Halloween is upon us.  It means lots of excitement, celebration, dressing up… and of course, massive amounts of candy.

While I’m not a huge fan of large quantities of sugar, I have to admit that I have great memories of trick-or-treating when I was a kid.  I believe very firmly in balance – social activities and fond childhood memories are important.

At the same time, Halloween is hardly the only candy- and dessert-filled holiday of the year.  These days, occasional treats are hardly “occasional.”  In addition to Halloween, there’s Easter.  There’s grandparent visits (what grandparent doesn’t “spoil” his or her grandkids)?  There’s Christmas and Thanksgiving, of course.  There’s Valentine’s Day.  There’s your child’s birthday (and the birthdays of all of their friends).  There’s almost every organized function your kids may attend, such as sports team games and practices, Sunday school treats, and spending time at their friends’ houses where sugary snacks are not treats so much as dietary staples.

…You get the idea.  Fill in your own list.

So how do you allow your child to participate and indulge without overindulging, and also without feeling “jipped” compared to his or her classmates and friends?

I came across two terrific suggestions from one of my colleagues, Dr Keri Marshall (see here for the original article).

The first thing to do is to separate those acceptable treats from the unacceptable.  Relatively speaking, candy you want to avoid contains chemicals in high concentrations – such as high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and artificial colors and flavors.  (Check out this article on food additives and the hazards they represent.)  Once again – most of our bodies can handle the occasional health hazard.  But remember, Halloween is hardly the only occasion of the year when your child will be exposed to such chemicals, and it’s one of the few you may be able to control!

My “acceptable” list of treats includes chocolate (which does contain powerful antioxidants, found in higher concentrations in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate), candy made with real sugar (if you must have it, have the real stuff), and of course things like pretzels, dried fruit, granola bars and the like.

What to do with the unacceptable candy, then? 

Here’s a few of Dr Marshall’s great ideas:

  • The first is “The Switch Witch,” another fairy-tale creature to join the ranks of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus.  Dr. Marshall writes, “When you set out a bowl of candy at night, while the children are sleeping, the Switch Witch comes and swaps out the candy and leaves behind a small present. This way the child does not feel totally ripped off and still has a small bowl of healthier options to choose from over the next few weeks.”
  • The second idea is to set aside the “unacceptable” candies until December, when you can use them to help your child decorate a gingerbread house (and in that case, the more brightly colored, the better!)  “Sweet Tarts make great roof shingles. Artificial colored dipping powders make great skating rinks (blue) and grass (green). Nerds make great cobblestone pathways,” writes Dr Marshall.

The moral of the story – be creative!  It is possible for your kids to have fun, participate in Halloween, and still learn to make healthier choices.