Q. Dear Umbra,

I’m expecting a bunch of trick-or-treaters this year. Is there anything I can hand out that’s somewhat healthy and eco-friendly, instead of the usual sugar overload? Please don’t suggest pencils or pennies or anything like that — kids want treats, and I don’t want my house to be a total bummer for them (nor do I want angry goblins to egg my house later).

Emily H.
Vienna, Virginia

A. Dearest Emily,

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I appreciate your desire to keep All Hallows’ Eve fun for the kiddos while standing up against Big Candy. I’m still a fan of handing out nonfood treats (temporary tattoos! stickers! markers!), but I get where you’re coming from: I was a young goblin once too, and I certainly remember the thrill of adding a chocolate bar to my stash.

It’s no secret that the sugar avalanche awaiting the nation’s children on Halloween is not exactly great for their health. But beyond that, your conventional Butter-Snicker-Milky-Kit-Joys aren’t doing the planet many favors, either. From problems with palm oil to ecological damage from sugarcane production to GMO concerns around sugar beets to the disturbing human rights and deforestation issues surrounding chocolate, Halloween candy starts to look very scary indeed.

It doesn’t have to be this way, Emily. You can conjure up some tasty treats that also manage to be healthier, both physically and environmentally, than the usual trick-or-treat fare.

Store-bought snacks

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Instead of dishing out candy, you could go for little packets of regular kid-approved snacks, things like:

  • string cheese
  • dried fruits
  • nuts
  • trail mix
  • mini energy bars
  • low-sugar applesauce

Your local ghouls might not go for them before they inhale their candy corn, but they’ll get around to enjoying the snack packs soon enough.

Something a little more decadent, you say? Try stocking up with one of these:

  • ethically sourced mini-chocolates (look for organic, Fair Trade, and/or Rainforest Alliance certifications)
  • organic gummies or lollipops
  • snack bags of organic cookies or crackers
  • fruit leather
  • honey sticks

Homemade treats

Maybe, between painting your face to look like a sugar skull and adjusting your fairy wings, you would have time to whip up a little something yourself? There’s no better way to make sure you’re handing out treats that are ecologically friendly, healthful, and delicious. The key here, as with all of our eating choices, is to focus on local, organic ingredients whenever possible, and to opt for fresh over processed when we can.

Some parents might get spooked about goodies that aren’t store-bought, packaged, and sealed, so this route is best if you know the families in your neighborhood and/or you include labels with your name and address so everyone knows where the treats came from. Get more ideas along these lines from this Homemade Halloween Treat Manifesto.

Now, what’s the healthiest possible Halloween treat? Whole fruits and veggies! I know — if anything would serve as a total buzzkill for the neighborhood trick-or-treaters, it would be unadorned produce. But if you take a moment to cleverly disguise those wholesome ingredients, suddenly it’s as if you’ve cast a witch’s spell to turn a boring old apple into a totally awesome treat. To wit:

  • goblin grins: Apple slices, a smear of peanut butter, and mini marshmallows come together to make a creepy monster smile.
  • goblin grins II: Peas as Halloween handouts? Believe it: Turn a sugar snap peapod, a slice of red pepper, and almond slivers into a leering monster mouth.
  • stuffed jack-o’-lanterns: Hollow out an orange, carve the peel like a pumpkin, and stuff it with sliced fruit.
  • orange pumpkins: What to do with that juicy orange? Add a celery stick for a stem and it’s now a mini-pumpkin treat.
  • apple mummies: A little gauze and two candy eyes make an apple suddenly Halloween-appropriate. Sweeten the deal with a little caramel if you like.

A few more ideas for the crafty cooks among us: How about these creepy popcorn-filled monster hands? Or these spider sandwiches made from crackers and PB, with pretzels for legs and raisins for eyes? Or these mini-ghosts fashioned from string cheese? And let’s not forget the favorite caramel- or chocolate-dipped apple, either.

I also submit that there is one time-honored way to make even naked apples fun for youngsters: Float them in a kiddie pool in your yard and have the kids bob for them. Classic.

Might one of these festive suggestions do the trick, Emily? Some of these ideas are so creative and fun, I daresay you could find yourself the star of the block.

No matter what you choose, don’t forget to save a few extras for yourself. This is a holiday, after all, and it’s not Halloween without a treat or two.


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