- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The dating scene and Halloween have a lot in common these days. It’s the angst.

For dating, there was once a time when a man asked a woman out and agreed to an actual date. Now we screen each other online and find a six-degrees-of-separation friend for a background check. We initially meet for a quick cup of coffee or a drink after work. All of this before agreeing to an actual date.

For Halloween, there’s children’s safety spurred by the possibility that the candy they collect could be tampered with. And now we are fussing about childhood obesity, cavities and overall health and nutrition.

What happened to the simpler days when eating a bag of candy on Halloween was OK and a date didn’t require weeks of advance checking?

At least for Halloween, there are some easy and good choices to be made. It’s hard not to get candy on Halloween. It comes with the holiday. The goal shouldn’t be deprivation, but teaching children (and maybe even ourselves) a little about the joys of moderation.

I hate to be a killjoy, but parents need to take responsibility. When my brother and I were children, my parents allowed us to pick one piece of candy to eat each day … with two candies each for them. We may have missed out on some of the good chocolate, but we learned an important lesson: You don’t have to eat 10,000 calories at a sitting to enjoy Halloween.

If we focus on fats and calories alone, sugar candy (such as candy corn or lollipops) is so sweet that it’s difficult to eat too much, maybe a few small packages. Although the calories can add up to a couple hundred, at least there is no fat.

Whereas with chocolate, which contains fat and saturated fat in addition to sugar, it’s easy to turn into the energizer bunny that keeps on going and going. Before you know it, you’ve tucked away 1,000 calories.

Five mini peanut butter cups have about 11 grams of fat and 205 calories. Five bite-sized chocolates, such as Snickers, Milky Way, 3 Musketeers and Twix carry about 200 calories and 9 grams of fat. And most chocolate bars are about 60 to 70 percent saturated fat, the worst kind.

Milk chocolate bars and dark chocolates with nuts do contain a little calcium (from the milk chocolate), antioxidants (from the dark chocolate), niacin, riboflavin and protein. All of these are essential nutrients, but it’s a poor tradeoff.

Chewy candies, such as caramel, taffy and licorice, are generally made with little or no fat, but stick to your teeth. So unless you brush every time you eat one, you may want to consider putting your dentist on speed dial.

Life Savers and other hard candies are also made with little fat, but they, too, contain lots of sugar and the calories do add up.

Last are fruit snacks, including fruit roll-ups, that show fruit listed as the primary ingredient. But they generally contain only minuscule amounts of fruit, especially when compared with even an ordinary apple.

So what should we do, come trick-or-treating time? Select one of the healthy options out there. Raisinets or plain raisins, sugar-free lollipops and gummy bears, animal crackers, graham crackers, trail mix, popcorn, granola bars and sugar-free gum are all good choices.

Chocolate mint patties, Junior Mints and mini marshmallows are low in fat and calories, although they are high in sugar. They fall into the lesser-of-two-evils category, along with mini dark chocolates and Rice Krispies treats.

There are also numerous 100-calorie snack packages perfect for Halloween. Oreo Crisps and Chips Ahoy Crisps are among my favorites, and they contain no trans-fats.

A study conducted by Yale University concluded that when given the choice, 50 percent of children select candy and the other half take toys. So why not add a selection of modest toys to your Halloween options? They just might be well received. How about glow-in-the-dark stickers, themed pencils and erasers, spider rings, scary temporary tattoos, vampire teeth and glow sticks?

I know most parents think Halloween only comes only once a year, so what’s the harm? American children are never deprived of sweets. Between school parties, friends’ houses and after-school events, it seems there is always something sweet to eat.

Halloween candy is like a bad haircut. It has staying power, sometimes sticking with us all the way through the December holidays. Ever wonder why we gain weight this time of year? We’re talking two months of splurge.

Here are a few other hints for a healthier Halloween:

• Only buy one bag of candy that you and your children like. For the other hobgoblins, choose kinds you don’t like, so there’s less temptation.

• Don’t buy candy too far in advance. It will just be a temptation. A day or two before Halloween is safer.

• Serve a nutritious and satisfying dinner before trick-or-treating begins.

• Pick one or two pieces to enjoy each day for a predetermined number of days. Then buck up and throw the rest out. The name of the game is willpower. If we don’t have it — and most of us don’t — then out of sight, out of mind.

Obesity in children is a serious matter. It leads to early onset diabetes, heart problems and high blood pressure. Children are already growing up too fast. Do we want to contribute the additional burden of obesity that can later cause serious adult medical problems?

Tortilla crisps

4 flour tortillas

1 tablespoon butter, melted, or canola oil

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Line a baking sheet with foil. Lightly brush the top of each tortilla with butter or canola oil. Mix sugar with cinnamon in a small bowl.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over each tortilla and spread it evenly with a spoon. Cut each tortilla into 8 wedges.

Transfer wedges to baking sheet lined with foil. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven until tortillas are crisp and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer tortilla crisps to a wire rack and cool.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

9 calories per piece; 0 g protein; 0.3 g fat; 0.2 g saturated fat; 2 g carbohydrates; 5 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol.

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