Let’s not beat around the pumpkin. It’s Halloween and your kids will inevitably scope out candy. But you can prevent a “candy hangover” on Friday.
Here are some tips from Rachel Berman, health content manager at About.com, and Laura Dolson, About.com low-carb expert, on how to control the amount of candy your kids eat and have them enjoy their treats in the healthiest way possible.
Above all, don’t deprive your kids of sweets altogether, Berman said. Banning sweets from your house and denying your child can backfire – often that leads to your child coveting treats and overdoing it whenever they have the chance. Use Halloween as a teaching moment for enjoying a treat in moderation.
Here are some more ideas on how to handle the sweets-laden holiday from Berman and Dolson.
• Have a snack or meal before you go, Berman said. Trick-or-treating on an empty stomach will only encourage kids to eat more candy. Why? They’re hungry! Berman suggests bringing a meal to-go if you’re in a rush, like a sandwich or even soup in a thermos.
• Your child’s candy container sets boundaries. Instead of an oversized pillowcase, give them a small pumpkin container. And you really don’t need go to every neighborhood, Berman said. Another great idea that people seem to have forgotten? Walk instead of drive to trick-or-treat to get some activity in.
• Portion size matters. Here’s what you can get for less than 100 calories per serving: three Hershey’s Kisses (76 calories), one Fun-Size Snickers Bar (80 calories), one pouch Sweet Tarts (50 calories), one roll Smarties (25 calories), one Blow Pop or Dum Dum Pop (50 calories).
• Berman suggests limiting sweets to fewer than 300 to 400 calories the night of Halloween. Then have one to two pieces per day for a week (maybe one at lunch and one after school). But after a week, toss the stash or donate to a local food bank. Remember that too many gummies or hard candy can not only add excess calories, but can be damaging to your child’s teeth and increase risk of cavities. A great tip from Berman: Always pair a sweet with another more nutritious food. For example, as part of a snack: Have an orange with a fun-size chocolate.
• Be smart about food safety. Skip treats with faded or opened wrappers, or ones that are homemade. Said Berman: When in doubt, throw it out.
• Another thought, Berman said: Sweets don’t have to be the focus of the holiday. Make spooky decorations with your kids and more nutritious foods that are still in the Halloween spirit. For example, try making jack-o’-lantern treats like mini pizza – whole wheat pitas, tomato sauce, cheese and orange bell peppers. Or try something like a pumpkin soup with dark chocolate chips in the shape of a mouth and eyes. If you’re having a get-together, arrange cut-up veggies in the shape of skeletons or bats and pair with roasted red pepper hummus for a reddish dip to resemble blood (but which add belly-filling fiber).
• If you want control over the food, throw a Halloween party, Dolson said. Then you can completely control what’s served, or take the emphasis off candy altogether. Give out stickers, bouncy balls, noise makers and glow-in-the-dark bracelets and necklaces to wean your child off sugar-filled candies.
• Do a “swap” after trick-or-treating. If your child has special dietary restrictions, Dolson said, pick out all the candies that your child is able to eat and let them keep that pile. Take the rest to a food bank and replace the candy with a non-food treat. This keeps your child from feeling left out of the festivities that their friends got to participate in. Tell them they’re going to get something more special than candy, Dolson said.
• Check ingredient labels for gluten-free products. Even if you’ve had a treat before, it’s always important to read the ingredient label as formulas may change, Dolson said. Common gluten ingredients on candy labels are barley, malt and wheat starch. But even if a product is gluten-free, there may be cross-contamination from the facility so read the package for that information as well. Dolson has compiled a list of some of the more common gluten-free candies, which would work for trick-or-treating: YumEarth, Jelly Belly jelly beans, Butterfinger, Dove chocolate, Blow Pops, Dum Dums, Hershey’s Kisses, Junior Mints, M&M’s original, Reese’s Pieces and Raisinets.
• Be educated on the nutritional facts. On small, fun-sized candies, all the nutritional info will be on the large bag that they came in. Check out Dolson’s website for specific info on how many calories and carbs many of the popular brand name candies contain: http://abt.cm/sUmNc
• Beware of “sugar-free” candies that contain maltitol. Many “sugar-free” candies contain this sugar replacement that often causes digestive disturbances, Dolson said. It can be even worse than sugar.
• Give them lollipops. Berman suggested offering candies like Dum Dums and Blow Pops, which allow you to stretch out the amount of time your child is eating candy, resulting in your child eating less sugar overall.
• Toy candies are another option, Berman said. Many of the toy candies such as “lipstick” are low on calories, and may contain less sugar than candy corn, which can be addictive and add up easily.
• Watch out for seasonal editions of candies. Special edition candies usually contain a lot more sugar and calories, Berman said. Smarties, Blow Pops and Sweet Tarts are all pretty small, innocuous options. Another good, classic treat? A square of dark chocolate, which contains antioxidants and isn’t too high in sugar.