It’s hard to believe it is the middle of fall already. School is in full swing, and the fall colors are in their splendor. Halloween is just around the corner. And with that begins the onslaught of the season of sweets. Candy, cookies, bars, pies, cupcakes, you name it. Between school parties, work potlucks, costume parties, and dipping into your own candy stash because you got a great deal at the store and bought a little extra, there is always an excuse to eat sweets.

If you are feeling the pinch on your waistline or are tired of watching your children bounce around from all the sugar, you may wonder what healthier Halloween treats to hand out this year.

Providing healthier Halloween treats is not only wonderful for the children who come to your door, but it helps set a great example to other parents in the neighborhood. Healthy options are a welcome relief to parents who get tired of children nagging them for another sweet. Teachers are also happy to have fewer unhealthy choices in the classroom. Research shows that children who eat less sugar learn and retain information better.

Halloween treats can still make kids happy while providing a health benefit. Grocery store shelves are stocked with kid-friendly favorites containing whole grains, extra vitamin C, 100-percent fruit juice and added fiber.

Healthier trick-or-treat choices

This year, consider loading up the bowl with some of these items that kids will enjoy, even though they are good for them. All of these items are available in easy to distribute snack-size packages, too.

Whole-grain cheddar-flavored crackers
Fruit leathers made with 100 percent fruit
Sugar-free gum
Animal-shaped graham crackers
Mini rice cereal treat bars
Cereal bars made with real fruit
Granola bars made with whole grains
Individual fruit cups
Raisin boxes
Mini 100-percent fruit juice boxes
Low-fat pudding cups (shelf stable)
Baked, unsalted mini bags of pretzels
Hot cocoa or apple cider packets
Mini cereal boxes

Remember to read the labels when buying these treats to be sure they are the healthiest choices. For example, check to see that fruit leathers, cereal bars and juice boxes are made with 100-percent real fruit, and that crackers are made without trans fats (avoid ingredients like “partially hydrogenated…”) and with whole grains. Avoid ingredients such as “high fructose corn syrup”. Also make sure that what you serve does not require refrigeration. Although string cheese or yogurt tubes sound like nice treats to hand out, they would probably sit out in a child’s bag for so long that it would not be safe to eat anymore.

You could also decide to forego edible treats altogether, and give out fun trinkets like these.

Halloween pencils
Spider rings
Mini slinkies
Halloween-shaped post-it notes
Coins (pennies, nickels or dimes)

School Rules

For school or classroom parties, you may be able to keep items refrigerated. In addition to the above suggestions, consider these.

String cheese
Yogurt tubes  (store them in the freezer for a frozen yogurt treat)
Pretzel rods dipped in chocolate and rolled in jimmies or colored sugar
Celery sticks with low-fat cream cheese spread and raisins (“Ants on a Log”)
Snack Bags of grapes
Applesauce cups or squeezables
Homemade trail mix (rice and corn square cereal, raisins or other dried fruits, candy corn, popcorn, mini pretzels, mini chocolate chips, nuts if no allergies are present)

If you just can’t resist handing out candy, give mini-size candy bars. Or, if you must bake a treat, reduce the portion by cutting brownies and bars to half of their usual size, or make cookies smaller. Remember, children often have multiple sources of sweets at these types of parties, so it is a good idea to make a dessert treat more of a snack size.

Some sweet guidelines

Parents and children should agree ahead of time on how much and when candy can be consumed each day. When they get home from trick-or-treating, have children sort their candy into piles of "favorites" and "not-so-favorites," and let them choose a few favorites to enjoy. As with any treat, candy can be a part of children's healthful eating plans -- in moderation. It is part of our job as parents to teach our children balance by setting limits around eating sweet treats too. Setting these boundaries will help your child grow into a healthy adult. However, use caution in being overly restrictive, as that can cause children to sneak food and binge eat in their parents’ absence.

Whether or not you decide to hand out candy, a non-food treat or a healthy snack option, remember that trick-or-treating can be a great workout too! Your kids can burn quite a few calories walking (sometimes in heavy costumes) and climbing up and down stairs. Not to mention lugging around a heavy bag. For those parents who join their child for trick-or-treating, you are getting some great exercise too! Keep your pedometer on to track those steps!

Sadhana Bienzen, registered dietitian nutritionist, loves spending time getting ready for Halloween festivities with her husband and four children. Contact her at sbienzen@hotmail.com with your nutrition questions.

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