Happy Green Halloween: staying healthy and sane during the (month-long) candy rush

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Halloween, the Day of the Dead, is a little over a week away, and as usual, I am wondering how to manage the annual candy rush. It makes me anxious, and I am otherwise one of the least anxious people you could meet. That’s because, in our neighborhood, Halloween is a VERY BIG DEAL.

Jack and the Kids

We have a TON of kids in our neighborhood. And lots of neighbors who take Halloween very seriously. We’re talking garages turned into haunted houses for neighbors to wander through, the undead coming out of the ground, disembodied voices beckoning you to exquisitely creeped-out houses, and baby zombie heads hanging from front yard trees like ghoulish Christmas ornaments.

I love Halloween; I really do. Every year I look forward to hosting friends from less Halloween-friendly neighborhoods (because, you know, gobs of free candy here), scaring the little ones with my motion-detecting, self-propelling, cackling witch’s broom (perched near the front door so every time I open it, the broom comes over to greet trick-or-treaters), and threatening to withhold treats from the teenagers who dare to come to my door without a costume on (because for all the fabulous free candy they are getting from me I expect to see at least a gumdrop of effort on their part…)

I hate Halloween, because it means nearly 3 hours of standing near the door, opening it every few minutes to hand out the kinds of stuff I otherwise never let my kids eat (this is another reason I invite friends over – to share the burden). It means paying more than I want to for my kids’ costumes (because I don’t have time to make them myself, and because no one in the DMV seems to want to do costume swaps anymore, sigh). Finally, I hate Halloween because it doesn’t end with a single night’s sugar-drenched binge fest. It means arguing with my kids, every day for the next month, about how much candy they can eat/have eaten. Somehow the amount always ends up being more than I am comfortable with, and I only realized last year just how fast I need to move to avoid them stashing away gobs of sugary sweets before I can confiscate them, and sensibly parcel out in small amounts until I give up a few weeks later and secretly hide/donate/throw out the rest. Last year I let my 11-year old son go trick or treating in the neighborhood with my friend’s 2 older sons and no adult supervision, and soon afterwards, I took my daughter and another little girl trick or treating to get their candy. After 2 hours, the older boys came back without my son, who had decided he wasn’t finished trick or treating. I was livid, but when he showed up about half an hour later, his brand new, $35 ninja costume already torn at the seams, I was completely shocked.

You know those plastic pumpkins that kids use to go trick or treating? My son’s plastic pumpkin was so full of candy that he was using one hand to try to keep it all in. It kept spilling over the sides as he awkwardly tried to explain to me why he felt he needed that much candy.

Yes, I was p.o.’d. I mean, why couldn’t neighbors see all that junk filling his pumpkin and say “I think you already have enough”? Didn’t they know that the U.S. Heart Association recommends no more than 32 grams of added sugar daily?

My friends, on the other hand, were amused and laughed about it for the rest of the night.

Getting upset didn’t do me any good. I knew I had to make some rules for the next year, and maybe set an example that would at least make me feel like I had cut down on my contribution to the sugar rush. Because not giving candy at all would make me the most un-Halloween-y mom in the neighborhood! So I resolved to make this Halloween just a little greener, and to try a few tricks to help limit my kids’ consumption of candy for that day and the weeks that follow.

In my opinion, healthy (read, non-sugary) candy and non-candy treats are wonderful! And if you only hand those things out on Halloween you may find your house covered in toilet paper or eggs the next morning (just joking – kids don’t really do that anymore, do they?) There are some things, though that fall into the healthy-candy/treats and non-candy-treats categories that kids actually like to eat. These include

Sesame honey crunch candy. I get these candies from a nearby Adventist Health Food store, which buys them from the company Joyva. At $4.27/lb, 3 candies (15 grams) have 80 calories, 7 grams of sugar, and 25 milligrams of sodium. The one objection to Joyva I have is their use of corn syrup (which is most certainly made with GMO corn, unfortunately a main ingredient in most of the packaged and processed food we eat nowadays). But the candies are so sticky sweet, you don’t need to eat many to have that feeling of fullness that stops most people from continuing to stuff themselves past the point of satiety.

Mini pretzels. Ok, full disclosure, my son says these are not good to give out on Halloween. But this is the same kid who tried to consume 50 pounds of candy last Halloween, remember? Actually, other kids tell me they like mini-pretzels, especially when they are shaped like pumpkins and cats and witches brooms and come in Halloween-y packaging. Utz makes a bag of Halloween pretzel treats that I saw being sold at Whole Foods for 3.99 for 24 bags.

Organic lollipops. Sweetened with fruit juice, and free of synthetic colors, these are a great alternative to usual lollipop fare. Yummy Earth sells Halloween-themed organic pops on Amazon.com for $14.39 for a bag of 40 pops, or $20.22 for a bag of 100 pops, or you can get a bag of 30 pops at Whole Foods for $6.95. There are also Halloween packs of gummy bears and gummy worms available from this company, which recently launched a line of vegan candies.

Dark chocolate anything (or “healthy” milk chocolate). Ok, I confess, I am a chocoholic, as are my kids! But the research on dark chocolate made with at least 70% is clear – it has multiple health benefits, including helping your heart stay healthy, battling fat, and giving your body antioxidants to increase your muscles’ absorption of nutrients. Need a little more evidence? This detailed article on JenReviews.com, which lists 14 health benefits of chocolate, is well worth the read. (It also ends with some yummilicious recipes using chocolate!) If you can spend a little more for good quality, less sugary, healthy chocolate without the harmful chemicals, the company UnReal makes a line of Day of the Dead-themed Halloween candies, including milk chocolate or dark chocolate peanut butter cups, that your kids (and you) will love. Whole Foods sells a 10-pack bag of these cups (each with only 5g sugar) for $7.69. You can also buy more in bulk directly from the company, from Amazon.com, Sprouts Farmers Markets, or Target stores. UnReal has an interactive store finder map that can help you find a retailer near you. Justin’s, a little pricier, also makes similar healthy chocolate products, and has a line of all-natural Halloween candies that are sure to be a hit on the spookiest night of the year.

Un-candy. Why not mix some un-candy in there? Any Halloween-themed goodie bag items can do the trick: toy cars, rubber balls, stickers, glow sticks. Not only do young kids like getting these toys, they also don’t cause cavities or sugar highs!

 pexels.com

Aside from offering some healthier treats, there are several strategies you can try in order to limit kids’ sugar consumption this Halloween and the days following it. Some of the more sensible ones I intend to use this year include these:

  1. getting the kids to eat before going out to trick or treat to discourage oversnacking
  2. letting the “Halloween fairy” exchange some of their candy for money or a toy,
  3. making a mini bag of trail mix for school treats (mix whole grain cereal, your kids’ favorite nuts, chocolate pieces or other small candies)
  4. turning leftover candy into a science experiment

I’d love to hear more about your green Halloween tips and strategies, so please share them with me! Use the comments box below and let me know what you do to navigate the month-long candy rush in your home.