Elizabeth S. Reames, Claesgens, Mark A.
Halloween is a favorite holiday for many children, but candy is not necessarily the kids’ favorite treat, according to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames. Research reveals that youngsters enjoy nonfood treats, too.
A study published in the Society for Nutrition Education Journal found that when offered a choice, children ages 3 to 14 were just as likely to choose a toy as candy. The children were offered one plate of small Halloween toys, such as stickers and rings, and one plate of candy. The study showed that nearly half of the children chose toys instead of candy.
According to Ellyn Satter, author of numerous books on child nutrition and feeding, children need to learn to manage sweets and to keep sweets in proportion to the other food they eat. Research has shown that treat-deprived girls often load up on forbidden foods when they weren’t even hungry and tend to be fatter, not thinner. Girls who were allowed treats regularly ate sweets moderately if at all and were thinner.
Reames says the flavor and fun of Halloween candy and sweets can be enjoyed by trick-or-treaters in moderation. Offering nonfood treats is a healthy practice not only for youngsters but adults. Instead of leftover candy being a temptation, nonfood treats can be stored for next Halloween.
Choose miniature toys, stickers and nonfood favors in the Halloween section at local stores. Small, child-safe toys, stickers, whistles, pencils, plastic rings, coupons to food establishments or pennies and nickels are also welcome gifts. Non-sweet treat suggestions include cheese and cracker packages, sugar-free gum, cheese sticks, individually wrapped sticks of beef jerky, juice box packages, small packages of nuts or raisins, packets of instant cocoa mix and coupons good at local food establishments. Some foods such as nuts and seeds and round or hard candy are not appropriate for small children because they may cause choking.
Reames offers these ideas to help children have a healthy Halloween:
– Make sure children eat before going out. Cut bread in pumpkin shapes, add lean meat, chicken or turkey and serve with a glass of low-fat milk and sliced fresh fruit.
– After trick-or-treating, share your child’s excitement by letting him or her show you the bag of treats. Inspect all treats to make sure none have been opened or tampered with. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with the concern of your child’s eating too much candy, let this be a teaching opportunity to help your child manage his treats responsibly. Allow some time for children to enjoy their treats after coming home. Offer a glass of skim or low-fat milk to go along with the treats.
– Encourage children to separate goodies into groups that are similar in ingredients or color of wrapper. Make a game of eating just one from each type of goodie, rather than the whole bag. Halloween treat bags usually provide enough goodies for two to three weeks. Divide the treats into one-week portions, place them in bags and store for your child to enjoy one or two pieces for snacks or with meals for the next weeks.
– Remind your children to brush their teeth or at least rinse their mouths thoroughly with water after eating sweets, especially sticky sweets, to help prevent tooth decay.
The nutritionist offers additional ideas to help adults cope with Halloween candy:
– Buy candy at the last minute to avoid tempting yourself and other family members.
– Buy less candy than you think you need, and don't buy the kind you crave.
– If your child offers you some of her candy, don't waste your calories. Choose the dark chocolate pieces and save them for your special treat. Kids usually don't like dark chocolate anyway. Take leftover candy to work, place by the coffee pot and watch it vanish.
– Work off the extra calories by taking a long walk around your neighborhood and enjoying the decorations and the children’s costumes.
For additional information about healthful eating, Reames advises contacting the LSU AgCenter extension agent in your parish. For related nutrition topics, click on the Food and Health link on the LSU AgCenter homepage at www.lsuagcenter.com.