Remember the days when Halloween was wholesome and healthy? No, neither do I. None of us want to begrudge our kids the excitement of Halloween parties and trick-or-treating, but it’s hard to escape the dark truth about Halloween: it’s essentially a celebration the wonders of high-fructose corn syrup. And for health conscious parents, it’s a time when we’re expected to pretend it’s fun to watch our children go into sugar-induced meltdown.
But it doesn’t have to be as a bad as that – with a little effort and planning, it’s not so hard to keep the junk food within reasonable limits and still leave kids feeling that they’ve had a special night. To help you plan your big night, I’ve assembled the following ten tips for keeping Halloween fun and a bit less unhealthy.
1. Set the rules in advance, explain them to your children and be sure to stick to them. Kids don’t have to actually care that sugar damages their teeth and upsets their insulin balance, but they do need to feel that your limits are not arbitrary.
2. Coordinate with other like-minded parents. It’s easier to be the sensible adult if your children’s friends are also not allowed to eat unlimited amounts of Halloween loot. Organize a Halloween party where everyone follows the same rules, and where non-candy prizes (glow-sticks and trading cards, for example) and healthier snacks are the norm. A few creative dark-chocolate or fruit-based treats can keep both kids and adults happy while dosing them with healthy antioxidants (see recipe below to get you started).
3. Arrange pre-trick-or-treating activities that are not all about candy. Halloween night may seem to last forever, but it’s a brief span of time – the more of it that’s spent pumpkin-carving, dancing or playing hide-and-seek, the less time they’ll spend collecting candy.
4. Eat real food. Starting the evening with a full stomach can make that third or fourth candy bar seem a lot less appealing.
5. Trick-or-treat slowly. Larger groups take longer to move from house to house, especially if the adults in the group are busy admiring the scary decorations. It also helps to arm your children with small bags – they don’t really need that twenty-gallon garbage bag, do they?
6. When everyone gets back home, place a large bag or bucket in the middle of the room and encourage the children to donate some of their candy to children who could not go trick-or-treating. In our house we tried this, and a little sense of competition had the kids giving away most of their candy by the end of the evening.
7. Consider buying some of the candy from your kids – that way they won’t feel deprived, and they may well prefer a little extra pocket money to yet another chocolate eyeball. Offer to trade them healthier treats for the more obnoxious contents of their sacs.
8. Help your children be aware of what the sugar does in their bodies. Gently help them make the connection when they get hyper, grumpy, or just plain sick after too much sugar.
9. Practice what you preach. Eating their candy to protect them from it sets the worst possible example, and it doesn’t do your own body any favors either.
10. Don’t keep your kid’s stash in their bedroom and enforce limits on how much they can eat per day.
And one final note. It’s really okay to throw away extra candy – it has no nutritional value whatsoever, and you’re not helping anyone by eating it yourself.