Halloween approaches. It’s the day when kids dress up and visit the homes of neighbors and strangers, hoping for delicious candy treats. But what constitutes a “good” treat? It depends on whom you ask. Parents, when the kids come home with their treasure trove candy bags, should take the time to go through it with them. Teach them how to look for wrapper openings and damaged goods that could have been tampered with. Teach them, too, the importance of choosing the best choice among their candies, for their health and well-being. Here are some tips to make Halloween not only fun and delicious for you and the kids but safe and healthier.
Trick Or Treat?
Halloween’s European origins are mostly forgotten or ignored in modern times. The tradition is found in many countries, such as in Scotland, where dressing up in costume is called guising and kids often perform “tricks” or entertainments in order to “earn” treats.
In the United States, trick or treating might have begun as a way for young thugs to dress up and pull pranks. Reportedly, victims were asked a simple question: “Trick or treat?” If they did not give money or treats, then pranks were pulled on them.
It’s funny, though, how the idea of a trick has changed. Nowadays, the trick is in the advertising and offering of horrible snack choices to kids under the guise of “treating them to something yummy.”
Halloween aside, how many times have you given your child or yourself a “treat” of candy or cake or something similar for a job well done? But is filling your body with candy, sugar, corn syrup, simple carbs, preservatives, toxic food dyes and other ingredients that spike blood sugar, cause allergic reactions and trigger pain and headache a treat? Sounds more like a toxic “trick” to me.
Common Candy Perspectives
I have two children, ages 7 and 14. I take them and their friends around the neighborhood every year. At the end of the night, we assess our treat collection. I always ask them what the best and worst houses were. Here are some of their remarks, which sound a lot like the ones I had as a child.
- “I like the house that gives the full-size candy bars.”
- “What is a candy corn, anyway?”
- “Apples and raisins aren’t candy.”
- “What’s with fun-size bars? They’re a third the size, and that’s no fun!”
- “I hate how the dentist always gives us a toothbrush!”
To the kids, the idea of a good “collection” is a large assortment of regular-sized bars and gummy snacks they can trade and enjoy. For the parents, it seems to be about how many pieces can be distributed for the most affordable amount of money. Thus, smaller bars equal more pieces for less or the same money.
Professional Candy Perspectives
When I ask colleagues for their opinion on what makes a good or bad Halloween treat, I get varying responses depending on their profession.
My dentist always says to avoid handing out treats that are bad for kids’ teeth. These include candies that are sticky and chewy because they stick on and get caught in teeth and promote tooth decay. That means gummies, taffies, dried fruits and caramels.
It seems in terms of tooth decay, hard pretzels also stick to the teeth for long enough to cause decay. As do hard candies, which are too acidic and break down tooth enamel. And, of course, any snack high in sugar — like candy bars, candy corn, cookies and just about anything else but sugar-free hard candy — is bad for teeth and promotes cavities. So aside from handing out a boring toothbrush in lieu of a snack, dentists just don’t think any candy is safe for kids. No wonder my kids like to skip that house on Halloween!
My colleagues in the nutrition and diet professions agree that when thinking of treats and candy snacks, the ones with less fat, calories and carbohydrates are the best options. To them, good treats include York Peppermint Patties (140 calories, 2.5 grams of fat) and Tootsie Rolls (140 calories, 4 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar).
However, the objection I always have with the philosophy of my nutritionist colleagues is that they seem to think food (or, in this case, treats) are only as good or bad as their numbers. But there is more to candy than quantity of sugar, fats and carbohydrates.
My Picks For Best Treats
When thinking about what makes something sweet an acceptable “treat” versus a “trick,” I take into consideration a few other things:
- Does it contain artificial colors, preservatives?
- Does it contain allergens?
- Is it made with real food or modified sources?
- Does it taste great?
With these criteria in mind, I admit it is hard to find good treats for the kids on Halloween or on any day. It’s so difficult to walk into a store to find something sweet that isn’t detrimental. So I buy mine online in bulk, and I keep them handy. Here are two companies that sell great-tasting treats made from real food sources, unmodified and lacking in the toxic chemicals and fake sweeteners that make so much of the food and candy out there inedible and horrendous for our health.
Yummy Earth is touted as being the No. 1 organic candy-maker in the country. The company sells an assortment of real-flavored lollipops, organic assorted candy drops, sour beans, jelly beans, organic vitamin C pops and butterscotch. With 22 flavors to choose from, these candies are certified organic (no pesticides or chemicals), gluten-free, peanut-free, tree-nut-free (nonallergenic). They contain no artificial flavors or colors and no high fructose corn syrup. Just pure fruit is used for flavor and sweetness. Yum! Check out the candy at: http://www.yummyearth.com/
In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with Equal Exchange’s fair trade, organic chocolate bars that support small-scale farmers and their families. These bars are made using Swiss chocolate standards and pure organic cocoa from a dozen Latin American countries. Fairly traded organic sugar (not corn syrup!) is brought in from cooperatives in Paraguay, and fairly traded vanilla is imported from Madagascar. This firm offers more than a dozen flavors of candy bars in standard and mini-sized milk and dark chocolate (my choice for flavor and essential antioxidants). Delicious! Check out the candy here:
For me, deciding what treats I give my children and those who come around on Halloween is not based on size or tooth decay or on counting calories and fat. Halloween comes once per year, so the kids will get and enjoy treats that they wouldn’t at another time.
I propose we all take flavor into consideration as, more importantly, the quality of the ingredients in the treats. Yes, fat and carbohydrate information is important, but more so when thinking of daily eating patterns. When thinking of a single day or now-and-then treats, those numbers are less vital than what chemicals and toxins are in the treats. I would go for higher sugar content in place of high fructose corn syrup, higher carbohydrate count for less trans fats, and natural colors instead of artificial colors and preservatives.
Enjoy Halloween and embrace everything it means to you and your family. And don’t forget to help your kids make the best treat choices they can when sifting through their bags. Toss the chemical stuff and check out the companies I mention here. When you are trying to give treats, make sure they aren’t tricks in disguise!