Halloween treats without all the sweet

Dad starts campaign to combat childhood obesity

Dave Soleil carves pumpkins and festoons his front yard with spider webs. But he’s spooked by one Halloween tradition — the candy.

A Decatur area stay-at-home dad, Soleil wants the bite-size chocolates, candy corn and lollipops to R.I.P.

Soleil recently created the Healthy Halloween House website (www.healthy halloweenhouse.org), where supporters of a candy-free holiday can download a poster featuring tombstones for candy bars and a banana-eating ghost. (If you look closely, you can even see broccoli and a carrot holding up the house.)

There’s also a pledge to bury the candy-giving tradition: “As a Healthy Halloween House, I pledge to provide a trick-or-treat alternative for kids that is not candy or junk food. I believe we can create a healthier world for our kids that strengthens our community without contributing to the epidemic of childhood obesity.”

“We can get to know our neighbors and we don’t have to sit down to the candy buffet,” said Soleil, father to 41/2-year-old Ocean and 18-month-old Meadow. “There are active things we can do without contributing to obesity.”

To those who might think there’s nothing menacing about a little candy, Soleil believes soaring obesity rates demand we challenge long-held candy-gobbling traditions.

Obesity rates are on the rise everywhere, with Georgia among the worst states with 37 percent of its children ages 10 to 17 overweight or obese, according to the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health.

“It’s not just Halloween. If it was just candy that one day OK, but it’s the candy day after day after day. Halloween turns into Thanksgiving candy and then it’s Christmas and Valentine’s Day,” said Soleil, wearing a T-shirt that reads “Eat your pumpkin. Let your candy rot on the porch.”

This year, the Soleil family is handing out homemade, orange and black play dough.

A handful of neighbors have also taken the pledge, and Soleil hopes by Halloween candy will be limited to just one in every two houses in his neighborhood.

Neighbor Jeremy Jeffers said he is glad Soleil is working to change Halloween habits. Jeffers said Soleil inspired him last year to give out a candy alternative. Jeffers went with animal-shaped Silly Bandz — and they were a hit.

“Every kid said, ‘Yes!’ when they saw them and they seemed very excited,” he said. “Before last year, we always gave away candy. It was one of those things you don’t even think about. You walk into a grocery store and you see huge piles of candy and you grab one.”

This year, the Jeffers family is handing out super bouncy balls. He bought 100 of them wholesale for $9.

“I know we’ll have leftovers and this way my kids will have balls they can play with instead of having a bunch of extra candy,” he said.

Jeffers said he won’t ban candy on Halloween but plans to limit his 3-year-old daughter Periwinkle’s consumption to a couple pieces on Halloween night, and maybe a few pieces after that.

Last year, Soleil’s daughters went trick-or-treating with special orange UNICEF boxes and collected money for the United Nations children’s fund. His children were too young to realize they were missing out on candy. As they get older, he hopes they will be able to enjoy the holiday without digging into candy. If or when his daughters ask for candy, Soleil plans to suggest they make the sweets themselves.

“That way we know what’s in it,” he said.

Dr. Stephanie Walsh, medical director of Child Wellness at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, analyzed the calories, fat and sugar content of Halloween treats and the results are frightening.

By visiting 15 houses, the average trick-or-treater can collect up to 60 pieces of “fun-size” candy. Those 60 sweets add up to 4,800 calories, 1 1/2 cups of fat and three cups of sugar.

“Allowing your child to consume three cups of sugar is like standing by and watching them eat 200 packets of sugar,” said Walsh. “There are so many fun things to do for Halloween that have nothing to do with candy. It should be about getting dressed up and going door to door, and family time. And bobbing for apples. My sons love bobbing for apples. Why doesn’t anyone bob for apples anymore?”

Candies with rich ingredients such as chocolate and peanut butter tend to have the highest sugar and fat content, Walsh said. But many specialty Halloween candies such as candy corn contain unhealthy amounts of sugar if not consumed in moderation.

Walsh, mother to three boys ages 11, 9 and 7, gives out a mix of sweets and non-food items such as stickers.

Parents, she said, need to remember they are in charge. Just because children return home from an evening of trick-or-treating with huge bundles of candy doesn’t mean they have to eat all of it. She suggests limiting children to one or two pieces a day and then after about a week or so, either “buy back” the candy (in exchange for a small toy or family outing) or donate it.

Despite the dangers of eating too much candy, she’s not sure a complete-ban on candy is the way to go.

“If you forbid candy altogether on Halloween, it may feel restrictive and what can happen sometimes is the child will end up sneaking candy,” said Walsh. “That’s why this can be an opportunity to teach your child moderation and balance.”

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Tips for a healthy Halloween

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta offers the following tips for a healthy Halloween:

● Moderation is key. Collect the candy and limit your child to one or two pieces a day.

● Offer to “buy back” the candy from your kids in exchange for small toy.

● Have your kids consume plenty of water with the sweets and set aside time to be active to help burn the extra calories consumed.

● Eat a nutritious meal before going out trick-or-treating. This will decrease your child’s appetite for sweets.

● Distribute candy with lower sugar and fat content, such as Sweet Tarts, or hand out candy alternatives such as stickers or balls.

● Consider giving away extra candy. Many dentists participate in a program that buys unopened candy and then ships the candy to Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends care packages to troops.

To locate a participating dentist, visit www .halloweencandybuyback .com.

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Dave Soleil’s Homemade Play Dough

3 cups flour

11/2 cups salt

6 teaspoons cream of tartar

3 cups water

3 tablespoons oil

Food coloring in color of your choice, optional

In a large pot over medium heat, combine flour, salt, cream of tartar, water, oil and food coloring. Cook until there are no wet, sticky spots, about 3 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan. When cool enough to touch, knead on counter. Store in covered container.