One of the most exciting parts about Halloween for me is dressing up, but for kids, it's most likely the loads of candy they come home with from trick-or-treating. Candy is the star of the show every year, and it's everywhere, before the holiday, and for weeks after Halloween. However, you can avoid the tummy aches, potential cavities, and sugar overload with some simple tricks. Here's how to have a healthier Halloween, the easy way, without having to sacrifice too many sweets.
- Buy Your Candy at the Last Minute
If you plan to hand out candy, pick it up later rather than sooner. This will prevent you from being able to snack on sweets throughout the month. It's less temptation and may save you from having to run back to the store to replenish the supply for trick-or-treaters.
- Set Clear Expectations
Before letting your kids head out, talk to them about moderation. Kristi King, M.P.H., R.D.N., senior dietitian at Texas Children's Hospital and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, suggests that you don't want to be too strict because that can backfire and lead to sneakiness. But you do want to set limits. Allow them to have a few pieces when they get home and "That way," she says, "your children aren't surprised when you tell them 'no more."
- Fuel First
A healthy snack or early dinner will energize kids for their trick-or-treating adventures and help start their night out on the right foot. "Protein and fiber will help to keep their tummies satisfied and blood sugar stable," King says. That means they will be less likely to get tired or cranky or to snack on candy along the way. Choosing something festive and simple will keep everyone excited and in high spirits. Apples slices with peanut butter were always a big hit in my family growing up.
- Take a Small Bag
It will still be able to hold a fair amount of candy even after going to a few blocks of houses, but your child will still have that feeling of abundance that's part of the holiday.
- Seek Out Alternative Treats
Be on the lookout for houses giving out glow sticks, bracelets, flashing LED rings, bubbles, stickers, and more, King says. With all of the neighborhood communication apps being used now, you can try to coordinate some unique trick-or-treat giveaways. According to a Yale University study, children are just as likely to choose toys as candy on Halloween. Even a child who is unenthusiastic about non-edible treats will warm up to them after getting a few dozen of the same lollipops.
- Steer Kids Away From Stickies and Sours
These are the worst candies for dental health. "The longer treats stay in contact with the tooth, the higher chance that they will promote cavity formation," says James Nickman, D.D.S., M.S., an associate clinical professor at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. Sticky candies like gummies, taffy, and caramel can also pull off braces and get stuck in the spaces between teeth. Sour candies are acidic, which can wear away tooth enamel. Treats that are sticky and sour or sour ones that stay in your mouth for a long time are double-trouble. Chocolate is a better option. It melts, so the time it spends in contact with teeth is minimal. Other tooth-friendly treats are sugar-free gum, popcorn, pretzels, and crackers.
- Serve a Healthy Chaser After Candy
It's still important for your child to brush and floss after each meal (especially a candy-laden afternoon), but doing so may not be practical. However, "drinking water helps to rinse some of the sugary treats off the teeth until a more thorough cleaning is possible," Nickman says.
Interestingly enough, you could also give your child a little cheese (like mozzarella string cheese) and a small apple to combat tooth decay. The cheese helps neutralize acid in the mouth, which decreases the risk of tooth erosion and developing cavities. It's also a good blood sugar balancing snack to help with post-candy recovery.
- Trade-In the Candy
Have your child sort through the candy and pick his or her favorites, then get rid of the rest. You can check with your dentist to see if they have a "candy buyback program" so your children can exchange their candy for some type of trinket. Some parents will summon the Halloween Fairy or Switch Witch so that their kids can trade-in or donate their excess candy for a prize.
Also, organizations like Operation Gratitude send donated candy to military members overseas. Anything you can do to remove the temptation will help you and your family members' oral health.
- Use Your Pirate Instincts, Hide the Treasure
Hide the candy out of sight by storing it in the cabinets, the freezer, or pantry, where it won't be top of mind. We're all more likely to mindlessly munch on foods that are kept in plain view. Let your child choose a few pieces a day to have at lunch or after dinner.
Admittedly, candy used to be what would excite me the most about Halloween, and it doesn't appear that things have changed that much for kids today. Still, it doesn't have to be the center of attention. Implementing even a few of these tips can really go a long way, especially as we start to roll into the holiday season where the majority of people really start to indulge.