Even though Halloween is nine days away, supermarkets and mega stores have had the usual mountains of candy greeting customers for a month.

Healthy tips

Clemson Extension offers these tips for making Halloween a more healthy experience.

Don’t send your children trick-or-treating on an empty stomach. Make sure they eat a good, healthy meal beforehand to reduce the urge to snack.

Trick-or-treat bags that children carry should be appropriate to their size. Older kids can carry larger bags, but not as large as a shopping bag or plastic garbage bag.

Limit the houses your children can visit to a two- or three-block radius. That way the treats will most likely come from neighbors, and the moderate amount of treats will be manageable.

Instruct children to wait until they get home to eat any of their goodies so that you can inspect them first. Let them keep only treats that are wrapped commercially. Inspect and throw away any commercially wrapped treats with signs of tampering- tears in wrappers, tiny pinholes, unusual appearance or discoloration.

You don’t have to pass out high calorie candy to trick-or-treaters at your house this year. Give them a variety of fun, non-candy alternatives to promote health rather than encourage unhealthy choices.

Healthier treats

(Note: Some are not appropriate for children with peanut allergies)

Cereal bars, snack packets of dried fruit, baked pretzels, nut and seeds (e.g. peanuts, unsalted almonds, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds), or trail mix, packages of low-fat crackers with cheese or peanut butter filling.

Animal crackers, Goldfish crackers, graham crackers, single serve boxes of ready-to-eat cereal, fig cookies.

Sugar-free gum or hard candy, gummy candies made with real juice, mini boxes of raisins, individual juice drinks (100 percent juice).

Jello with fruit, apple sauce, bean dip, single-serve packets of low-fat microwave popcorn

Non-food treats

Small toys and pocket-sized games, glow sticks, costume jewelry (plastic rings, necklaces and bracelets), funny Halloween glasses, false teeth, pencils, markers, stickers, reflective safety stickers, rub-on or stick-on temporary tattoos, crayons, coloring tablets and fake money.

Small toys

A bouncy ball, a jump rope, sidewalk chalk for drawing a hopscotch or foursquare game, a beanbag for Hacky Sack

What to do with treats

Parents or a supervising adult should inspect all Halloween treats before children eat them. When in doubt, throw it out.

Halloween is the perfect time to teach children moderation in eating. Help kids include their treats in a healthy eating plan, set limits on when and how much candy they can have, and stick to those limits.

Inventory your children’s candy, and don’t let them eat too many treats at once.

Let kids choose a few pieces of candy to eat on Halloween night and then eat a few pieces each day after that. Forbidding or restricting candy may cause them to develop patterns of hoarding and obsession with candy.

Teach kids that sweets can fit into their diet in limited amounts, maybe as part of a certain meal, as a snack with a fruit, etc. Combine a treat, such as a miniature candy bar, with a healthy snack like an apple.

Make sure the child eats the apple first so they are less hungry for the treat. This provides them with the health benefits of the apple while teaching them healthier eating habits.

Most candy has a long shelf-life. Put the “treat stash” out of children’s reach and limit them to eating about two pieces of candy a day. Larger treats, such as chocolate candy bars, can be cut into smaller pieces and frozen. Pull them out weeks or months later for some bite-sized treats.

If your child comes home with too much candy and sweet treats, arrange a buyout. Pay a nickel or dime for each sweet treat they “sell” you, and let them “earn” money for a toy or game they want to buy.

Kids with diabetes can have a few sweet treats, too. The rule is moderation with foods high in carbohydrate, including sweets and starches. Suggest that the child choose a few favorite treats and trade in the rest for money or a present.

Remember that sugary Halloween candy contributes to tooth decay. Candies do far more damage to teeth than to wrecking diet or behavior.

Tooth brushing and flossing are extremely important after eating sweets or any foods that stick to teeth.

Source: Clemson Extension

And in the week to come, many local children will be exposed to sweets at parties before they go trick or treating on Oct. 31.

Upcoming events

Thursday: Sugar Free Fall Festival for children with diabetes and their families, presented by the MUSC Pediatric Endocrinology Clinic. Wear costumes. This free event will be 6-8 p.m. at the MUSC Wellness Center, 45 Courtenay Drive. Parking is available at the Bee Street garage after 5 p.m. Contact Jessica at 876-1527 or Credeur@musc.edu with questions.

