By Jody Mullen
Can you believe we’re into October already? The air is cooler, the leaves are changing color, and the days are growing shorter all the time. It’s the season of apple cider, pumpkins (and pumpkin spice everything, of course), and Halloween candy corn. Speaking of Halloween, have your kids picked out costumes yet? The anticipation of dressing up, staying out late, and coming home with loads of Halloween candy is almost as much fun as the holiday itself.
If you’re anything like me, you try to strike a balance between eating a diet of good-for-you foods and enjoying sweet treats in moderation. That’s not always easy to do as a grown-up—which means it’s twice as challenging when it comes to your kids’ eating habits. When the holidays roll around and there’s sugar everywhere, how do you keep them from overindulging? Should you ban the goodies altogether? Here, I’ll talk more about our relationship with sugar and how we can approach it in a healthy way.
When it comes to sugary candy and other treats, it’s best not to make any hard-and-fast rules. Sure, sweet goodies might not be as good for you as fresh fruits and veggies and lean protein. And that’s why we don’t make them our dietary staples—but it is okay to enjoy the food you love in moderation. In fact, it may be the healthiest approach there is. Experts believe that talking about “good foods” and “bad foods,” while well-intentioned, can send the wrong message about eating, bodies, and weight. Furthermore, treating our sugar cravings as naughty and denying them at all times can lead us to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Letting kids explore and occasionally overindulge is how they learn to recognize their own hunger and fullness cues.
You can’t control what neighbors hand out to Trick-or-Treaters or what kids might nibble on at school festivities. But when it comes to the candy you’re buying and sharing, here a few pointers for making better choices.
When it comes to chocolate treats, you’re better off crossing to the dark side. Dark chocolate’s benefits are numerous. It’s rich in antioxidants, contains less fat and sugar than milk or white chocolate, and is satisfying in small portions. A generous handful of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kisses should make any Trick-or-Treater happy. Dark Chocolate M&Ms are always popular too.
It’s good to mix in hard candy, like Jolly Ranchers or Life Savers, with the usual chocolatey staples. Hard candy takes more time to consume, making it more difficult to scarf. Just be sure to encourage your kids to brush their teeth afterward to reduce sugar left on their teeth.
We all know sugar isn’t great for our teeth—it eats away at the protective enamel and can land us in the hot seat at the dentist’s office. That’s why both sugar-free gum and sugar-free hard candy can be good additions to your Halloween candy bowl. If you think sugar-free options must be unappealing and gross, think again! Check out how many awesome sugar-free treats are available nowadays.
Here’s where I stand on the candy issue. On Halloween night, go crazy, stuff yourself, and live it up. You can eat as much of your loot as you’d like (although I enforce a Twix tariff for my Trick-or-Treat chaperone services). It’s the fact that Halloween has become a two- or three-week-long mega-celebration that gets to the worrywart in me. There’s a town Trunk or Treat, a school party, a party at the dance or karate studio … it all gets to be too much. With so much candy in the house, it’s easy for all of us to mindlessly munch. I don’t know about you, but I have a difficult time resisting all those chocolate treats winking at me from the pantry. (Telling myself that they belong to my kids doesn’t help one bit!)
That’s why I think it’s helpful to offer some candy alternatives at Halloween parties and Trick-or-Treat time. It’s not that you can’t offer candy, of course. But instead of a bag full of sweets, pair one fun-size candy bar with a handful of other goodies. Here are a few of my favorite candy alternatives and other healthy Halloween snacks:
For events that call for homemade treats, think outside the box! These yummy protein balls have the same poppable, bite-size appeal as donut holes, but they’re so much more. They’re lower in sugar than many other goodies, easy to make, and customizable. And they’re so good, you won’t get your trees toilet-papered.
Many schools require all food to be prepackaged and nut-free for everyone’s safety. And, on Halloween night, most parents prefer not to let their kids eat homemade treats unless they’re from neighbors they know well. To make everyone happy, offer single-serving bags of popcorn and pretzels (especially the cute ones shaped like bats and pumpkins). Goldfish or other cheddar cracker snacks are always a crowd-pleaser, too. Parents love these treats because they make easy additions to school lunches in the days that follow.
If you’d like to forgo handing out edible treats altogether, you might think about offering other stuff kids love: stickers, pencils and erasers, mini coloring books, bouncy balls. You’ll be doing more than simply helping everyone to avoid a cavity or two. Kids who have severe food allergies can feel left out on Halloween when their friends and classmates are going wild eating chocolate and nuts. Offering something that’s safe and fun for them will make their day (and their parents’—it’s never fun to see your kids bummed out).
At the end of the day, it’s okay for kids of all ages (including, you know, us big kids!) to splurge sometimes. It’s even healthy because food is there for us to enjoy. If you’re feeding your kids a diet that’s nutritious, satisfying, and relatively low in sugar, it’s okay to go a little crazy at Halloween. The occasional overindulgence is part of learning to manage your relationship with food in a healthy way. Give your kids the space to get a couple chocolate-induced bellyaches, and they’ll start to understand when to stop snarfing the Milky Ways. And if they don’t get it? That’s why you’re there to help guide them.
Have a great Halloween and be safe!