Halloween is right around the corner, and while it’s a time for fun pumpkin carving and dressing up in costumes, many parents are worried about how much candy will come home with their kids on Oct. 31, and for good reason — there’s a lot of sugar in those plastic pumpkins, totes and other bags of sweet loot.
“There are so many fun things to do for Halloween that have nothing to do with candy,” said Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life’s medical director. “The holiday should be about getting dressed up with your family and going door to door with your neighbors.”
Walsh, mother to three boys ages 17, 15 and 13 gives out a mix of candy and non-food items such as glow bracelets, light-up rings and stickers. Other non-candy ideas: bubbles, temporary tattoos, bouncy balls, mini Slinkys and Play-Doh.
The real trick to a delightful Halloween, often overlooked by parents as their children rush them out the door to start trick-or-treating, is a yummy dinner! Walsh advised if you don’t have time to prepare a full meal, pick up a rotisserie chicken and whip up a quick bowl of brown rice, or make a peanut butter and banana sandwich.
Sometimes even the quickest dinner takes too long when it’s time to trick or treat. If you don’t have time to eat a meal, give your kids a power snack before heading out the door.
When kids leave with a full stomach, they will have plenty of energy to walk around the block—plus, they're less likely to binge on sugary treats when they get home.For example, make sure your kids experience an active Halloween. Don’t pull your kids in the wagon, have them get out and walk the neighborhood with you.
For new parents, Halloween is one of the cutest holidays of all. What’s more adorable than a baby football player or lion cub? However, Walsh advises against letting your baby or toddler indulge in the candy part of Halloween. In addition to many types of candy being choking hazards, the American Heart Association warns against introducing kids, ages 2 and under, to added sugar. Because kids have a strong preference for sweet flavors, if they are introduced to added sugars as an infant or toddler, it encourages this sweet tooth.
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.
Parents can also schedule a visit from the “Switch Witch,” who will swoop in on Halloween night and snag children’s bags of candy, but leave fun surprises like Hula-Hoops, footballs, pogo sticks and board games. If planning a visit from the Switch Witch, Walsh suggests letting kids set aside enough candy to have a few pieces for a few days after Halloween.
The typical plastic pumpkin can contain as much as 365 terrifying teaspoons of sugar and a frightful 11,000 calories. That’s the sugar equivalent of 12 double-scoop ice cream cones and the same number of calories recommended for a child to consume in seven days, according to Walsh, so Switch Night can be a good way to limit how much sticks around the house. She also said parents should mention, or in some cases, introduce the Switch Witch concept to their kids before the holiday to avoid catching them off guard Halloween night.
Despite the dangers of eating too much candy, Walsh is not sure a complete ban on candy is the way to go. “If you forbid candy altogether on Halloween, it will feel restrictive and what can happen is the child will end up sneaking candy,” Walsh said. “this can be an opportunity to teach your child moderation and balance.”
Walsh also reminds parents that as with all things, it’s important to set a good example, “Model moderation and balance yourselves, and kids will follow your lead.”
Giving out candy is OK, but be sure to select candies with nutritional value like chocolates (the darker the better). To get your kids involved, take them shopping with you. Let them pick which candy and non-candy your family to hand out.
Walsh urges parents to talk to their kids about any changes to this year’s routine before going trick-or-treating, so they know what to expect when they get home.