In less than a week, tens of millions of children will put on costumes and go trick-or-treating in search of candy and other goodies.
At a time when childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, Halloween poses some special challenges. Doling out handfuls of high-calorie snacks can seem inappropriate. But dropping baby carrots into trick-or-treaters' bags doesn't seem quite right, especially if you want to avoid having your house wrapped in toilet paper.
"I always want to keep Halloween fun," notes registered dietitian Elisa Zied, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the mother of two young children. "I eat the candy, too. I just don't eat a lot of it."
Here are some giveaway ideas that kids will consider a treat rather than a trick but that also deliver slightly more nutrition than the rest of the stuff they're likely to collect. By offering them, you may even wind up introducing kids to snacks they'll choose themselves later on.
Introduce dark chocolate. Most kids already love milk chocolate, but fewer have acquired the taste for this darker and less-sweet flavor. Rich in antioxidants, dark chocolate also contains the healthy fat stearic acid and iron, of which most children need more. Studies suggest that stearic acid may not only be good for the heart, but also could help to control blood pressure. One option is a Hersheys Dark Chocolate Kiss, which has 25 calories, about a gram of fat and no trans fat. Or have a single piece of Dove dark chocolate, which has 42 calories, about two grams of fat and zero trans fat.
Think small. Portion control can help limit calories. Food companies are providing small, individually packaged portions of popular foods, including Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs, downsized servings of Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Wheat Thins, Honey Maid Cinnamon graham crackers, Planters Peanut Butter Cookies, Kraft Cheese Nips and Ritz Snack Mix. All have three grams or less of fat (although not all are trans-fat-free). Snyder's one-ounce pretzel bags are a sugar-free, no-fat option that clocks in at 110 calories.
Sneak some protein into that treat. Protein helps mute the body's reaction to sugary foods, which quickly starts a vicious cycle: Blood sugar rises, prompting insulin production, which drops blood sugar and then boosts hunger. A Reese's Fast Break bar (two-thirds of an ounce) provides two grams of protein, 90 calories and 10 grams of sugar. And note that just because candy has peanuts, it may not have a lot of protein: Two small packs of M&Ms with peanuts have 18 grams of sugar and just one gram of protein. Total calories: 130.
Pop a surprise. Popcorn is a whole grain. So a small bag of popcorn could provide one of the three servings recommended daily by the latest dietary guidelines. Since most parents probably won't let their kids eat corn that's been popped by a stranger, consider doling out mini-bags of Orville Redenbacher's popcorn, which have about 100 calories, or Bearitos microwave popcorn, which contains no trans fat. Kids can pop the corn at home
Go fruity. Because of safety concerns, few parents allow their kids to eat candied or caramel apples supplied by strangers. But you can deliver fruit in other ways. A four-ounce box of apple Juicy Juice contains 60 calories and no fat, and it supplies half a cup of the fruit recommended daily. Betty Crocker Tongue Track Tattoos leave electric-blue marks on kids' tongues, but are low in fat and contain some fruit and vitamin C. Kellogg's Finding Nemo Fruit Snacks run about 80 calories per pack, contain zero fat and are made from fruit juice as well as sugar. Registered dietitian Dave Grotto, father of three trick-or-treaters, prefers Stretch Island Fruit Leather, which is 100 percent fruit and organic. Find it at Costco or online at www.stretch-island.com, where the first 50 site visitors each day can sign up for a free sample.
Dole out calcium-rich treats. Most kids don't get enough bone-building calcium, so here's a place where you could make a little difference. Many cereal bars not only contain calcium but are sweet enough to rival candy. Honey Nut Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs and Cinnamon Toast Crunch contain the calcium of a six-ounce glass of milk. Calories range from about 160 to 180 per bar, with about four grams of fat, one of them from trans fat. Other options include 4-ounce cups of shelf-stable puddings and six and a half ounce box of Yoohoo Chocolate Drink, which provides 25 percent of the daily calcium intake.
Whip it. That's how Mars keeps calories lower on 3 Musketeers bars. A 15-gram bar (about half an ounce) contains two grams of fat, zero trans fat and about 65 calories -- about 10 calories less than a similarly sized Snickers bar.
Make it slow. "Lollipops are a great choice because they take a while to eat," notes Zied. "Plus, they generally have very few calories, so it is a great treat to have." Grotto, an ADA spokesman, often doles out Glenny's Vitamin C lollipops, sweetened with barley malt, which raises blood sugar less than regular lollipops, and supplemented with a day's worth of vitamin C. Find them online at www.healthytrader.com or at health food stores.
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