By Cory Phare
The end of October brings ghastly ghouls and pint-sized pumpkins door-to-door, asking that all-hallowed question: “Trick or treat?”
In addition to spooky costumes, though, one statistic is truly frightening.
“On average, children eat between 3,500 to 7,000 calories of candy throughout the Halloween day,” said Jennifer Bolton, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
And to burn all that extra sugar off? You’d have to join an easygoing game of pickup basketball – for 14 and a half hours.
So, to keep your ghosts from goblin too much candy, here are Bolton’s tips for a healthy Halloween.
1. Fill up first: “You’ll want to make sure all the little ones eat a healthy meal before heading out to trick-or-treat,” Bolton said. “That way they’ve got a full stomach so they aren’t so hungry when they get back.” She suggested something high in fiber and protein with vegetables, like this healthy turkey chili recipe.
2. Make fun of your food: One way to subvert the impulse to gorge on ghoul-gotten gains is to prepare a spread of healthy treats for returning trick-or-treaters. “Fruit can have vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and fiber – there’s a lot of extra good stuff they’re getting,” Bolton said, noting it’s important to make it fun. “You can turn a clementine into a mini jack-o’-lantern, while an apple with pumpkin seeds looks like a mouth with scary teeth – and you can easily make a ghost out of half of a banana and chocolate chip eyes.”
3. It’s in the bag: “When you buy in to the ‘pillowcase philosophy,’ you’re encouraging a mindset of staying out until it’s filled, which is way more candy than anyone needs,” Bolton said. Her suggestion? More modest receptacles, such as the plastic pumpkin pails that’ve served sweet-seeking spooks for decades.
4. Energy to burn: “Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the sugar that gets kids amped up – it’s the excitement of the situation,” Bolton said. She suggested diverting that youthful exuberance by hosting a pre-outing dance party, encouraging races between houses – on well-lit sidewalks, of course – or even jumping-jack competitions.
5. Have your candy and eat it (in moderation) too: Drawing on the work of nutritionist Ellyn Satter, Bolton suggested giving children five minutes to pick out which candy they’d like to eat, then putting the bag away for the evening. “It helps kiddos create autonomy around food-related decisions they can enjoy while removing the temptation to overindulge,” she said. “That’s important, because it takes the power of candy away – when you just say ‘no’ outright, it becomes something super special and tempting instead of a sometimes-food.”
6. Spread the wealth: Another benefit of stashing the sweets early? Sharing it with others. “Remember, the candy will still be there after the excitement is gone,” Bolton said. “And you always donate it – to deployed military troops, or to dentists’ offices, which will often pay by the pound or offer prizes in return.”
7. Think outside the pumpkin: That means mini bags of popcorn, dried fruit and nut packages, or real fruit strips in lieu of typical Halloween fare. You don’t have to eat treats for them to be sweet either – Bolton suggested glow sticks, bouncy balls, spider rings and temporary tattoos as fun-sized alternatives. And though you may score popularity points with the honor system approach, it’s best not to leave a big bowl out with a sign.
“No to the free-for-all,” Bolton said. “One per kiddo is the way to go.”
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