices of cheese or bread. Insert the dark cutout into the light piece and the light cutout into the dark piece.
Save the seeds when you clean out your pumpkin. Rinse the seeds well. Mix 3 T. of olive oil, 1/4 tsp. garlic salt and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Mix together with the seeds. Spread out on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until the seeds are brown and crispy.
Offer delicious savory dips such as hummus, guacamole, salsa, tzatziki or cheesy bean dips as an alternative to sweet treats. Pair with carrot strips, orange pepper strips and baked whole corn tortilla wedges cut in fun Halloween shapes. To make crispy corn tortilla wedges, spray both sides lightly with olive or canola oil spray and bake 5-7 minutes in a 400º oven.