For many health-conscious parents, holidays like Halloween can cause anxiety and confusion when it comes to making healthy choices.
There is great fun in participating by dressing up, handing out treats at your door, and taking your kids around the neighborhood to collect their own goodies.
We can’t ignore that most children coming to your house expect a giant bowl of sugar-laden candies, and likewise, that is what most families give away to your own eager little monsters.
However, when we participate in Halloween traditions like trick-or-treating, we are often left feeling guilty and very much like hypocrites, as if when you allow your children the treats, you are the one committing the tricks.
But if we get creative, there are ways to have fun and participate, and stay true to our health-oriented lifestyle goals.
Alternatives to handing out conventional Halloween candy:
- Dark chocolate: If you must participate by handing out candy, make it the healthiest version of candy and go with dark chocolate that has a relatively high cacao percentage (65% or higher is ideal). Many health food stores now carry organic individually wrapped dark chocolate packaged especially for Halloween. New Seasons Market has mini, individually wrapped, fair trade dark chocolates from Equal Exchange available in bulk.
- Small toys: The kids might not seem thrilled to see you aren’t handing out candy, but things like glow sticks/bracelets, Halloween stickers, or bubbles will be greatly appreciated at home when the novelty (and sugar high) of the candy wears off. The Learning Palace as well as Finnegan's Toys & Gifts are both family owned and locally operated stores that sell educational materials and specialty toys, and often have creative ideas for party favors and trick-or-treaters.
- Comic books: My boys and I strolled into our local comic book shop, Things From Another World, and saw that they had packs of Halloween comic books for sale to give out to trick-or-treaters. One of my sons even said, "I'd way rather have a comic book than a piece of candy!"
- Money: A few days before Halloween, stock up on a few rolls of coins. You could have a bag that the trick-or-treaters can’t see into filled with quarters, half dollars, and a few dollar coins. Tell them they can reach in and pull out one coin. With an average of $.25-$.50 per trick-or-treater, depending on how busy your street is, this may be equivalent to the amount you’d spend on candy anyway.
- Nuts & dried fruit: Trader Joe’s sells packages of small single-serving sized bags of nuts and dried fruit combinations.
- Nothing: Yes, you may be labeled as a “Party Pooper,” but no one says you have to participate and give out candy to the masses. Just make sure to leave your porch light OFF so that you are not bothered by endless knocks from tiny witches, zombies, and ghosts.
What to do with your own children’s candy:
- Leave the candy for the Halloween Fairy: This is most fun when your children are young enough and still believe in magical characters like the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny. At our house, I let my boys choose a few of their favorite kinds of candy (after all, it is only one night a year), and the rest we leave for the Halloween Fairy on Halloween night. Sometime in the night when the children are sleeping, the Halloween Fairy arrives and takes their candy, replacing it with a special surprise. Some years it has been one large thing, and other years it has been a collection of smaller things. They have been given sketchbooks with new colored pencils, money, glow sticks, stuffed animals, healthy snacks, beeswax candles, and many other things.
- Buy the candy back from them: Most kids have a blast running from house to house to see how many pieces of candy they can collect. When I was a kid, counting my candy at the end of the night was almost as fun as eating it. If they know they can exchange it for money, I’m sure they’ll have just as much fun while trick-or-treating. Have a pre-set amount that you will pay per piece. Keep in mind that many kids, especially the older ones, can get well over 100 pieces if they start early, so make sure you set a price you can afford, while still making it feel worthwhile for your kids to give up their precious candy.
- Have a Halloween barter store: Purchase or make some of your family’s favorite healthy treats and have them barter their candy for the healthy alternatives. Each item can have a different price: 4 bags of M&Ms for one organic dark chocolate bar, 3 lollipops for one homemade pumpkin muffin, etc.
- Keep it out of sight: Whatever you choose to do with your children’s candy, keep it put away so that it doesn’t create a constant reminder. I am always surprised at how much candy and treats I end up throwing away after the most recent holiday passes because my kids simply forget it exists. Sure, the first few days they ask about it, but fortunately our lives are full of enough enriching content to supersede the novelty of sweet treats.
- Donate the candy: After saving their own families from the hazards of the Halloween candy dilemma, many parents choose to donate the seized candy to others in need. But who really is in need of individually wrapped Type II diabetes? This is where I have mixed feelings. In one instance, I hate to waste food of any kind (even considering that candy is hardly classifiable as food) knowing that there are many people that go hungry and struggle to find anything to eat. However, it also just doesn’t feel right saying, “I care too much about my family to let them eat this, but I’ll give it to you because I care little enough about you to be concerned about your health.” Honestly, most years I just throw it away. Maybe my conscience would be better balanced if in November I say, “Yes!” when the grocery store clerk asks me if I want to donate a Thanksgiving meal to someone in need by adding the cost of it onto my grocery bill.
However you choose to ease the impact of Halloween treats, make sure that stress isn’t a part of the equation. After all, this is supposed to be fun. And really, you've already succeeded if the concern of feeding your family well is such a large part of your daily awareness. When your children see your efforts to promote a healthy lifestyle, they will in turn be able to make informed, healthy choices in the future for themselves and their own families.