With Halloween fast approaching, many households find themselves filled with mini bags of M&Ms and fun-sized candy bars scattered throughout the cupboards. Part of being a kid is trick-or-treating and trading candy for the best loot. Kids should always be kids and enjoy dressing up and collecting bags filled with chocolate, lollipops, and other sugary treats. This does not mean that they need to gorge themselves on candy, which will only lead to stomach aches and sugar crashes—a situation more frightening than a haunted house! Try these tips for keeping meals healthy and kids happy.
1. Keep a balanced perspective. To support healthy habits, set rules before Halloween treats flood your house about how much candy can be eaten on any given day. Try one fun-sized candy bar in lunch boxes balanced with their usual healthy sandwich and fruit. Decide ahead of time (with your kids) that 1 regular candy bar is equivalent to 2-3 fun sized bars and share after dinner. By keeping the usual healthy foods in your kids’ diet, the occasional shared indulgence can be part of that overall healthy lifestyle.
2. Freeze the leftovers. Have kids help organize candy by type and preference. After setting aside 15 fun-sized pieces to be eaten over the next week or two, put the rest away in the freezer to be pulled out for later occasions. It will take some of the temptation and immediacy away.
3. Mix it into healthy snacks. Consider taking extra M&M packs or other mini pieces and mix them in with dried fruit and nuts to pack as an after-school trail mix snack.
4. Give it to others. Encourage kids to make care packages for grandparents or other relatives, “trick or treat” it back to the doorman, or bring it to school for a favorite teacher. Nursing homes, children’s hospitals, and other charities also accept candy donations after Halloween. Giving candy back will help to encourage sharing, while keeping excess candy out of the house.
Remember, many kids have various food allergies that may affect their trick-or-treating experience. The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organization has been working to promote the Teal Pumpkin Project, which encourages people to raise awareness of food allergies and support all kids participating in Halloween, while avoiding risk of allergic reaction. FARE asks participants to provide non-food treats for trick-or-treaters, place a teal pumpkin in front of your home or apartment door to indicate that you have non-food treats available, and consider displaying signs or posters from FARE to explain the meaning of the teal pumpkin and encourage others to consider joining in! For more information about the project, visit http://www.foodallergy.org/teal-pumpkin-project/faqs.
Bridget Murphy, MS, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian and clinical nutritionist at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center.