Candy is dandy, but indulge responsibly

Posted Oct. 23, 2010, at 1:18 a.m.

Nightmares of being chased by candy bars through a hail of candy corn may plague you the night before your trip to the dentist in November, but fear doesn’t have to linger past Halloween if you’re smart about candy consumption.

There are ways for adults and children to cut down on the sugar while still celebrating the sweet holiday tradition.

In a survey given this year by KidsHealth.org to approximately 1,200 children, most children say they receive at least 50 pieces of candy for Halloween. About 44 percent said they get more than 100 pieces. But only about 20 percent of kids said they eat all of the candy.

“We don’t give kids enough credit. We just assume they want candy because we enjoy eating it,” said registered dietitian Kate Yerxa of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “There’s nothing wrong with enjoying candy for these sorts of events, but if people see candy on sale, they don’t need to buy 7 pounds of Skittles.”

In the same KidsHealth.org survey, 50 percent of the children said their parents put limits on how much they can eat.

“We tend to overeat. Kids are running on empty while trick-or-treating and get home and realize they’re very hungry and eat candy,” Yerxa said.

She suggests fueling up children with healthful food before they head out on Halloween night.

One effective way of controlling the amount of candy a child eats in the days after Halloween is by storing the candy somewhere that isn’t the child’s room.

“Put it out of sight for both the adults and the kids,” said Yerxa. “It’s something that a parent or adult really needs to monitor.”

Never allow the candy to be a substitute for a healthful meal. But after a meal, it’s appropriate to have a candy snack, Yerxa said, as long as they brush their teeth after.

If the child has a mountain of treats, you can offer to trade toys or books for some of the candy. That way, the child retains ownership of their hard-earned treats, but they might opt to trade for something healthier for them.

And, quite simply, remind children to stop eating the candy before feeling full or sick.

“Have them understand that when they eat too much candy, they can’t play as much and will feel sluggish,” Yerxa said. Most children like playing games more than eating sweets.

About half of the children in the survey said they would enjoy receiving noncandy trick-or-treat gifts.

In fact, a 10-year-old who took the survey suggested that some people give out toothbrushes, floss and mouthwash to trick-or-treaters instead of candy.

Yerxa’s children have food allergies and have to avoid chocolate and nuts. Though candy is the traditional gift, some trick-or-treaters might appreciate healthier treats such as trail mix, pretzels or sugar-free bubblegum.

Inedible treats include small canisters of playdough and bubbles, pencils, noisemakers, party favors and temporary tattoos. Make sure to know the age limit on the toys and not give out anything dangerous for small children.

Of course, the majority of people stick to the traditional treat: candy. That’s when the rule “Everything in moderation” comes into play.

What about leftovers?

• Heat-resistant candy can be donated for care packages for U.S. soldiers at www.opgratitude.com or www.operationshoebox.com.

• Reverse trick-or-treat by visiting a local charity that accepts candy donations such as nursing homes, food pantries and children’s hospitals.

• If you have a party coming up, use they candy to fill up goodie bags.

• Buy chocolate molds and melt down the extra chocolate bars to make decorative gifts.

• Scientific candy experiments can be done at home with Skittles, Lifesavers, Starbursts, M&Ms and more. For example, Gummy Bears expand when placed in water.

• Save the candy for this year’s gingerbread house.

• Freeze chocolate bars for later. Maybe use them for a baking project down the road such as cupcakes with surprise chocolate in the center.

• Without hesitation, throw the candy in the garbage.

“Throwing it away is not going to hurt our food security,” Yerxa said. “It really would be OK to just throw it away.”

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