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Don’t Be Scared

Why a Bowlful of Candy Can Be a Good Thing

Yes, it’s a Halloween tradition, and it protects your front yard from getting TP’d. But if you’ve been working on getting a cupful of blueberries and a bowlful of greens in your diet instead, bringing a bushel of mini Snickers into your kitchen can bring bone-chilling fear to your Hallow’s Eve.

But don’t be bothered by the boo – if you find October 31st truly scary, consider that it can provide a reminder of healthy eating principles that you can embrace all year. Here is a bit-sized list of rules for gathering Halloween loot that we’ve lived by since we were kids. We’ve applied them to the rest of year to help you turn a day that strikes fear in your heart into one that can actually strengthen your resolve and help you achieve your healthy eating ghouls…er, goals.

1. Cook what you eat.

One of today’s popular rules of eating better, attributed to real-food evangelist Michael Pollan, is if you’re going to eat it, cook it. Crave an indulgent dessert? Put in the time to do the baking. It’s not just penance—it ensures you are using real ingredients, and if cake isn’t available at a moment’s notice, it means you’re probably having it less often.

The same goes for Halloween. There are lots of treat options that don’t come pre-wrapped: roasted pumpkin seeds, chocolate dipped fruit, cocoa crispy balls, caramel apples…they are fun, unique, yummy, and less loaded with fat and preservatives. Bake Halloween cookies, try some frightening Halloween snack ideas, or check out these spooky recipes and tips.

2. Check for dangers.

It dates back to the early days of trick or treating – parents would scan their child’s candy bag for the truly frightening treat such as razor blades in apples or any other unwrapped, sinister-looking dangers posing as bonbons. Checking for dangers is a prudent health rule for the rest of the year as well. Healthy eating land mines including restaurant visits, overbooked schedules that lead to drive-through and packaged eating, and high stress times that only mindless eating can cure.

If you’re on a mission to be a cook, to get your servings of fruits and veggies, or to avoid brain-sedating taste triumvirates, make sure mindfulness is part of your life so you can keep your most dangerous habits in check. Otherwise, you’ll end up sleepwalking through a hall of horrors, an easy target for nutritional ghosts and goblins.

3. Trade your treats.

After the treats and tricks are over and you and your wig-wearing, makeup-smeared friends were back at home evaluating the take, trading was key. Too many Smarties and not enough hot balls did not a diversified candy sack make. But that could be easily fixed through the complex negotiations of treat trading, where a Snickers bar equaled two Junior Mints.

Even when the sacks are emptied, the trade must go on. Replacing portions of a meal of average nutrition with one fruit or veggie, or adding color to your plate to create a more vibrant edible rainbow should always be the rule of thumb. Get your trade on: replace potato chips for baby carrots; switch your white-colored food for something deep green or bright blue.

4. Divide.

You know the routine – ingest all you can on Halloween night, then put the rest in zip bag and store it in the freezer. Parceling out treats over the long term is just a mother’s intuition, and it couldn’t make more sense. You know eating thirty milk balls when two will suffice will help you maintain your diet and nutritional goals over the long term.

Portion control is a truly American phenomenon, where muffins are as big as manhole covers and cleaning our plate is the only option. Stretching high-fat, high-calorie food out over weeks or even months is pure mathematical division, and it has the same benefit as stretching those giant portions out so a little less goes in over a longer period of time.

5. Don’t eat your feelings.

Whether you dressed as a princess or pauper, you knew your Halloween candy was earned through the hard work of knocking on doors and trudging through the elements. This hard-won booty was yours, not to be doled out as a reward for doing your homework or taking out the trash.

Using candy as a reward or a bribe turns that peanut butter cup into a little ball of love and acceptance, and that equates confections with emotions.  Don’t confuse your kids or yourself by conflating acceptance and love with something caramel-filled. Love yourself with a sweet peach or a blueberry smoothie instead – sometimes a mallow bar is just a mallow bar. 

6. Snub the fear.

As a kid, you never passed up an opportunity for a haunted hayride or a late night slasher flick. As a grown-up, you can still be fearless. Just because you are surrounded by sweets, don’t let it scare you. Indulging is part of a realistic diet. Vilifying food by locking it up behind a three padlocks only leads to desperate lock-picking on the flipside.

Nutrition, disease prevention and longevity are life-long pursuits, and can’t be toppled by a momentary poltergeist. Have a chocolate eyeball or an orange M&M! Indulge – mindfully and in moderation. Remember, every day is full of demons, these just happen to be in fun sizes.

Get Fright Night Guidance:

Get more healthy Halloween eating advice from Meals Matter.

About.com doles out advice on how to handle Halloween eating chaos.

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