For holiday treats, think healthy

Fall and winter are dangerous seasons – nutritionally speaking. Halloween starts off the holiday eating frenzy, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are soon to follow. If we only indulged on Oct. 31, Nov. 28, and Dec. 25 there would be no cause for concern. However, for most, the sweet Halloween treats last until Thanksgiving and the Christmas baked goods continue through the end of the year.

Making small changes can help us eat healthier, making it easier to manage an ideal body weight. Healthy eating can also reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. We need to change our idea of what constitutes a snack. Chips, pop and cookies are frequently eaten at snack time but offer no nutritional value. Instead, snack on foods such as whole grain crackers, yogurt, string cheese, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Most fruit can be eaten after simply being washed. This makes it a great grab-and-go item. Fruits and vegetables are smart snack choices because they are rich in vitamins and fiber.

This Halloween, purchase and hand out nutritious snacks to trick-or-treaters. Most people give children candy and chocolate bars. The healthy treats can actually be more fun! Beef jerky, boxes of dried fruit, 100 percent fruit juice or fruit snacks, packages of individually wrapped crackers, granola bars, even non-food items such as toothbrushes and quarters are excellent choices. Trick-or-treaters will enjoy the variety, and leftover snacks will be healthier for you, too.

An idea to get young children excited to eat healthy is to make fun snacks out of fruits or vegetables. This October, make mini pumpkins by peeling a mandarin orange or clementine. Stick a small piece of celery in the center for the stem. Voila, it’s now a pumpkin! Another idea is to make a ghost using a banana and chocolate chips. Peel the banana and cut in half. Stand the banana up, cut side down, and stick the pointed side of the chocolate chips in for the eyes and mouth. Both snacks are low-cost, easy to prepare, and nutrient-rich. The fun factor makes them irresistible to little ones. Involve them in making the snack and you have a teachable moment. Explain why we wash our fruits and veggies or why these are better choices for our bodies than cookies or candy. The above ideas take little effort but can make a big difference in our family’s health. Have a happy and healthy Halloween!

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(Trisha Jessen is a Family Nutrition Program/North Dakota State University Extension Educator. She can be reached by email at