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Healthy Halloween: Treats, Tricks and Tips

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Halloween treats are big business -- $2.25 billion big. That's the amount Americans are projected to spend on Halloween candy in 2013 according to research firm IBISWorld. For mental comparison, that's almost as much as the federal government will send to fund child nutrition programs in California. If that number isn't enough to make you sick, the loads of candy that your kids bring home might.

After months of trying to establish healthy habits, I cringe when all of that sugar comes flooding into our house. It's not good for my kids, and it's not good for me (I'm arguably the worst offender when it comes to over indulging in Halloween treats).

I'm not advocating eliminating candy all together. A treat or two every so often is fine. What I am arguing is that we should find ways to make it more balanced -- to bring a few fun and healthy Halloween treats and tricks to the party. So this year we're trying something new: a few easy changes to make Halloween a little healthier.

Step 1: Tricks or Treats

Instead of eliminating candy all together, we decided to reallocate. Half of the Halloween treats we will give out this year will be candy (albeit, healthier choices like organic snacks), the other half will be toys like glow sticks, bouncy balls and wiki stix. Each trick-or-treater will get to pick two items. I'll report back on which items run out first.

Step 2: Trade Treats for Treasures

A lively discussion on my Facebook page this week led to a discussion of swapping treats for presents. Some parents invite their kids to leave a donation to the Switch Witch, who collects up Halloween candy and leaves a present in exchange. Similar to this idea, we're going to trade treats for treasures. Five candies buys you a pack of hockey cards or a take-apart eraser. Twenty-five candies gets you a bucket of balls at the driving range. One hundred candies can be redeemed for tickets to the local college basketball game.

Step 3: Treats as Tools

Each year, we use our Halloween treats to inspire a few fun activities. First, we chart our candy. The kids sort it, count it, and come up with creative ways to graph it. This takes the focus off the candy, and puts it on a fun activity that we can do together. Then we'll use the candy as the raw material to build a holiday house. Instead of making gingerbread, we'll use our Halloween candy. We'll call it, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Another recipe for fun together -- no sugar required.

What's your view? Do you think parents should find ways to make Halloween healthy? Share your tricks and treats.

A mother of two, Jennifer Tyler Lee is the creator of the award-winning series of healthy eating games, Crunch a Color®, and author of the upcoming book tentatively titled, The 52 New Foods Challenge (Penguin/Avery 2014), a week-by-week playbook to get your family eating healthy, one new food at a time.