By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
Yes, Halloween Can Be Fun & Healthy
It’s that time of year again for witches, goblins, pumpkin spice and trick-or-treat. It’s also the time of year candy and confectionery companies try to outdo each other with their own versions of a sugar bomb to tempt our kids and frustrate our efforts to keep them on a healthy diet.
A case in point is a well-known national ice cream company that announced, just in time for Halloween, a concoction of ice cream filled with such things as M&M’s, Oreos and Kit-Kats. Of course, it is only available during the month of October.
To give you an idea of the calories and sugar involved here, the large servings of ice cream before the goodies are added are over 800 calories with 75 grams of sugar. Most experts recommend between 1,600 and 2,200 calories for a growing child and no more than 23 grams of sugar a day. This one treat has almost half the calories your kid may need and almost three times the sugar he or she should consume in a day.
Such a treat would not necessarily be harmful if consumed occasionally. But combine it with all the other sugar-laden candies, sodas and cakes that are proffered between Halloween and New Year, and your child may end up running a higher risk of short and long-term health problems if you’re not diligent. These could range from dental problems such as erosion of tooth enamel and development of cavities to general health issues such as weight gain and sugar cravings.
And, if your child starts making higher sugar consumption the norm rather than the exception, this may cause weight gain which, in turn, increases the risk for developing such conditions down the road as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and depression. Too much sugar may also cause inflammation, which is believed to be the root causes of many diseases. Last, but not least, there is even evidence that excess sugar consumption may negatively impact school performance.
So, given the allure of a bag full of the Halloween take after a night of trick-or-treating combined with a literal bombardment of advertising promoting sugar in every form, it would be very easy to just throw up our hands as parents and give up with healthy eating until January.
But the truth is that our kids can still have a fun Halloween – including enjoying a variety of sweets – without undoing all our hard work of getting them to like, or at least eat their fruits and veggies. Having fun and being healthy are not mutually exclusive – you don’t have to choose between one or the other.
Go for Healthier
The first thing you need to know is that not all candies and sweets are created equal. Some are, indeed, less harmful than others when it comes to your child’s health. For example, when it comes to dental health, stay away from stickier candies – which literally glues sugar to your child's teeth – as well as those that will continue to bathe teeth in sugar, such as lollipops and hard tacks.
In addition to staying clear of “dental danger,” you can also replace high added sugar (or basically pure sugar in the case of the ubiquitous candy corn) Halloween treats with others that are just as much fun to eat and which your kids (and the neighborhood kids) are sure to enjoy. As an added bonus, your neighbors will appreciate you keeping Halloween healthier since you’ll be helping their kids stay healthier as well.
These healthy treats can include:
- Yogurt-covered raisins or cranberries
- Pistachios, almonds and other seeds and nuts
- Mini bags of popcorn
- Mini pretzels
- Mini fruit cups
- Mini-granola bars (even with chocolate!)
- Dried dates, apricots, cranberries and other fruits
- Small bags of baked chips
- Apple or other fruit chips (but not fruit juice which is jam packed with added sugar)
- Seasonal apples (but the red ones, the others may be too bitter for kids)
- Small boxes of cereal (but not the sugar-coated ones, please)
- Natural honey sticks (if from a local beekeeper, even better)
- Mini, portion-controlled plain cookie packs (most are around 100 calories or so)
Use Halloween as a Learning Opportunity
Of course, even if you are handing out healthier treats, that doesn’t mean the rest of the neighborhood is. So, it’s most likely that your kids will come back from their rounds with a haul of not-so-healthy candies and other foods. Unless you want to win ogre-of-the-year award, you clearly can’t toss their hard-earned loot into the dumpster. What you can do, however, is dole it out in moderation. If you have a very active child who is of normal weight, you can be more generous but not so much that it affects their appetite. Remember, kids are growing and need lots of nutrients that are not found in candy. Candy needs to be considered a treat, to be consumed after satisfying the body's need for vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
In addition to using the rationing of Halloween candy as a way to help you children learn the value of self-control and delayed gratification, it also can be a great way to start an age-appropriate conversation with them about healthy eating and why it’s important. Doing so while they are younger will help them develop healthy habits and patterns for life.
How to start the conversation?
Most likely, your kids will balk at the rationing with a series of “why's.” This is your cue to talk about moderation when it comes to sweets and why it’s important for them to eat other things as well – especially healthier foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables. You can also talk with them about how they can eat more healthily (with your help, of course) and where to eat healthy (at home with home-cooked meals that they help you prepare).
And, it goes without saying, that the best way to help your kids eat healthier throughout the year is by setting a good example for them. If, as adults, we know how to be healthy, we can educate our kids to be as well. Children whose nutritional, vitamin and mineral needs are met from infancy tend to be healthier and stay healthier than do children with imbalances or deficiencies. Finally, don’t forget to have your child take routine nutrient tests.
Enjoy Your Healthy Life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.