Growing up, I loved trick-or-treating. As an adult, I still love trick-or-treating with my daughter. Breathing in the crisp fall air and feeling the leaves crunch under my shoes as I tromp down the street with my little princess – literally – always brings back the excitement I experienced in pursuit of the perfect Halloween haul. As a kid, time was precious, only a few short hours to knock as many doors as possible and fill up our pillow cases. And then, without fail, each year, there was always that one house that gave raisins, or an apple, or any number of other sham treats. An odious time waster, delaying us from our search for the house that gives king-size candy bars.
As an adult, I appreciate the motivations behind these well-meaning neighbors. Due to the risk of obesity, chronic disease, dental disease, and displacement of vital nutrients in the diet, the World Health Organization earlier this year proposed a new recommendation that added sugar should be no more than 5% of an individual’s daily calories. This means younger elementary-school-aged children should limit their added sugar to no more than 15g, while older elementary-school-aged children may be able to consume as much as 30g each day, bearing in mind all forms of sugar count. One fun-sized snickers contains 17g added sugar, more sugar than a young child should consume in the entire day! Wouldn’t it be commendable then to curb the sugar binging and offer a healthy treat to the neighborhood children this year? I couldn’t agree more, provided you actually give a “treat.”
The Oxford Dictionary defines treat as, “an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.” I would argue that raisins, for most children, are not a treat. At school, it was common to open the lunch my mother packed and find the little red box featuring the Sun Maid. I can’t recall it ever once bringing me great pleasure. In fact, attempts by neighbors to pass those desiccated atrocities off as treats elicited the opposite emotion – feelings of resentment that tainted my opinion of raisins for years after. I sometimes think these negative associations may have been responsible for my dislike of the California Raisins TV show and my dislike of Raisin Bran® throughout my teenage years. I am happy to report, however, that I have healed and now enjoy eating raisins, despite these traumatic experiences of my youth.
This year, as you contemplate what to give out for Halloween, consider looking for a healthy treat. Find something that doesn’t contribute to the already excessive sugar consumption that is gripping our children. But, still make it a treat. Consider giving puzzle games, magic tricks, sticky hands, glow sticks, or any number of other trinkets that can be purchased through the Oriental Trading Company. Remember that events are included in the definition of treat. A spook alley in your back yard, Halloween carnival with fun games, or free entrance passes to local attractions may all be suitable substitutes for candy. Food items aren’t completely taboo. Nuts can be a great treat for kids and many are made with few added sugars. Cocoa (not chocolate) coated almonds with little added sugar, lightly candied walnuts, marcona almonds, or pistachios are all great options. Veggie crisps and fruit leather may also be appealing to some. As with raisins, however, they may come with some resentment. Consider having a few options so children can choose the treats that most appeal to them. No matter what you choose to offer this year for Halloween, above all, remember to make it a treat.
By Ron Beckstrom, MS, RD, HFS
This blog and its contents are provided for nutrition information purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information and topics may not apply to every individual. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any health or nutrition concerns you may have. The information in this article is not intended to promote any specific product, or for the prevention or treatment of any disease.