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The centuries-long transformation of Halloween from an ancient Celtic festival to the commercialized holiday we know today brought with it many changes. Gone are the bonfires, religious vestments and harvest sacrifices. In their place are jack-o'-lanterns, polyester superhero costumes and — of course — candy.
A recent Business Insider article reported that this year, Americans were predicted to spend nearly $2.6 billion on candy, with some sources estimating the average Halloween candy haul contains between 3,500 and 7,000 calories — several times the daily recommended allowance for most children.
While that sounds alarming, Arizona State University College of Health Solutions lecturer Jessica Lehmann said it shouldn’t be your only focus on the holiday.
“Halloween is a season with so many fun and exciting dimensions to explore, not just another — yawn — candy splurge day,” said Lehmann, who is helping to plan the college’s sixth annual “Food and Thought” community event “Women in Food and Agriculture” taking place Thursday, Nov. 14 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.
A food sampling will precede the free event at 5 p.m., followed by a panel discussion covering such topics as farm to table, school gardens and food and nutrition advocacy, featuring some of the leading food entrepreneurs and innovators in the Phoenix metro area.
A registered dietitian, Lehmann stepped into share some, ahem, tricks for responsibly enjoying the holiday — and its treats — in moderation.
Question: A lot of times parents will let their kids (and themselves) overindulge a bit on Halloween. But how much candy is too much candy?
Answer: I assure you, eating a little extra “fun” food on a special occasion is fine. Eating candy all day isn’t going to make someone feel good, but enjoying a few treats on Halloween is going to be fine as long as a person is eating an overall healthy diet otherwise. By the way, a healthy diet pattern includes mostly nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and some lean proteins and healthy fats. As long as someone is getting the nutrients they need, they can enjoy a small treat every day, no problem.
There’s no need for parents to be too restrictive about candy. Don’t make “Halloween candy” too big of a deal. Then kids will get the message that there’s a taboo around candy and that will make it even more irresistible and harder for them to be rational around candy. At the same time, don’t make candy too available. For example, wait to buy the candy for trick-or-treaters until just before Halloween so it’s not around. Instead, put your efforts into enjoying the season and introducing your kids to a variety of Halloween traditions. On the day of Halloween, set yourself and your kids up for success. Eat regular, nutritious meals. Do some extra meal prepping, knowing that Halloween evening gets extra busy. Plan to eat an early, protein-rich dinner before trick-or-treating. Serve something filling such as tacos, bean and cheese quesadillas or chili. And bring water while trick-or-treating.
Q: What is the best way to portion your kids’ candy haul?
A: There are many ways to handle this, but I recommend sorting the candy out together when the kids are young. Later, around third and fourth grade, they can start learning to do it with a little less supervision, and then later than that, they can sort it on their own. The goal is to help our kids become independent, food-literate adults who can make healthy eating choices and approach candy sensibly.
Help the kids pick out their favorite kinds of candy and keep them in the pantry to enjoy. There’s no need to hide the candy, but there’s also no need to keep it out in plain view to remind them it’s there. Make a plan together for the kids to enjoy their treats gradually. There is going to be an excess, so plan to give the rest away. My family sends ours to the U.S. troops abroad, which is organized by a local Girl Scout troop here, and they collect candy the day after Halloween at my kids’ elementary school.
Some families choose to replace the extra candy with a toy. For example, the Great Pumpkin might come to visit in the middle of the night and leave Legos in place of the candy.
Q: We all know the fuddy duddy on the block who hands out toothbrushes for Halloween. What are some alternatives to sugary candy that are actually crowd pleasers?
A: Glow-in-the-dark bracelets, lottery tickets, temporary tattoos and mini water bottles are welcomed!
Q: Can “fun size” candy bars be dangerous by tricking us into thinking we’re having less when we’re actually overindulging?
A: No foods are dangerous. Sweets exist because they are delicious. It’s our choice if we want to eat a bite of chocolate, whether it’s from a small chocolate bar or a large chocolate bar. Or maybe we don’t even like chocolate and there are other treats we’d prefer to eat.
Top illustration by Alex Cabrera/ASU Now