It's an age-old question … or at least one asked by those health-conscious no-good-doers: What can neighbors give out to kids on Halloween night that won't contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic?
Many ideas out there will surely get your house egged or worse. Hand out bookmarks or spooky pencils? Seriously? Why not just label which garage windows you want the disgruntled children to soap?
A list of healthy alternatives on a Clemson University website includes bean dip. Fun times in South Carolina, for sure. Other ideas bantered about on the Internet are well-intentioned, but ultimately impractical. Spooky toys and decorations? News flash: Halloween is over by the end of the night. Vampire teeth just don't have the same impact on Nov. 1.
Money? That's kind of, well, expensive. Candy costs less than 10 cents apiece. Handing out a dime seems rather cheap. And don't even think of trying 10 pennies. Play-Doh? That's very expensive, and big kids — the kind who can TP your house — don't care much for "creative" toys.
What follows is a list of five candy alternatives for Halloween that are practical in terms of expense, trick-or-treaters' health, acceptability among a wide swath of ages, and safety to home and person from mischievous pranks. [ 13 Halloween Superstitions & Traditions Explained ]
- Glow sticks and finger lights: Glow sticks cost about $1 for a pack of 15, on par with the price of small pieces of candy, or about 7 cents each. Online, you can buy them in bulk for as low as a pack of 100 for $5. LED finger lights are much cooler, but will set you back $6 for a pack of 40, or 15 cents per kid. The only downside, which isn't entirely insignificant, is that you're creating a lot of trash for landfills.
- Mini-packs of pretzels, raisins or dried fruit: These are marginally acceptable by the kids, and you reduce the impact on landfills that glow sticks bring. But with these, you're getting up into the 20-cents-per-kid range, and you likely aren't saving any teeth. These foods may be lower in calories than a candy bar, but their carbohydrate base and ability to stick to the teeth ultimately promote tooth decay.
- Batch of warm, low-sugar cookies: Hear me out on this one. The kids will either eat them immediately and happily, or their parents will toss them out later because they don't trust their origin. Either way, your house and wallet are safe.
- Temporary tattoos: With an amazing variety of choices — dinosaurs, butterflies, pirates, zoo animals and the like — you can probably please trick-or-treaters of any age. You can buy sheets of 100 or more tattoos for just pennies per tattoo.
- Obscene noisemakers and whistles: Their parents will hate them, but the kids themselves probably won't. Unfortunately, you would have to demonstrate how to use them.
As the saying goes, you can't please everyone … except with a big bar of chocolate. So it may be wise to have a few chocolate bars on hand for those kids who look like they are old enough to shave. They likely have hit at least 100 houses before yours, and they mean business. You've been warned.
Follow Christopher Wanjek @wanjek for daily tweets on health and science with a humorous edge. Wanjek is the author of "Food at Work" and "Bad Medicine." His column, Bad Medicine, appears regularly on Live Science.