It's time to start thinking about what you'll be handing out to trick-or-treaters at the end of October.
When you do, ask yourself: do kids really need more candy? We all know that ingesting too much sweet stuff can lead to long term consequences like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Is that what you really want for the next generation?
Most of us want our children to live long, happy and healthy lives, so it's time more of us thought "out of the bag." Halloween doesn't have to mean candy. Be different. You're more likely to make those little ghostie and ghoulie eyes light up brighter if you surprise them with something totally unlike what their other neighbors are handing out.
Some trick-or-treaters will be happy to receive Gogurt or string cheese while going door-to-door.
Why not drop a small box or tiny bundle of crayons, one of those adorable erasers designed especially for kids, or a cute pencil in their bag? What else do kids just love? Crazy straws, glow stick necklaces, and silly bands. Halloween themed items, like plastic vampire teeth, and spider rings are also sure to bring smiles. You can probably find lots of good deals on those and other kid approved items like bubbles, little bouncy balls, temporary tattoos, and stickers if you start looking now.
If you don't have too many trick or treaters, you might consider handing out toothbrushes. What could be more appropriate? Check around at your local discount or dollar stores, or look at on-line vendors.
Planning ahead and making bulk purchases of small items like these will make it more likely you'll get a good deal.
You might consider going together with a friend, relative or coworker to place that order, especially if you don't live in the same neighborhood.
But if Halloween means food treats to you, there are loads of healthier, yet still tasty, food options around.
Think about handing out sugar free gum or small packaged food items like snack size crackers, individually wrapped granola bars or mini rice cakes. You can also hand out little boxes of raisins, or single serve pouches of dried fruit like cranberries or apricots. Honey sticks are also cute and kids love the novelty. You can find them at farmers markets or some health food stores.
If you know all of your trick-or-treaters and their families well, they probably wouldn't mind accepting homemade treats like homemade organic popcorn in sandwich sized plastic bags. You can even decorate those bags with ribbon to make the presentation more festive. You can also bag up pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, banana or apple chips, pretzels, or make and package your own trail mix.
If refrigeration isn't a problem, or if the child can eat the item on the spot, string cheese or gogurt are both great treats. For a hungry trick or treater, taking a break to eat little bag of celery and mini carrots, especially if you include a tiny container of dip, could also be a hit.
Some kids would love the traditional Halloween favorite, apples, if they don't have to carry them too far. Apples can really weigh down a trick or treat bag.
Don't forget that trick or treating can be hard work. Kids get thirsty. Even if they don't want to take a break, many kids would appreciate juice boxes, if they don't contain too much sugar, or small bottles of water, that they can drink as they continue to trick or treat.
Surely you have more, and maybe even better, ideas for healthier options. Just be creative this year. Your neighborhood children, and their parents, will thank you. You can bet they will surely remember what you gave them when they'll likely forget what was handed out by everyone else.
If you're looking for new ideas to help you live a healthier lifestyle, Cornell University Cooperative Extension's Eat Smart New York program may be just right for you. Interactive sessions include fun activities and new ideas to help people save money, improve their nutritional status, and incorporate exercise into their busy lives. Sessions can be scheduled at convenient times and locations throughout Chautauqua County and bilingual education is available. For more information call 716-664-9502 ext. 217.
And if you want to make your own trail mix, try this super-fast, easy, and customizable recipe:
3 cups of any iron fortified cereal (Cheerios, Wheaties, Chex or your personal favorite)
1 cup dried fruit (raisins, banana, cranberries, mango, pineapple, apricots or your favorite)
cup of nuts (peanuts, sunflower seeds, almonds or your favorite)
1. Wash hands thoroughly.
2. Put cereal, dried fruit and nuts in a medium sized bowl.
3. Gently mix ingredients.
4. Put mixture in bags.
Yields about 4.5 servings
Source: Eat Fit- University of CA- Davis
Nutrition Facts: Serving Size 1/2 cup (3.0 ounces), 310 Calories, 90 Calories from Fat, 10g Total Fat, 29 percent Calories from Fat, 1 g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat, 0mg Cholesterol, 260mg Sodium, 60g Total Carbohydrate, 8g Dietary Fiber, 27g Sugars, 6g Protein, 8 percent Vitamin A, 15 percent Calcium, 10 percent Vitamin C, 80 percent Iron (Nutrition facts based on a standard recipe using multi-bran Chex cereal, dried cranberries, and dry roasted, unsalted almonds.)
October is also National Farm to School Month, but what does Farm to School really mean? Farm to School refers to an effort that connects schools (K-12) and local farms to serve healthier meals in school cafeterias. Farm to School improves student nutrition, provides students with agriculture, health and nutrition educational opportunities, while supporting local and regional farmers. Farm to School programs exist in all 50 states, but since Farm to School is a grassroots movement, not all Farm to School programs look alike. Luckily for those of us living in Chautauqua County, lots of new connections are sprouting between our schools and local farmers. Stay tuned for more about that.
Patty Hammond is with Cornell University Cooperative Extension.