By Omar Shamout
Ghouls and goblins and ghosts, oh my! That’s right, folks—Halloween is just around the corner, and if you’re not careful, you might have to add another “G” to that list: gastric bypass. Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme, but we all know how tempting it is for you adults to gobble down those sweets before, during, and after All Hallows’ Eve—and that’s nothing compared to the blitzkrieg of sugar your kids have in store for them. So take a minute to rethink some of your holiday traditions, learn some interesting ways to avoid the “scary” dietary pitfalls October brings, and rediscover what the spirit of Halloween is really all about! Trust me, the parents of the trick-or-treaters in your neighborhood will thank you too! (Sugar tantrums are terrifying.)
- Candy is candy, no matter how you sweeten it. Whether it’s dolled up with HFCS or agave syrup, candy will still rot your children’s teeth, mess with their blood sugar, and add to their waistlines. “Sweet” doesn’t have to come from a factory, though. There are many tasty, less processed, more wholesome foods that will satisfy that sweet tooth just fine. Fruit can be made into a variety of delicious treats, and is loaded with vitamin C to help your immune system and fiber to aid your digestion, as well as a host of other nutritious vitamins and minerals. Many dried fruits, like raisins, come in small packets ideal for tossing into trick-or-treaters’ bags. If you’re willing to put in the effort, fresh fruit can be carved into many fun, devilish designs that will add more to the Halloween mood than the calorie count. Although safety dictates that not many trick-or-treaters accept fruit, particularly cut-up fruit, your ghoulish creations should be a hit at any Halloween party—even the grown-up ones. Think of all the possibilities with just these simple ideas: an orange as a mini-pumpkin, grapes as eyeballs, a melon as a brain, and either carrot sticks or string cheese as fingers. Okay, so string cheese isn’t exactly a fruit, but you get the idea. Be creative!
- Go nuts! If you don’t have the time to indulge your inner artiste in the kitchen and create some spooky snacks, then consider handing out individually wrapped packs of almonds, pretzels, or trail mix to the kiddies. Pretzels are pretty low in calories, and almonds are chock-full of healthy fats and protein. Trail mix can be high in sodium, so keep an eye on the nutrition label, but all of these options are much healthier than candy.
- Don’t be scared of the dark. If you or your kids just can’t live without a chocolate fix, opt for dark chocolate over milk chocolate, because it’s far less sweet, has fewer calories, and contains more iron and antioxidants. And without milk as an ingredient, you’ll be consuming less saturated fat. Dark-chocolate-covered almonds are a personal fave!
- Become the Crypt Keeper. There was no better master of ceremonies than everyone’s favorite cheeky little skeleton, so why not follow his lead, and host your own party or event for your friends or your kids’ friends? That way, you’ll know exactly what’s going into their hungry mouths. Get those crafty-yet-healthy snacks ready, and continue the creativity by having a costume making-party, scavenger hunt, ghost story session, or scary movie night. Just pop in The Adventures of Pluto Nash or Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! and the young’uns will be terrified! No? Well, I suppose you know your kids better than I do, but I left the theater shaking . . . Getting back to the matter at hand, shouldn’t Halloween be more of an activity (with an emphasis on active) than just an excuse to eat as much candy as possible? Besides, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and even Festivus will be here before you know it, all of which will provide plenty of time to celebrate the wonders of food. Keeping your kids occupied with fun things to do during Halloween is something they’ll enjoy far more than a candy bar, one they’ll be sure to look back on with a smile rather than the memory of an upset stomach.
- Take a hike! No, really. If your kids are restless and insist on hitting the pavement to beg for candy, why not find a nice big hill for this year’s trick-or-treating trip? This will really separate the truly dedicated costumed adventurers from the mildly amused. If your group manages to make it all the way up the hill, then at least they’ve gotten in some exercise to balance out the chocolate overflowing from their bags. On the other hand, if they poop out halfway up, all the better for you—and their blood sugar! Plus, when they pass out early from exhaustion, you can toss out all the really bad stuff they acquired without them ever knowing!
- Coins over candy. It’s never a bad time to teach your children about compassion, so try cutting candy out of the equation altogether by convincing them to trick-or-treat for UNICEF. In addition to being able to get coin boxes from UNICEF through the mail, you can also pick them up at any Toys “R” Us® or Babies “R” Us® store. (Go to http://youth.unicefusa.org/trickortreat/participate/ for more information.) By participating, your kids can collect money to help children around the world receive clean water, healthy food, and life-saving immunizations. What better reason could there be to put on a costume?
The bottom line is, the last thing we need in life is another holiday dedicated to unhealthy food. (Plus, with the amount of artificial ingredients, chemicals, and highly processed sweeteners in candy these days, most of it can barely even be classified as food.) The fun of Halloween has always been in the mood, the atmosphere, the thrill of the scare, and the excitement of planning and dressing up in a costume, so focus your attention on those things, and you’re bound to create a memorable experience for everyone. And remember, keep it active!