Nutrition Column – Children Just as Likely to Choose Toys as Candy on Halloween

Halloween is a special time for kids of all ages. It’s fun to get dressed up in strange costumes and parade around the neighborhood or go to a costume party. Treats are a part of that fun. But treats don’t have to mean sticky, gooey candy, or even candy at all.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, kids are eating more sugar than ever – from 21 to 23 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Most comes from carbonated sodas, sweetened fruit beverages, candy and sweet baked goods like cakes and cookies. Combine this with very little vigorous physical activity and several hours of staring at the television or computer screen each day, and it’s no wonder that many children in the United States are at risk for diseases associated with obesity.

This Halloween, when the little goblins, monsters and princesses come knocking on your door, consider treating them with something besides candy. You’ll stand out as being different than the masses, you won’t have to deal with bags of leftover candy in the house and, according to a recent study, you’ll be just as well received.

In a study conducted last Halloween, seven households across five different towns in Connecticut offered trick or treaters a choice between comparably-sized toys and candies. All toy and candy options cost between 5 and 10 cents per item. The results, published this July in the "Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior," showed that the 284 children, ages 3 to 14, who visited these households were just as likely to choose a toy as a piece of candy. Also, there were no differences in the types of choices made by girls or boys.

This study shows that Halloween doesn’t have to be synonymous with candy. This year, why not break the "sweet-tooth witch" routine and fill your trick-or-treaters’ sacks with all sorts of non-sticky and non-food treats?

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

– Halloween theme pencils, crayons or erasers;

– Halloween theme magnets or stickers;

– temporary tattoos;

– creepy, crawly rubber worms, spiders or Halloween figures;

– glow-in-the-dark insects or other Halloween figures;

– orange-colored or pumpkin-shaped note pads;

– orange, black or Halloween balloons;

– bubbles or whistles;

– individually wrapped packages of raisins;

– sugar-free gum;

– individual juice boxes;

– individual packages of pretzels;

– cereal bars;

– cheese sticks;

– individually wrapped beef jerky sticks;

– individually wrapped cheese and cracker packages;

– packages of instant hot chocolate mix.

by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension