It’s All Hallows Eve — do you know what your kids are eating?

This Halloween, don’t let your little ones get tricked by the smiling jack-o-lantern bucket, which typically hides about 250 pieces of candy, amounting to a frightening 9,000 calories. The sad reality is that many children actually eat their way through the entire bucket — and then some!

Because Halloween is the start of a string of holidays when overindulgence on food is at an all-time high, now is the perfect time to discuss the importance of making healthier food choices. That’s why I’ve partnered with the California Milk Processor Board — the creator of GOT MILK? — to encourage children to keep sweets in moderation during Halloween and to choose nutritious treats like low fat or nonfat chocolate milk for strong bones.

A study in the September 2009 issue of Academic Pediatrics shows that severe childhood obesity in the United States has tripled in the last 25 years, putting children at risk for serious health problems later in life. This startling statistic stems from poor food choices by children and their parents. Based on the latest research, there are about 71 million children in the nation ages 2-19 that are obese, of which 2.7 million are considered severely obese. The key to preventing such problems would be to keep a nutritious diet not only during Halloween, but every day.

For Halloween, GOT MILK? has developed 10 tips and strategies with registered dietitians like myself to keep candy consumption in moderation during Halloween:

1) Plan Ahead. Make a plan prior to Halloween so that you can keep tabs on what your children will be consuming that night. Talk to teachers (many schools hold Halloween events), party hosts and neighbors to agree on the types of treats to be handed out to children.

2) Negotiate with Kids. Talk to kids and set up expectations for Halloween day. Make sure that they do their homework and chores before trick-or-treating.

3) Dinner First. On Halloween night, before trick-or-treating, give children an extra-nutritious dinner. It will reduce their appetite for sweets and they will less likely be tempted to dig into goodies before they get home. A meal filled with lean protein, whole grains and vegetables are the way to go! Remember to serve a glass of low fat or nonfat milk with the meal for extra nutrition. Drinking milk is proven to strengthen teeth, prevent cavities, and boost calcium, vitamin D and potassium levels.

4) Non-Food Treats. Consider handing out treats like themed school supplies like coloring books or pens and pencils to school-age children as they will come in handy for class. Small toys are also appropriate in reducing the amount of candy children eat during Halloween. Plus, they’re fun!

5) Power Trick-or-Treat. Make sure children get enough physical activity to burn off excess sugar and fat. Trick-or-treating can be a fun way to incorporate walking and exercise. Plan a few extra loops around the neighborhood. This process can tire out kids and prepare them to hit the sack when they get home.

6) GOT MILK? Chocolate milk after trick or treating is a great, healthy treat. Serving chocolate milk will ensure you don’t deprive kids of the chocolate closely associated with Halloween, while still providing them great nutrition. If you want to help your kids sleep on Halloween night, a glass of warm low fat or nonfat milk prior to bed will do the trick. Milk contains tryptophan which helps people snooze.

7) Set Limits. Set boundaries with your child on how many pieces of candy they’re allowed to eat on Halloween and while trick-or-treating. Allow your children to make their own selections, but tell them they can only pick a few pieces. Ration out the treats.

8) Exchange Program. Trade your children’s Halloween candy for a desired toy to reduce candy consumption. Many schools, doctors and dentists have similar exchange programs. Donating the candy to a cause also teaches children about the importance of giving.

9) Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Bring candy to work or throw them away. Kids don’t eat what they can’t see.

10) Set an Example. Parents should also stay away from eating too much candy during Halloween. They need to be role models by consuming sweets in moderation.

By following these simple tips, we can all have a happy, healthy Halloween! For more information visit

Mary Barbour is a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian who is an active member of the American and California Dietetic associations, working with children on maintaining a healthy weight. She was featured on FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen.

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