Children riding in a parade float wave to onlookers during the Halloween parade through dowtown Davenport, Saturday, October 31, 2009. (Crista Chapman/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Crista Chapman

When it comes to Halloween, some experts don’t have a problem with children going out once a year to trick-or-treat for free candy.

But the idea of that candy being consumed in the house for weeks to come could pose a challenge for anyone trying to maintain a sensible diet, and that’s an issue that concerns nutrition specialists such as Jeni Tackett.

“There’s an assumption that you have to give out candy at Halloween, and that’s not necessarily true,” said Tackett, a wellness dietitian with Trinity Regional Health System in Moline.

A barrage of candy is offered to children this month at parties, parades and assorted other activities in addition to the big night on which they go door-to-door. But experts such as Tackett offer some strategies for adults who want to promote health and wellness at home, even during the immensely popular holiday.


Children really do like getting a small present instead of candy during trick-or-treat times, said Tackett, the mother of an 8-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy. For example, the most popular Halloween house in her family’s neighborhood is one where the homeowner gives out necklaces that glow in the dark.

Children also like small, inexpensive presents.

“In case anyone is worried that kids will turn up their noses at pencils or erasers, they don’t,” said Jennifer Best, an Extension educator at the Scott County office of the Iowa State University Extension in Bettendorf. “I have given out pencils every year since we moved to town 15 years ago, and every year the kids say, ‘Oh, cool!’ It is something they actually can use for a while instead of being gone in 10 seconds.”

Be sure you don’t give small gifts to the very youngest children, however. Tiny items may be accidentally ingested by toddlers 3 years old and younger.

Some treat alternatives are:

* stickers, temporary tattoos and rings.

* sugar-free gum.

* pencils, especially the mechanical type.

* dimes or quarters.

* small toys such as those used for party favors.

* pencil toppers and erasers.

* pretty stones, seashells or pine cones, which can be purchased at a craft shop.


The economy has helped to promote the idea of “costume swaps,” said Kristi Cooper, a family life specialist at the Linn County office of the ISU Extension in Marion, Iowa. Cooper’s region includes Scott County.

A lot of children’s costumes have been made of materials that are fire-retardant, which is a good thing, of course. But Cooper points out that wool is a natural fire retardant and said that making costumes from wool might be a safe option that saves money as well. Check out thrift shops for old wool jackets or skirts, she suggested.

“Most children would find straight wool to be uncomfortable,” Cooper said. But she suggests that wool capes could easily be made out of old garments. “Children love wearing capes,” she added.


Pumpkins with lit candles pose an obvious hazard to children. Cooper suggests alternatives, such as solar lights or energy-efficient LED lights. “Both are safer than an open flame,” she said.

Many households like to use scents in the house when windows are closed due to the cooler weather. Cooper offers some ideas on scents that won’t prompt an asthma attack. Boil a pot of cider on the stove, adding cinnamon sticks and cloves. “That’s something I always did when our kids were small, and the family still talks about it,” she said.

For those who don’t want to use the stove, think about using an essential oil diffuser. “Those don’t usually irritate anyone with asthma or breathing issues,” she added.

Family fun

Halloween is a time for families to have fun. Some traditions can be started, and children may go wild with their creativity, Cooper said.

“Halloween has play value for children, with open-ended playtimes and ways for children to take on roles that expand their knowledge and language abilities,” she added.

“Halloween can be something parents and children do together. That’s really what it’s all about.”