March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Halloween is a fun day full of costumes, imagination and, of course, tons of candy. Don’t fear, your spooky soiree can be both fun and healthy with a few simple tips.
"Halloween is just one day a year, and it's what kids eat every day that has the most impact on their nutrition and health," says Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, CDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Instead of making candy and sweet treats off-limits, serve healthy snacks first, and bring out the sweet treats later when the kids have already filled up on more nutritious foods. Ansel recommends choosing orange foods for the healthy options, like carrots or baked sweet potato fries. Try adding green guacamole "slime" for a dose of heart-healthy unsaturated fat.
For a heartier choice, Sarah Krieger, MPH, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, suggests black and orange tortilla roll-ups made by layering lean roast beef and low-fat provolone or mozzarella cheese on a sun-dried tomato tortilla. (For a veggie option, use refried black beans instead of roast beef.)
Practice Portion Control
For those special sweet treats that you do allow, provide small portions. Choose fun-size — instead of full-size — candies, miniature cupcakes or muffins, and smaller cookies and brownies (think 2 inches). Serve each child rather than leaving treats out on a table in order to regulate how many servings each child consumes.
Make Your Own Healthier Treats
Traditional Halloween candy is high in calories, sugar and fat, and provides little nutrition. Make your own treats that have some nutritional value by including a source of fruits or vegetables, whole grain, or low-fat dairy. Try popcorn tossed with cinnamon and sugar or chocolate-covered fresh fruit as healthier alternatives to candy. Ansel recommends pumpkin treats, like fiber-packed cinnamon-roasted pumpkin seeds or vitamin A-rich pumpkin chocolate chip mini muffins.
Krieger suggests the following healthy, Halloween-themed snacks:
- Warm apple cider with cinnamon sticks
- Smoothies made with low-fat vanilla yogurt, canned pumpkin, cinnamon, banana and ice
- Apple slices with a fruit dip made with yogurt mixed with canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice
Get Everyone Up and Moving
Make sure that the party isn't all about the food. Plan fun activities and games to get the kids moving, like a costume parade or relay race. Ansel suggests a game called "Monster Tag" — one child is the monster and whomever he or she tags turns into a zombie.
Limit Leftover Candy
"When the fun of Halloween night is over and the kids are left with bags of candy, encourage 'candy control' without depriving the trick-or-treaters completely," says Krieger. Try putting the candy away in a place that is out of sight and you may find that the kids forget about it after a few days. Krieger also suggests mixing leftover candy with whole-grain cereal, nuts and a few pretzels to make a homemade trail mix for snacks.
Make this Halloween an opportunity to teach your child to enjoy special treats in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet.