October is the official start of the holiday season. Many children love dressing up and trick-or-treating for Halloween, but Halloween can also be a challenging time. For families with youth who have food allergies or who follow special diets for health or religious reasons, it can feel difficult to find appropriate foods. Youth with dietary concerns can feel left out of typical Halloween celebrations which emphasize sweets and contain potential food allergens such as wheat, dairy, eggs, and tree nuts.
Halloween is also associated with high sugar consumption. Eating too much sugar has been linked to health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and depression.
For ideas on how your family can celebrate Halloween in a healthier manner, please try the following five suggestions:
- Eat First. It’s easy for kids to overeat sugar, so plan ahead and make sure that they consume a healthy meal before trick-or-treating. What’s a healthy meal? Aim for a good protein source such as chicken, fish, or beans, vegetables, and a healthy carbohydrate source, such as brown rice. Making sure that kids feel full before receiving candy makes it less likely that they will dive head-first into treats!
- Give it Gradually. Let your child pick their favorite items from the trick-or-treat basket and set aside enough treats for them to receive 1-2 pieces a day for the next week or two. After that consider donating the rest. Some good donation options are homeless shelters, children’s hospitals, or a program to send packages to overseas troops.
- Swap it Out. For youth with food allergies, special diets, or who are reducing sugar, consider a swap. Allow them to trick-or-treat and create a second basket with their favorite “approved” treats that will be waiting for them to swap at home. The excitement of receiving a basket of their favorite treats will override concerns about giving up the candy basket.
- Try Fun Non-Food Options. Although it is traditional to give out sweets for Halloween remember that there are alternatives. Kids are versatile and appreciate fun, non-edible options as well. Hand out stickers, bubbles, glow sticks, temporary tattoos, spider rings, slime, or squishy toys. Ask your children or children you know what they would like. Not only will youngsters appreciate the variety, but other parents will thank you as well.
- Create a New Tradition. Prefer to avoid the whole issue? Consider creating a new tradition. See a movie together, or volunteer at a food pantry or shelter. Kids love to help; enlist them to bring candy to a nursing home or a children’s hospital. They may enjoy giving out the treats so much that they forget to eat the candy themselves!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leilah Siegel is an Illinois Extension Community Health Educator serving Cook County. Her interests include translating relevant research-based health information into engaging and accessible programs for communities. She develops, delivers, and evaluates health and wellness programming focused on mental health and chronic disease prevention and provides training and leadership in these areas. She is a passionate believer in the power of health information and equity to empower individuals and communities. You can reach Leilah at email@example.com or at (708) 449-4320.