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A Healthy Halloween: Consider wholesome alternatives to sugary treats

September 4, 2013

Originally published on Oct. 29, 2012

This year alone, $1.8 million will be spent in America on Halloween candy.

Even so, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) wants parents with young trick-or-treaters to consider healthy alternatives to sugary treats.

Alternatives include child-sized toothbrushes, sandwich crackers, pretzels, trail mix, string cheese, carrot sticks, cereal and granola bars, pumpkin seeds and roasted peanuts. Of course, parents will have to make choices based on their child's overall health and reaction to food ingredients.

Pamela Clay, M.D., a Kaiser Permanente pediatrician, is greatly involved in what her three children wear and eat each Halloween, as well as where they go. She said Halloween is not all about treats but having fun as a family, as she also dresses up in her favorite costume.

"Because all three of my kids have really good checkups with their dentist, I will allow two to three pieces of candy in moderation," said Clay. "They also are not picky eaters and they eat balanced meals. When the kids maintain balanced meals with all the fruits and vegetables, I allow them to occasionally choose one or two treats."
 
Leftover Halloween treats will be donated to the Clay family's dentist, who is collecting candy for Operation Gratitude, a program which sends care packages to deployed American service men and women. Last year, Operation Gratitude received and shipped 125 tons of candy, as well as food hygiene products, entertainment items and personal letters, according to their website.

 "As a pediatrician and mother, my number one job to my children and patients is to avoid childhood related illnesses due to poor nutrition and lack of exercise, and to avoid heart disease which can lead to heart attacks and stroke," said Clay.

Halloween is not just about staying healthy, but also staying safe. According to Safe Kids USA, nine in 10 parents report that their child participates in Halloween activities, and more than twice as many children are killed in pedestrian/vehicle accidents on Halloween between the hours of 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., compared to the same hours on other days, according the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Take these precautions for a spooktacularly fun night:
 

  • Trick-or-treat with an adult until at least age 12 and in familiar areas that are well lit.
  • Older trick-or-treaters should have an approved route, curfew and cell phone.
  • Cross streets at corners, look left, right and left again, walk and do not run.
  • Wear light-colored flame-retardant costumes decorated with retro-reflective tape or stickers.
  • Carry a flashlight or glow stick to increase visibility to drivers.
  • Decorate costumes and bags with reflective tape or stickers and choose light colored costumes to improve visibility.
  • Choose face paint and make-up instead of masks, which can obstruct a child's vision. Look for non-toxic designations when choosing Halloween makeup.
  • Avoid carrying sticks, swords, or other sharp objects.
  • Have kids carry glow sticks or flashlights in order to see better, as well as to be seen by drivers.
  • Liquid in glow sticks is hazardous, so parents should remind children not to chew on or break them.
  • Check treats for signs of tampering before children are allowed to eat them. Candy should be thrown away if the wrapper is faded or torn, or if the candy is unwrapped.
  • Never enter the home or car of strangers for any reason.