The alarming increase in childhood obesity rates is causing the nation's largest pediatric hospital to encourage healthy and non-food treats as an alternative to sugary and fat-laden candy this Halloween.
"Children who struggle with their weight have difficulty all year long, but as we enter into the holiday season, starting with Halloween, children are faced with many more temptations," says Jennifer Thomas, a dietician with Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, Texas. "We see a significant weight gain among children during the fall and winter months because of all the food choices being made available to them. It can almost be overwhelming for a child trying to control his or her weight."
Contrary to what most people think, there are many healthy, yet fun, choices on the market to entice trick-or-treaters. Packages of low-fat crackers with cheese or peanut butter filling, single-serve boxes of cereal, mini-raisins and single-serve packets of microwave popcorn are good alternatives. Also, candies such as Peppermint Patties, Junior Mints, 3 Musketeers and Raisinettes are lower in fat and calories than other candies on the market.
"Non-food treats also are a good substitute for candy," Thomas says. "Stickers, balloons, crayons, pencils, colored chalk, erasers, whistles and baseball cards are fun things for children to receive. Plus, they benefit the treat-giver because there is no leftover candy lurking around and they can be stored for the following year."
Thomas also offers the following suggestions for trick-or-treating:
- Feed children a balanced meal prior to Halloween parties or trick-or-treating. This will help discourage children from overdoing it on the Halloween candy.
- When children get home, check the bag and keep only treats that are unopened. Be sure to inspect fruits and homemade goods for anything suspicious.
- It's better to eat trick-or-treat candy over several days as a substitute for dessert or a few pieces along with a healthy snack.