Trick-or-treaters grab candy at a nail salon on Montana Avenue. (File photo)
Trick-or-treaters grab candy at a nail salon on Montana Avenue. (File photo)

You hear dry leaves crunch under little feet and giggles echoing down dark neighborhoods. Costume-clad little monsters are running up and down your walkway with their pillowcases full of sweet treats. It’s Halloween.

There are customs that have been in practice for over 100 years, so how can we even imagine altering them? It’s only one night of candy and treats for kids, right? Well, the practice of trick-or-treating or guising didn’t become popular until the 1930s and it seems to be waning in popularity, replaced by a new tradition held in many communities called trunk-or-treat. The concept is to bring communities together to celebrate in a party or carnival atmosphere with games, food and other treats besides candy. We have our own such event, the Police Activities League’s PALloween Carnival, which has been held for more than 20 years.

That is my suggestion, to offer alternative treats to visiting children at your door on All Hallows’ Eve.

Candy, in and of itself, isn’t the trickster on this night; it’s the residual effect from the hoards of sugary treats collected and the weeks of overindulgence to follow. The average intake of added sugar (22.2 teaspoons/day) has increased by 20 percent over the past 30 years, according to the 2010 American Heart Association’s Scientific Statement. The recommended intake for women is 5 teaspoons per day (20 grams), 9 teaspoons per day for men (36 grams), and children between 3 and 5 teaspoons per day (12-20 grams), depending on age and activity level. For reference, one full-size Snickers bar has 27 grams of sugar, a fun size Snickers has 9 grams of sugar, and a mini Snickers has 4.5 grams of sugar.

The Better Option author Lori Salerno with her family celebrating Halloween at a school carnival in 2009. (Photo courtesy Lori Salerno)

I did an experiment a few years ago with my own little trick-or-treaters. I offered two different options for treats: a variety of party toys or candy. I didn’t want to be “that” house that handed out toothbrushes or something anti-Halloween, but I knew change needed to be made. Surprisingly, half the children chose the little toy. The next year I expanded my selection to a bowl of toys from which to choose and a bowl of candy or healthier treats. Again, to my surprise, a good percentage of children, when given the choice, picked either a toy or a healthy treat.

Now I offer three types of treats to my little guests, but for my own Halloween monster I’ve adopted healthful strategies to navigate this sweetest of holidays. These are a few of my own techniques, as well as others used by my colleagues.


The Better Option Halloween strategies


• Celebrate the evening, not the candy. Visit spooky houses, carnivals, harvest festivals, and make handing out the treats part of the Halloween night, too.

• Allow for a moderate splurge of candy after it’s checked by an adult. Portion out a small amount of the remaining candy for daily consumption with a healthy snack for a set number of days. Donate, give away, or throw away the remaining amount.

• Offer a buyout of the candy for a fixed dollar amount or trade for a gift card.

• For younger spooksters you can try the Switch Witch or similar character who trades candy left out on the doorstep with a gift.


The Better Option healthy Halloween treats


• Mini bags of pretzels or graham crackers.

• Sugar-free hot cocoa or sugar-free hot cider packets.

• Mini bags of microwave popcorn.

• Sugar-free gum.

• Mini Rice Krispies treats.


The Better Option Halloween treat alternatives

• Glow sticks.

• Fake teeth or fangs.

• Stickers, temporary tattoos, bookmarks.

• Street chalk.

• Halloween jewelry.

• Silly Bandz.

• Bubbles.



Lori Salerno, M.S., R.D.N, C.P.T. is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer who provides medical nutrition therapy to groups and individuals in Santa Monica and recipe and menu analysis for restaurants nationwide. Learn more at



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