It’s hard to believe that Halloween is right around the corner, ushering in a string of holidays that are filled with lots of fun and lots of food—especially the sweet stuff. Watching kids run up and down the sidewalk in their princess dresses and skeleton costumes shouting "trick or treat," hoping to fill their bags with as much candy as they can carry is more fair than foul.
All this candy, now what?
We’ll never be able stop the great candy march, but there are a few things we can do at home to make this ghoulish time of year healthy and happy.
• Don’t buy early. The first time I saw a store aisle filled with Halloween candy this year was early August. I figured the people who buy Halloween candy this early are addicted to those orange and black-wrapped peanut butter kisses, or people who are planning a very long vacation with a late October return. Sure, we all want to be the house with the "good" candy, but there is no need to stockpile chocolate bars too far in advance. For many parents, candy sitting in a bag that’s too easy to tear into could be a disaster for children and adults alike.
n Start a new post-trick-or-treat tradition. Label a jar or bowl with your child’s name on it. Before you even walk out the door, let your little ones know that when they get home, they can search through their candy for two big handfuls of their absolute favorites. Provided the candy is parent-approved, that’s what they get to keep. Put the candy in their bowl and let them know they can have a couple pieces a day until it’s all gone.
Get to know your candy
Sometimes the easiest way to get parents to understand the importance of limiting candy, even at Halloween, is by knowing what’s in it. It goes without saying that the number one ingredient in all candy is sugar of some sort. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is now the sugar of favor in most candy because it is cheap and has a long shelf life. Unfortunately, HFCS has been linked to adverse health effects, specifically in impacting the normal function of the hormones insulin and leptin. Those two hormones play a big role in regulating our blood sugar levels and letting us know when we’re full.
Some sugar perspective: The USDA recommends not adding more than 20 teaspoons of sugar to a 2,000-calorie diet (usually well above what our should kids eat). A 2-ounce package of candy contains 11 teaspoons of sugar.
But if getting stingy on candy is cramping your Halloween style, these festive and healthy treats are just as fun to make as they are to eat. Put out a couple of these dishes for the next play date, costume party or family dinner and watch them disappear.
Who knew bugs could taste so good? When these creepy-crawlers get onto your kids’ plates, they’ll vanish in no time.
20 round crackers (I like Late July Organic Crackers)
½ cup creamy peanut butter
40 small pretzel sticks
A handful of raisins or chocolate chips
Yields 10 bugs
Break pretzel sticks in half and set aside. Lay out 10 crackers onto a large plate or cookie sheet. Spread a generous amount of peanut butter over the cracker. Place eight pretzels in the peanut butter, making four "V" shapes. Repeat this for all 10 crackers. Dab a small amount of peanut butter onto the remaining 10 crackers to make a sandwich with the bottom halves. Finally, glue chocolate chips or raisins with peanut butter onto the top of the bug.
If peanut allergies are a problem, use hummus or cream cheese instead.
These ready-in-no-time treats are just as fun and easy for the little gremlins in your home to make as they are for you.
2 cups shredded coconut flakes
½ cup honey
8 Popsicle sticks or straws
Yields 8 ghosts
Pour honey and coconut into separate medium-sized bowls. Peel four bananas and cut them in half. Set raisins aside in small dish.
Roll one half banana in honey, gently coating it. Immediately transfer banana into the bowl of coconut, covering completely. Move banana to a cookie sheet or large plate covered in wax paper. Repeat this process for the remaining bananas. After they’re covered in coconut, "glue" the raisins on in place of eyes and a mouth. Insert Popsicle stick or straw at the bottom of the banana. Serve immediately.
These peepers are out of sight and frightfully delicious.
6 eggs, hard boiled
12 sliced black olives
2 Tbsp. organic mayonnaise (I like Spectrum)
2 Tbsp. yellow mustard
Yields 12 Eyes
Cut each peeled egg length-wise, setting the yolks aside. Place the remaining egg whites on a large plate and set aside. Combine the mayo and mustard with the egg yolks. Mix until the egg yolks are a smooth paste. If needed, add a little sea salt. Fill each egg white with the egg yolk mixture. Don’t overfill. Carefully add an olive to the center of the yolk to make the eyes.
These witch fingers are hauntingly healthy for grown ups and kids, too.
1 pound whole carrots
8 oz. cream cheese or Neufchatel
8 oz. sour cream
½ cup medium salsa
Yields 5 Witch Fingers and a plate of fresh veggies
Mix cream cheese and sour cream together into a smooth mixture. Add salsa, mix and pour into a festive Halloween bowl. Peel five carrots. Cut five tops off the carrots to make four fingers and one thumb. Use a dab of the vegetable dip to glue one sliced almond onto the top of each carrot to make fingernails. Gently stand the fingers and thumb in the dip. Serve this dip with more carrots, celery or any other seasonal vegetable.
Pumpkin Popcorn Balls
We opted for the sweet (and healthy) taste of agave nectar over corn syrup to make these pumpkin-flavored treats.
10 cups air-popped popcorn
1 cup light agave nectar (I like Mudhava)
1 cup organic sugar
½ cup coconut oil
1 Tbsp. distilled white vinegar
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or All Spice
Yields 10 3-inch Popcorn Balls
Add agave nectar, sugar and coconut oil to a saucepan. Stir until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat and add vinegar. Pour the mixture over the popcorn, tossing to coat thoroughly. Wait about 10 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons of spice and mix one more time. With clean, dry hands, dig in and make the popcorn balls. This could be something fun for your kids to help with. Make sure to squeeze the popcorn together tightly to make each ball. Set out on a decorative plate or wrap in plastic wrap, tied off with orange raffia ribbon.
Traci Danielson Mitchell is a Chicago-based nutrition coach and health writer. She provides family nutrition services through her company, DM Nutrition & Fitness. Reach her online at www.dmnutrition.com or e-mail her at email@example.com.