As Halloween only gains in popularity, so does the opportunity to gain a few extra pounds.
Scare off the specter of sweets, say nutrition experts, by filling up on wholesome foods, particularly right before kids start filling their trick-or-treat bags. Skipping supper on the assumption that families will consume additional calories only guarantees they'll be the wrong kind.
"Especially the day that they are trick-or-treating ... make sure that it's a high-protein, moderate-fat kind of meal," says nutrition counselor Kellie Hill, owner of The Right Plan in Medford. "Get adults, kids, everybody well full before they start out on that quest for candy."
Both Hill and registered dietitian Cathy Miller suggest a hearty chili, which can be made ahead of time, reheated in a slow-cooker and even kept hot for second helpings after the family canvases for candy.
"They're going to come back hungry," says Hill.
"The beans are so filling," says Miller, diabetes educator for Providence Medford Medical Center.
Encourage healthy appetites on Halloween with some imaginative presentation. Start the day with ghost-shaped pancakes with raisin eyes and smiles. Mashed potatoes are easily mounded into ghosts with the addition of black-pepper eyes.
For a salad, slice a bell pepper lengthwise to form the outline of a face. Sliced black olives double as eyes, and a tomato wedge becomes a mouth. Give the face a good shock of lettuce hair and a drizzle of dressing.
Black olives become scary spiders by slicing a jumbo olive lengthwise, placing it cut-side down for the body and arranging eight thin slices alongside for legs.
Mummify pigs-in-blankets by rolling biscuits or crescent rolls into long, thin strips to wrap hot dogs or sausages. Add dots of mustard for eyes and a sliver of ketchup for the mouth.
Once kids have their haul, parents should help them manage cravings by choosing favorites to savor and then saving the rest to enjoy days, weeks, even months later. Setting candy quotas and allowing room for the occasional treat, rather than dumping the stash in the trash, teaches kids more about healthy habits. Both nutrition experts say freezing candy is a good strategy that keeps kids — and adults — from mindless binges.
"Honestly, I don't think there's a lot of difference between adults and kids," says Hill, mother of a 7-year-old son. "A lot of kids have more self-control."
Parents with a sweet tooth can curb their consumption by buying candy they don't like — lollipops for the trick-or-treaters instead of chocolate. Or skip the candy and pass out glow-in-the-dark necklaces or dollar-store trinkets. Shift the holiday's focus to activities like carving pumpkins, making costumes, even walking a historical cemetery, says Hill.
In the weeks ahead, Miller advocates cutting back on sugar in other ways.
"You can watch it in the drinks. You wouldn't have as many dessert choices around the house," she says, adding that while raising her two children, she didn't purchase desserts or bake cookies until Halloween was long laid to rest.
"It's not about making that one day healthy."
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. McClatchy News Service contributed to this story.