Nov. 2: Picnic for local families with children with diabetes. Event will be 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the MUSC Urban Farm. Meet outside of the MUSC Library in the “horseshoe” area 11-11:15 a.m. For more information, contact Jessica at the phone and email listed above.

Nov. 16: Parenting a child with Type 1 diabetes, by parent coach Margaret Taylor, 2 p.m. in the MUSC Storm Eye Auditorium, (eighth floor), 171 Ashley Ave. Registration required by contacting Jessica at the phone and email listed above.

Some born before the childhood obesity epidemic, in which more than a third of U.S. children are overweight or obese, may just think that candy and Halloween is just part of growing up.

But Dr. Deborah Bowlby and others say keeping a check on consumption of sugar and fat at Halloween by parents, teachers and others who work with kids is more important today.

Bowlby, who is division chief of pediatric endocrinology at Medical University of South Carolina, deals with diabetic children daily.

She says the nation should be bracing for a tidal wave of health problems as a result of growing numbers of type 2 diabetes in children and young adults.

“Diabetes could bankrupt our country,” says Bowlby, who is part of several national diabetes studies. “Are we ready as a country to provide health care to all these people with diabetes?”

Bowlby says Halloween’s “sugar fest” often sets a trend for making poor food choices at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s “right through to Valentine’s Day.” The focus needs to change from food, particularly sugar-rich foods, to activities and experiences.

“For Halloween, make more focus on costumes, games, fun with your friends, and for the other holidays make it fun with family and not be so food-focused or, at least when you’re focusing on food, make smart, healthy choices,” says Bowlby.

Change under way

Coleen Martin, a local leader in children’s wellness efforts, says positive change has come in Charleston County School District.

Of the 72 schools with wellness committees, 36 have “nonfood reward policies” that would prohibit food at school parties, says Martin, a registered dietitian who works with the Boeing Center for Children’s Wellness, MUSC Lean Team, and Eat Smart, Move More Charleston.

The Boeing Center for Children’s Wellness has offered a voluntary wellness program for schools, offers guidelines and monitors accomplishments.

“If you visited schools today that started with this initiative three years ago, it would be evident that wellness is a priority now,” says Martin, stressing that the effort does “not dictate change, but is empowering it.”

As for Halloween, Martin says schools have shifted the focus away from candy, or food entirely, and moving to either healthy food or to activities, such as costume parades or “pumpkin dashes.”

While change is underway in the schools, she urges continued vigilance at home.

When Martin had children, she started handing out boxes of raisins or bags of twisted pretzels. When her children told her that their house was an unpopular stop on the trick or treating block, she shifted to handing out temporary tattoos, stickers and vampire’s teeth.

Suddenly, she got back in good with the neighborhood children.

“Your house should be the house that does not give candy,” says Martin. “And when your children do bring home candy, separate it out and weigh it, store some of it in the freezer and ration it out.”

She adds that one of her neighbors’ daughters brought home 17 pounds of candy after trick or treating.

“Weighing it makes you more aware of exactly how much candy they are bringing home,” says Martin.

Fun, healthy food

Some parents already have turned the corner toward a healthier Halloween.

Rachel Cassia Glowacki, who teaches children yoga, says part of her Halloween tradition starts at 5 p.m. with a healthy dinner for her kids and their friends to “offset the sugar craze.” She makes “black and orange soups,” one black bean and the other pumpkin, as well as pumpkin butter “sand witches” on whole wheat bread.

After trick or treat, the kids have some candy, but because they go out on a full stomach of healthy food, they eat less. She also has her children put their candy into a bag and place it on the front porch for the “Halloween candy fairy” to exchange for a gift, either some money, books, or a toy.

“I do give my children candy, but not in excess and they have serious boundaries, which is why the Halloween candy fairy makes a huge difference,” says Glowacki, who lives in Charleston.

“I believe it is important to use Halloween as an opportunity to teach balance, that it is more about fun, dressing up and not just about candy. When I was growing up, we just ate and ate our pillow case full of candy and I was raised on Pepsi, Doritos, and Kit-Kat Bars,” says Glowacki.

“Over the years, we now have learned how extremely bad these foods are and are witnessing right before our very eyes the obesity epidemic, and sick and tired children. We have a responsibility to our children to teach them a healthy balance, even when Halloween is centered around treats and sweets.”

Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postand courier.com.