It’s the scariest time of the year. All those ghosts and goblins and cobwebs … and sugar. Yikes.
The amount of junk food that shows up on Halloween night can make a parent shiver; there are about 80 calories in a trick-or-treat sized chocolate bar and 60 in a lollipop.
These holiday snacks don’t just contain calories, but sugar, salt and fat.
Eeeek! But don’t panic. Holiday junk food does not have to be scary. “Eating things that taste good and things that are treats are a part of life, it’s fun,” says Cara Rosenbloom, a Toronto-based dietitian.
She says a little candy won’t harm your kids, and she’s backed up by research. A 2011 study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Food & Nutrition Research, found children and teens who eat candy and chocolates on a regular basis were 22 percent and 26 percent, respectively, less likely to be overweight or obese. Rosenbloom says when kids have treats regularly, they don’t obsess over them, and they learn about moderation early in life.
But even kids who aren’t normally sugar monsters get a little candy crazy around Halloween. To make sure treats are a good thing for your family this year, here’s a step-by-step Halloween survival plan:
1. Hide the loot
Keep your giveaway stash well hidden until October 31 and put it in a bowl by the front door when the sun goes down. If kids don’t see the treats ahead of time, that’s less time they’re asking for a sample.
If you are truly concerned about sweets this time of year, let that influence what you buy. Instead of going for the chocolate bars on deep discount at the grocery store, look harder for things to give away. Dollar stores and other outlets have inexpensive toys (we got mini packs of cards last year from some households in our neighbourhood). Or, you could give away slightly healthier foods like packs of raisins or granola bars.
2. Feed the family well
“It’s not about the amount of candy you eat; what matters is the diet as a whole,” says Rosenbloom. To that end, start Halloween night with a healthy meal that kids actually like. (This could be tricky if you’re dashing home to carve the pumpkin and make last minute costume repairs; so you may want to prep the meal ahead of time.) Opt for a favourite like macaroni and cheese, but use whole-wheat pasta and toss in some broccoli. If kids are full of a tasty meal before they head out for trick or treating, they won’t want to gorge on junk later.
3. Make it a quick outing
You’ll have better luck managing the loot if there’s less of it. Try to leave the house as late as you can and guide the crew back home when they have a full bag. Of course, this kind of tactic is going to work a whole lot better on younger kids than treat-or-treating veterans — but it’s worth a try for all ages.
4. Sort the loot
The minute you get in the door, dump out the bags and organize the treats. This is the time kids can have one or two snacks of their favourite candies. All the better to keep them distracted while you decree the rules.
First, separate out the stuff no one likes. Put that aside to donate or throw out. Then, come up with a plan for organizing the rest and explain to the kids how the treat management system will work. Keeping them in line from hereon in is easy: they break the junk food rules; they loose treats. You’ll have few transgressions.
5. Plan the future treats
Just how you organize who gets to eat what and when can work in a variety of ways, but aim to have the loot disappear in a week. “Having a treat or so a day for a week is not going to harm kids’ health,” says Rosenbloom. She creates small bags with two or three treats for her daughter, who can then eat them on a daily basis after meals. But there’s only enough bags to last a week or less.
Or, you can do what we do at my house: create a central treat bowl the kids can choose from at select times (usually after dinner; plus my son gets a treat in his lunch). When the stash is gone, Halloween is over!