Each year, Halloween poses a moral dilemma for most dietitians. Opt out of trick-or-treating, and at best, we're branded joyless buzz kills; at worst, our houses are assailed with shaving cream and toilet paper. Opt in, and we're fueling the national year-end sugar binge that undoes 10 months of talk about moderation and nutritional balance. It's a no-win situation.
In the past, I've put my inner conflict aside to participate in the spirit of the holiday, doling out "fun-sized" candies with relatively lower calorie counts that I did not find particularly tempting myself. This, I reasoned, would make them the lesser of many evils to the kids who received them, and less tempting to me as holiday leftovers.
But things are different this year. I've got two toddlers whose idea of a treat remains a banana with peanut butter or their own box of raisins. Because they're not yet in school yet and have no older siblings, they've not yet discovered chocolate, candy, or trick-or-treating. While these discoveries are all inevitable, I'm in no hurry to expedite the process. Having a giant bowl of candy lying around the house—with those colorful, crinkly wrappers—would most certainly hasten the demise of our family's low-sugar utopia.
My comfort level with being an agent of sugary excess to other peoples' kids has also changed. I finally understand why some families doled out pennies to trick-or-treaters when I was a kid, though my husband is mortified at the mere suggestion that I would even consider doing something of the kind. On one hand, when other parents take their kids trick-or-treating to my house, they are implicitly approving of my giving them candy (expecting it, no less). On the other hand, I'm a dietitian for crying out loud. I'm supposed to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
As I struggled with the dilemma of whether to offer treats to trick-or-treaters this year—and if so, which ones—I kept asking myself the same question: What would David Katz do (WWDKD)?
Anyone who reads Eat + Run with regularity has certainly come to regard Katz as the voice of reason and moderation in a food and media culture prone to extremes. He makes sense of the seemingly nonsensical and offers practical, grounded advice when choices seem confounding. I am so very tempted to drive up to Yale this year to attempt trick-or-treating at his house just to see how he handles things. I'll bet he takes the moral high ground and hands out pedometers, jump-ropes, or toothbrushes, and I'll bet he does so with such convincing moral authority that nobody even eggs his house.
Alas, my husband was equally mortified at the thought of me driving to Connecticut to stalk a famous public health expert on Halloween. So instead, I decided to take DK's own sage wisdom to guide my decision: "Don't make perfect the enemy of good!" In so doing, I think I came upon what I think is a rather ingenious solution to my dilemma; one that should help me straddle my dual responsibilities as a good neighbor and a good public health advocate. Here it is:
• For kids old enough to chew gum safely, I will offer sugarless, dessert-flavored packs of chewing gum (Extra Dessert Delights or Trident Layers—whatever's cheapest at my local warehouse club). After all, it's still technically a confection, and everyone likes gum, right? The flavors are in keeping with the theme of Halloween, and none of these products will contribute to caloric excess or dental caries. It's not a perfect solution, given all the artificial ingredients in those gums, but it's still a pretty good alternative … right, Dr. Katz?
• For the preschool-and-under set, I will offer non-edible treats—sheets of stickers ranging in themes that tap into the current kiddie zeitgeist. (Dora? Elmo? Help me out here, fellow parents!) If my kids are any barometer, these novice trick-or-treaters will be thrilled to score their pick of such booty.
I acknowledge that my strategy will cost quite a bit more than just buying a $4 bag of fun-sized candy bars, but the extra sleep I'll get at night as a result will be priceless.
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Tamara Duker Freuman, MS, RD, CDN, is a NYC-based registered dietitian whose clinical practice specializes in digestive disorders, Celiac Disease, and food intolerances. Her personal blog, www.tamaraduker.com, focuses on healthy eating and gluten-free living.