Five Surprising Tips For A Healthier Halloween

So when I recently caught up with Nina Manolson, a local wellness coach and general health food expert (and author of the soon-to-be-released ebook: "Feed Your Kids Well In A World That Doesn't: An Everyday Guide For Busy Moms To Create Tasty Wellness") I asked her how she deals with Halloween at her house.

Some of her answers surprised me (and may seem radical) but I'll share them here:

1. Start The Evening Full

While it's tempting to just grab a slice of pizza and then run out for trick-or-treating, Nina says it's critical to feed your kids a generous, protein-rich dinner on Halloween night, including a healthy sweet dessert, like baked apple with cinnamon or a fruit smoothie. This, hopefully, will leave them less vulnerable to the Tootsie Rolls and Laffy Taffy lurking outside.

2. Trading, Sorting And Counting

After collecting vats of candy and calling it a night, it's time to get down to work. First, Nina has her kids divide their sugar-laden cache into two groups, which she calls, loosely, "Food" and "Nonfood."

"Nonfood" is anything with high-fructose corn syrup or trans-fat and anything that looks like plastic. (You know those rubbery candies shaped like hamburgers and ice cream cones? Nina says she's kept one of those around for six years now, jumped on it, kicked it around and it still looks exactly the same.)

After dumping the "Nonfood" items in the trash, and amassing the "Food" (which ends up being mostly chocolate bars) the children go to bed. They re-group the next day for "The Taste Test."

That's where the family pulls out multiple chopping boards and cuts tiny slivers from every type of candy and tastes each one. "We rate them, then we decide which the top candies are," Nina says. "And then everything goes in the garbage." She used to consider giving it all away but then thought: "No one should be eating this."

Ruby, with her post-Halloween candy collage
Ruby, with her post-Halloween candy collage

3. Consider The Candy Fairy

(Here's where it gets radical.)

The deal with The Candy Fairy is this: Kids agree to part with their candy, and place it under their pillow. Overnight, the fairy takes the candy and leaves a gift — something between a pack of silly bands and an iPad, depending on the child and the family. For kids over 7 or 8, you move to "Fair Trade," Nina says, that is, Candy for Cash.

4. Don't Give Out Candy

(This one blew my mind because my kids so love handing out candy to other kids. But it does make sense.)

Nina is emphatic here: "You can't give out candy," she says. "You've got to walk the talk. If I don't want my kids eating candy, why should I give candy to other kids?" There are some groovy alternatives out there: Halloween-themed pencils, ghoulish eraser tops, vampire tattoos, and other choices. Oriental Trading has many of these items online.

5. Don't Go Alternative Without Warning

Ease kids into the idea of the anti-candy Halloween weeks, not hours, before the day arrives, otherwise they may rebel. Framing is everything here. For instance, you can excite kids by suggesting, "Let's put in an order to The Candy Fairy!" or get them really psyched about The Taste Test or ordering scary tatoos. Remember, you're not relinquishing Halloween, just reinventing it. "It's not like we don't do Halloween here," Nina says. On the contrary, "it's like a national holiday — we all dress up, we always carve a pumpkin. And you know what? Almost every parent comes up to me and says 'Thank you so much for not giving my kids more candy.'"

(My husband's response: "Do the kids thank her too?")

Parents, have you found ways to de-emphasize candy on Halloween? If so, do your children hate you for it? Or, like me, do you just hold your nose and chant, It's-Only-Once-A-Year all evening while the kids go wild? Please add your own tips to the list.

This program aired on October 13, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Rachel Zimmerman

Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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