The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 21, 2012

Halloween treats don’t have to become a health scare

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

— There are few things as American as the Halloween tradition of dressing up in costumes, going door to door and collecting candy.

There are also few things quite as American as the skyrocketing obesity rate, to which candy and other sweet treats contribute a significant amount.

Which presents a dilemma.

As a parent, do you let your kids partake in Halloween the way it’s been done for years, which is to say let them amass an arsenal of sweets that could make Willy Wonka jealous? Or do you put your foot down and resolve to change the way Halloween is done to reflect a new health consciousness?

According to the American Dental Association’s recent survey, a lot of parents are starting to think it’s time for a change in how Halloween is done in this country.

The ADA surveyed 1,000 parents. Among the results: 70 percent agreed it would be good if children received less candy. Of that 70 percent, nearly 60 percent believed kids eat too much Halloween candy. The average child, the survey said, gets 90 pieces of candy on the average Halloween night outing.

Mankato Clinic Dietitian Erin Gonzalez says there are things families can do to avoid turning Halloween into a sugarfest.

“My suggestion would be to hold Halloween parties instead of trick or treating,” Gonzalez said. “Then you’d have control.”

At a Halloween party, parents could serve healthy snacks. Feeling creative? Cook up some whole wheat pasta and scare up a blood-and-guts theme.

“It doesn’t have to revolve around candy to make it fun,” Gonzalez said.

But as much as that ideal sounds great, it doesn’t solve the notion that, for many, trick or treating is a powerful rite of fall that isn’t about to be abandoned.

It’s still possible to maintain that tradition and limit the amount of candy consumed.

Gonzalez suggests cutting down the number of houses kids hit on Halloween night. Beyond that, parents — believe it or not — can control how much candy their kids consume.

In fact, you’d be surprised how little candy she says is healthful for kids.

“A maximum of one piece a day is healthy,” she said.

On the other end, there are plenty of healthful options now for folks wishing to hand out candy that’s not pure sugar. There are fruit snacks available now that are made from 100 percent fruit juice. Gold fish crackers and granola bars are better snack options.

Beyond candy, Gonzalez suggests getting inexpensive toys from the dollar store to hand out.

After the big night, if you’ve allowed for the collection of candy, be careful how available that candy is. A free-for-all is not a good idea. Put limits on the candy.

Another idea: When your kids have collected copious amounts of candy, surreptitious disposal of fistfuls of bite-sized Snickers, Skittles and Tootsie Rolls is an easy way to limit overall candy intake.

When all else fails, try the technology angle.

The ADA is teaming with a ton of dentists to give out, instead of candy, coupons redeemable for free copies of the video game Plants Vs. Zombies. The popular game, played by an estimated 120 million people so far, is available via download to a PC.