From the distinct scent of pumpkin spice variations burning in the crisp air and to the hay rides and mugs of warm apple cider, there’s something about the fall that transports all of us back to childhood. If you’re an adult and are reading this, those childhood memories of the Halloween season most probably included gobs of sugar-inundated candy bars that kept you up all night from the sheer sweet-induced rush. Today, parents are a lot more health-conscious when it comes to their kids, and this extends to Halloween, as well.
Here we’ll take a look at the effect sugar has on children’s teeth and how it contributes to tooth decay and cavities. And while some candy is fine in moderation, of course, we’d like to offer parents 10 ideas for candy alternatives when passing out treats this Halloween – you can still be considered the “cool house on the block” while keeping neighborhood children (as well as your own) healthier.
To begin with, let’s look at a somewhat alarming statistic: Americans spend close to nine BILLION dollars on candy every year, and in October much of that candy ends up damaging the teeth of trick-or-treaters. When it comes to causing cavities, believe it or not, not all candy is created equal; according to many dental consultants and professionals, cavities and tooth decay are caused by “prolonged exposure to sugar” and a lot of this can be prevented by parents limiting the amount of time sugar comes in contact with their teeth, as well as limiting the amount of candy they consume.
Sugar and the Damage it Inflicts
Sugar has long been identified by oral health representatives as a major cause of tooth decay and cavities. The process works like this: Naturally-occurring bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar in candy such as Halloween treats and other foods, turning it into acid. This acid then attacks tooth enamel and begins the decaying process. What’s worse, consuming chewy or sticky candies results in sugar remaining in contact with teeth for longer periods of time – when children chew sticky candies such as taffy or caramels, the candy often gets adhered to the surface and between crevices of teeth. The longer the sugar sticks to the teeth, the more time the bacteria have to feed on the sweet stuff and produce acid. When excessive acid is produced and the amount of time the teeth are exposed to it is increased, the better the chance your child will develop cavities.
Before we get into specifics regarding good alternatives to Halloween candy, here are some tips for limiting the effects of sugary treats when candy must remain on the menu:
• Select candy that can be eaten quickly and easily to limit the amount of time sugar is in contact with the teeth.
• Avoid the aforementioned sticky candies such as popcorn balls, taffy, caramels, gummy fruit snacks and other examples that expose the teeth to sugar for long periods of time.
• Limit consumption of sour candies that often boast acids (such as citric acid) that enhance the tangy flavor of these products; these acids can contribute to cavity formation and even dental erosion.
• Encourage children to eat a small amount of candy in one sitting, to be followed by a glass of water or a thorough tooth brushing.
• Encourage children to eat a good meal prior to trick-or-treating, as there will be less temptation to fill up on candy.
• Consider purchasing non-food-oriented items for trick-or-treaters arriving at your home, such as coloring books or pens and pencils.
This brings us to Halloween treats that can be used as alternatives to typical candy bars and taffy sticks…
Tips to Ditch the Candy on Halloween
Let’s recap: Kids don’t need the sugar rush and parents don’t need the extra temptation for their own sweet tooth (come on…you KNOW you steal some of those peanut butter cups for yourself!). During the Halloween season, children will have loads of opportunities for receiving candy; there is the annual trick-or-treat at the zoo, trunk-or-treat with granny, various Halloween parties at school and more – all before the big day.
If you’re looking for ideas for your own Halloween activities that DON’T involve candy, you’ve come to the right blog. Here’s a list of non-candy treats and fun things to share during trick-or-treating, as well as during holiday parties.
- Stickers – Add fun Halloween-inspired stickers to any goody bag for a sugar-free treat.
- Prepackaged Snacks Such as Raisins and Pretzels – Little packets of organic raisins and pretzels are commonly found at your grocery store.
- Temporary Tattoos – No doubt due to the “real” tattoo craze people of all ages are engaging in, children have become obsessed with temporary tattoos, and as such they can be used in trick-or-treat bags and even as a reward for doing chores.
- Glow Sticks and Glow Necklaces – Kids will love wearing these fun glow-in-the-dark items on Halloween night, and they also add a measure of safety because children are more easily visible to traffic.
- Plastic Toys from the Dollar Store – From bouncy balls to puzzles- buy toys such as these in bulk at the local dollar store and split them up for a super-cheap trick-or-treat option.
- Certificates for Treats from Local Food Chains Such as Wendy’s or Dairy Queen – Instead of sugary candy, hand out gift certificates or coupons to local fast food restaurants. Though this may not seem like a healthier alternative on the surface, parents can monitor what the child orders once they visit the establishment. Often times, you can find gift certificates or coupons for popular fast food chains such as McDonald’s or Wendy’s, and for just a couple of dollars, you can give a “treat” to the child that he or she can enjoy later with their family.
- Containers of Bubbles – Kids love small toys, and they will covet the smallest items for weeks. Halloween time is no different, so consider items such as bubbles that you can find at party supply stores, online novelty sites and super craft shops.
- Mini Containers of Play-Doh – Hand out cans of Play-Doh modeling compound on Halloween instead of sugary treats.
- Noisemakers and Whistles – Whistles and kazoos are fun for children, while tambourines and bells will also supply hours of fun for kids.
- School Supplies – Items such as mini boxes of crayons and Halloween-themed pencils are great candy alternatives for Halloween, especially since kids are somewhat still in the midst of a back-to-school mindset.
There are many treats you can purchase inexpensively for children this Halloween, so this year instead of giving away teeth-rotting candy, give away creativity!