Mindful Metropolis — October 2009
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Trick Or Treat, Give Something Healthy To Eat
Mandy Burrell

this Halloween, select treats that are good for kids’ health and easy on the planet

Parents have taught their children this familiar singsong refrain for generations, the secret password to a pillowcase or plastic pumpkin full of sugary sweets. But these days, with a growing number of families confronting food allergies and intolerances, or choosing to limit sugar and high-fructose corn syrup consumption, the new trick on Halloween is to select treats that not only are good to eat, but also good for kids’ health and easy on the planet.

“Families have to set their own boundaries,” said Kate Klotz, Whole Foods spokesperson.

For Melissa Graham, a Chicago mom of a five-and-a-half-year-old son, that means taking a balanced approach.

“I like to give [treats] that have a bit of sweetness but are a little bit healthier,” said Graham, who is also president and founder of Purple Asparagus, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to helping families eat healthy and enjoy it.

Putting a wholesome spin on trick-or-treating is one way to a green Halloween. Another option is to “rethink the holiday all together,” according to Manda Aufochs Gillespie, also known as The Green Mama.

She, her husband and their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter live in Rogers Park, where they helped form the Rogers Park Parents Group.

Three years ago, the group’s coming out celebration was on All Hallows’ Eve. “Instead of just trick-or-treating, we threw a party,” said Aufochs Gillespie.

By organizing a Halloween bash, not only does the Rogers Park Parents Group sidestep the annual onslaught of sugar, it also builds community.

And the kids still enjoy plenty of treats: They decorate cookies, bob for organic apples, dance to drummers, get their faces painted and march in a costume parade.

“For younger kids especially, it’s really nice,” said Aufochs Gillespie.

Graham agrees parents can and should balance the sticky trick-ortreat issue by taking part in shaping other Halloween activities—whether at church, school or in the neighborhood—so that they don’t revolve around candy. Graham and other Purple Asparagus volunteers will be at the Evanston Farmers Market on Oct. 31, doing a hands-on cooking demonstration with parents and kids using market produce. The recipe?

She’s thinking Bug Salsa.

Klotz encourages parents who host a Halloween party to include a prompt on the invitation to mention any food allergies, intolerances or preferences when they RSVP.

For parents who want to “green up” their trick-or-treat handouts, here are some more great tips:

» Swap traditional treats for their healthier, greener cousins. Annie’s Organics makes great fruit snacks and gummy bunnies in individual pouches, according to Graham. Klotz agrees, and also suggests Yummy Earth Lollipops, which come in fun flavors such as Tooberry Blueberry and Pomegranate Pucker. Fair-trade mini chocolate bars, especially antioxidantrich dark chocolate, are also a fair compromise, said Aufochs Gillespie.

» Hand out treats that aren’t candy. Try individual boxes of organic raisins or other dried fruit, packages of pretzels, or even Halloweenthemed pencils.

» Don’t do-it-yourself. No matter how delicious your homemade treats may be, most parents will deem them unsafe and either refuse them at the door or toss them in the garbage when they get home. “It’s not worth it to take something [unpackaged] from someone you don’t know,” said Graham. So when it comes to trick-or-treating, it’s better to stick with pre-packaged treats.

» To keep costs in line, order ahead in bulk. Some stores, including Whole Foods, offer a discount if you buy by the case.

» Decide ahead of time what to do with the extra booty. Some parents, like Graham, allow their child to have a few pieces of candy on Halloween night, stash the leftovers and dole out one piece at a time as a special treat a few times a week. Others make a deal, giving their kids a dime or quarter for every piece of candy they “trade in.” Some donate the leftovers to a local senior center or shelter. Work out your plan ahead of time, so your kids aren’t taken by surprise.