Halloween conjures a whole brew of images: streets filled with costume-clad kids, toothy jack-o’-lanterns, spooky décor, goblins, witches, black cats and bats; and, of course, piles of candy. In fact, candy might be the main goal for many kids on All Hallows’ Eve, and for many parents, that can be nightmare.

Halloween candyHalloween is the biggest holiday for candy producers, followed by Easter, Christmas, then Valentine’s Day, according to the National Confectioners Association, and Halloween candy sales continue to rise by 1 to 3 percent each year. How much candy does the average American consume over Halloween? About 3.4 pounds, according to the National Retail Federation. Kids would need to trick or treat on foot for 180 miles (60 hours) to burn that off. Yikes!

Luckily, candy doesn’t have to consume the holiday, and parents can do a lot to help lower their children’s consumption of sweets during Halloween. David Leal, nutritionist and health educator with the Texas A&M Health Science Center, offers these five tips for making Halloween just a little less scary when it comes to your kids’ health.

1. Maintain a balanced diet. Kids (and adults) should continue eating a healthy, well-balanced diet on Halloween. That means eating a good breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks that contain protein and complex carbohydrates. Leal recommends incorporating vegetables into lunch and dinner to make sure kids are getting the nutrients they need while filling them up so they don’t overindulge on candy that evening.

“For dinner, prepare vegetables the way you know your kids like them,” he says. “Now is not the time to introduce a new vegetable or recipe because you don’t want to take the chance that they won’t eat it.”

It’s even okay to add cheese to broccoli or a light cream sauce to green beans if that’s the way you know your kids like it. They will still ingest the nutrients and fiber vegetables provide.

2. Make Halloween about more than just candy. For many, Halloween is simply about trick-or-treating, but it can be much more than that. Leal says celebrating the holiday in ways that don’t necessarily involve candy can deter kids’ attention from the sweets and get them involved in more activity.

“Halloween comes from All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve, which is really supposed to be a time to remember the dead,” Leal says. “We can create our own traditions that revolve around that and not just trick-or-treating.”

He suggests taking the kids to fall festivals or involving them in Halloween-themed activities, like pumpkin carving or a treasure hunt. Churches often hold family festivals on Halloween, and many cities have Halloween community parties, haunted houses, and carnivals. You may also find inspiration from traditions of Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Mexican holiday that celebrates friends and family members who have died. The holiday begins on October 31 (Halloween) and ends on November 2. Observers honor the deceased by creating skeleton figurines or painting images of skulls that contain elements and features of those who have passed. They also prepare the favorite food and beverages of the departed and visit their graves with these as gifts.

3. Stock up on candy your family doesn’t like. If you live in an area where trick-or-treaters are sure to visit your home, Leal suggests this trick: buy candy to hand out that your family doesn’t particularly crave. That way, you won’t be tempted to indulge on those treats between doorbell rings or if you end up with leftovers. Plus, it will be easier to throw out or give away if you know you’ll never eat it.

4. Incorporate fruit. Fruit is a naturally sweet treat that also happens to provide many nutrients, so why not use that to your advantage this Halloween? You can simply put together fruit kabobs for the kids (and you) to snack on, or you can get rather creative with Halloween-inspired presentations.

Leal has carved out oranges to look like jack-o’-lanterns and filled them with berries, nuts, and even a few candy corns. A peeled kiwi cut into a rectangle looks an awful lot like a Frankenstein’s monster head; complete the look with some chocolate frosting details and a toothpick through the neck. You can also use that chocolate frosting to make kumquats look like jack-o’-lanterns and bananas look like tall ghosts. The frosting doesn’t necessarily add to the nutritional value of these treats, but using it sparingly is better than binging on candy. And yes, candied apples and caramel apples are also good choices. Plus, they are much more filling than just candy so kids aren’t likely to want more than one.

5. Make candy “disappear” after Halloween. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean making the candy disappear by eating it. If your kids go trick-or-treating and come back with a bucket full of candy, Leal suggests you let them pick out a few of their favorites, then dispose of the rest once they’re in bed.

“I heard this great story about a mom who has created this tradition of the Sugar Sprite to make the disappearance of Halloween candy easier for her kids to accept,” he said. You can adopt this story, too, or create your own version.

On Halloween night, after the kids are fast asleep in their beds, the Sugar Sprite pays them a visit. Where she is from in the Fairy Forest, the children are fueled by sugar and red dye, so she takes the candy with her to feed them. As a thank you for the food, she leaves behind a present.

Leal suggests leaving a small gift, like Legos or coloring books. Then, take the leftover candy to work to share with coworkers, distribute among the neighborhood children, or simply throw it away. With the candy out of the house after Halloween, the temptation leaves with it, and you and your kids are left guilt free.

By making these simple adjustments to the candy tradition of Halloween, your family can avoid over-indulging on sugary treats while still taking full advantage of the holiday. And the bonus: starting with Halloween sets the trend for making healthier choices throughout the holiday season that follows.

— Lindsey Hendrix

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