Sweet Treats: How To Manage The Onslaught Of Sugar This Halloween

By Shannon M. DeanIt’s no wonder Halloween is among the most eagerly-anticipated family holidays. What kid doesn’t love dressing as a super hero while visiting vibrantly-decorated places filled with happy people giving out free candy? Who can resist the parade of adorable trick or treaters? But even the most fun-loving parent can’t help but cringe when the kids dump all of the collected candy on the living room floor. And candy is no longer limited to evening trick or treating. Well meaning teachers, bus drivers, cashiers, and even coaches sometimes give out candy. Although there have been numerous scientific studies which claim that children’s behavior is not affected by excess sugar, any parent or teacher who has witnessed a roomful of kids jazzed up on sweets would certainly disagree. No one can argue that candy is nutritionally void and full of sugar that can contribute to obesity and tooth decay. According to the U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service, some kids already consume an average of 21 to 23 teaspoons of sugar a day. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control say that at least 15% of children today are overweight. Fortunately, there are many steps parents can take to make Halloween fun for everyone without allowing harmful amounts of sugar into your home.

FOCUS ON FUN AND HEALTHY ALTERNATIVESSusan Nitzke, PhD, a professor of nutritional sciences suggests that parents make a conscious and yearly effort to create alternative Halloween traditions that place the focus on activity, not on treats: “Children caught up in the excitement of other Halloween activities are less likely to be focused on the candy,” she says. Some suggestions are hosting your own Halloween costume or craft party, coordinating a scavenger hunt (with toys, not candy, for prizes), participating in many of the candy-free harvest carnivals offered by churches and community centers, or spinning spooky tunes in the front yard to entertain passing neighbors.A recent Halloween study found that children between three and fourteen were just as likely to chose toys as candy when offered both. So don’t sweat offering alternatives to gooey goodies. Non-food Halloween items like pencils, stickers, and temporary tattoos are great alternatives. You can also chose healthier foods for trick or treaters like individual packages of graham crackers, mini boxes of raisins, or sugar free gum.

LIMIT THE DAMAGENo matter how conscious you are about how you spend Halloween, it’s inevitable that your child will probably be exposed to candy. You’ll just need a plan to dispose of any excess. Some parents have success with allowing a few small pieces a day until most of the candy is gone or the kids lose interest. You can also offer to trade most of the candy for a bigger, more desirable prize, like a coveted Barbie doll or action figure. Even offering $5 for all but a few handfuls of candy is cheaper than a filling and less painful than a toothache. Dentists suggest letting children eat candy after a meal because the body will produce more saliva to help neutralize acids that can attach to tiny teeth. The worst time to eat candy is right before bed. Have kids rinse out their mouths and brush thoroughly after a candy feast, no matter what time of the day. What do dentists consider the worst candies for teeth? Anything that sticks to the teeth and stays there -- things like dots, gummy bears, suckers and hard candies. The best choices for “oral clearance” (spends the less time clinging to teeth) is chocolate because it melts quickly.For calorie and fat content, some popular candies are better choices than others. Twizzlers licorice is only 30 calories a piece and Hershey’s kisses are 25. Some filled chocolates like Peppermint Patties, Junior Mints and Three Musketeers are lower in fat than other chocolates. Read labels and consider snack sized portions.

PURGE THE EXCESSOnce you’ve convinced your child to give up the extra candy, get it out reach so it’s not longer a lingering temptation. Freeze some chocolate bars to melt for s’mores, brownies, or fondue on future winter days. Consider cutting up the rest to use as chocolate chips for baked goods you can make with your kids to give to senior citizen centers, military personnel, or any one special to your heart. Packaging up homemade cookies for the school crossing guard can make your child feel good about giving to others and take the focus off the candy.USE HALLOWEEN TO TEACH SMART CHOICES, BUT DON’T DWELLHalloween is a great time to talk to your children about the importance of making good nutritional choices, but you may not want to portray that message as one of overwhelming sacrifice. Once you’ve come up with a workable game plan that allows every one a little indulgence, explain the limits, but don’t dwell on them: “If you get too restrictive, they tend to hide food or snack secretly. Most of the Halloween feeding frenzy is in the first few days and then it will settle down,” reassures Linda Davenport, a dietician. Dental director A. Riley Cutler says “Gathering and eating Halloween candy can be a lot of fun for kids and parents alike. You can’t raise a child and take away everything that is fun. The key is moderation and parental involvement.” So offer your little spider-man or princess a slew of fun alternatives not focused solely on candy, but when they savor their hauls, know that treats in moderation are part of the thrill. Then help them learn to make good choices and figure out a useful way to share the extras.SIDEBAR:More Alternatives For Trick Or Treaters1. Tiny bottles of bubbles that come in a case at the dollar store.2. Kid-sized water bottles -- trick or treaters get thirsty and the water will help keep the sugar from sticking to their teeth.

3. Tailgating-type treats. My neighbor’s front yard is the most popular trick or treating destination in our neighborhood and she doesn’t serve candy. She buys bulk hot dogs and grills them in her front yard. All of the neighbors stop by to grab a snack and visit with one another, the children get to play and we all take a break from trick or treating.

4. Pennies. Many kids will chose money (even pennies wrapped in orange cellophane) over yet another piece of candy. (Not an option for small children who could choke on small objects).

5. Glow in the dark bracelets. These are popular with kids and make them more easily seen.

More Alternatives For Left Over Candy1. Immediately recycle it. Have your kids quickly pick out their favorite few handfuls of candy. Send items still tightly packaged and sealed right back out the door to the next batch of trick or treaters.2. Package up candy along with other packaged food items and create a care package for soldiers oversees that weren’t able to celebrate a traditional Halloween this year.

3. Save many varieties of candy for a Thanksgiving day pinata.

4. Save the hard candy for Christmas gingerbread houses, wreaths and ornaments.

5. Save a few handfuls of candy for a rain or snow day scavenger hunt.

Shannon M. Dean is a freelance writer who specializes in writing about parenting and families.