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Why I’m handing out veggie straws and stickers this Halloween

Click to play video: 'Can kids have fun at Halloween without treats?' Can kids have fun at Halloween without treats?
WATCH ABOVE: Halloween is one of the most anticipated celebrations of the year for children. They get to dress up, visited haunted houses and go door-to-door for candy. But can they have as much fun when you take the treat out of trick-or-treating? Laurel Gregory found out – Oct 26, 2017

If there is a Halloween Scrooge, some of my friends would say I’m it.

The spooktacular event is just five days away and I find myself pondering two things:

1) If I hand out veggie straws, stickers and glow-in-the-dark tattoos, will the kids toss it in the trash when they get home? Or worse, will someone egg our house (is that still a thing)?

2) If we take our two-and-a-half-year-old son trick-or-treating down the street, how much candy will I allow him to eat?

Before you roll your eyes, allow me to give you a bit of context. For nearly three years, I have made a consistent effort to make sure our son eats real food. For him, treats are raisins, tortilla chips, strawberries and homemade cookies. Real stuff. Stuff with ingredients I can pronounce. As you can imagine, this makes Halloween a sticky event for me.

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I feel like a party pooper but why throw out my passion for healthy food – especially for children – to hop on the syrupy bandwagon of misplaced nostalgia.

READ MORE: Giving kids food as a reward can lead to emotional eating: dietitian

Allow me to backtrack.

It’s 1990 and I am right there trick-or-treating with the rest of them. My Halloween memories are so vivid.

I remember carving our pumpkin and scooping out the seeds, watching them brown in the oven and gobbling them up before the seasoning salt could set. We would wolf down soup and sandwiches so we could get dressed up and get out the door in time to hit as many houses as possible. And we knew exactly where to go. There was the house two blocks away that gave away full-sized chocolate bars and the house on the corner that had the best haunted graveyard display. Even the grumpy old neighbour down the street would open his doors for a trick or treat. It was the only time of the year we would get to peek inside his house. Time stopped for those 10 seconds as we wondered if there were monsters in his basement.

Our Unicef boxes would jingle around our necks and we would peruse the neighbourhood for the best costumes. Back then, they weren’t sexy or political – costumes were the stuff of horror movies. Our outfits were handmade by our parents. My favourite one was in Grade 5 when I went as half-man, half-woman with clothes I found at Value Village. I was mostly proud because my mom sewed it from scratch.

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Did candy add to the magic of Halloween? Absolutely. But I would argue the type of goodies handed out was secondary to the overall fun of the event.

My friends argue, “It’s just one holiday! Who cares if they binge a bit on junk!”

But it isn’t just one holiday.

It’s cupcakes to mark the birthday of every single child at daycare or school. It’s Thanksgiving pie, Christmas cookies and candy canes, and chocolate at Easter. And that’s just the holidays. What about the ice cream after hockey practice at the rec centre or Slurpees on hot days. We’ve linked treats to anything and everything, making these indulgences readily available every single day of the year.

READ MORE: In fight over ads aimed at kids, retailers and food makers count on Trudeau’s ‘evidence-based policy’ promise

I don’t want to be a Halloween Scrooge. I realize I am going against the prevailing thought around this occasion and I’m already hearing about it (a friend has threatened to egg my house – with free range eggs for added effect). But if I can offer a bit of balance to a holiday brimming with all the things we know contribute to childhood obesity and rising rates of chronic illness, I’m going to try.

Will I judge my friends who let their kids devour mini-chocolate bars by the handful? Absolutely not. Will I let our son eat a couple of the conventional treats he collects? Absolutely. But I’m hoping I can teach him that treats don’t make the holiday, the experience does. Learning to separate the two will serve him long after Halloween is over.

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