Halloween trick-or-treat bags hold horrors for nutrition experts who are offering alternatives.

Doctors at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta calculated that by visiting 15 houses, the average trick-or-treater can end up with 60 small treats. Their analysis suggests that typical treat bag contains the equivalent of 4,800 calories, a cup and a half of fat and three cups of sugar.

Food Healthy Halloween

Healthy Jack-O-Lantern Sandwiches, centre, carrot 'fingers' with dipping 'blood', left, and mini Jack-O-Lanterns made from oranges are some healthier alternatives to candy for parties. (Larry Crowe/Associated Press)

With nearly one in three children and teens overweight or obese in Canada, parents shouldn't allow kids to binge on Halloween treats, said Dr. Garry Sigman, director of the pediatric weight management program at Loyola University Health System in Chicago.

"Holidays can't be considered free passes for blatantly unhealthy behaviour," Sigman said.

Obesity researcher Dr. Sara Kirk says it may be time to reframe Halloween to focus on the fun, such as decorations and costumes, instead of food.

"Halloween starts earlier and earlier and it merges into Christmas, into Easter into many other opportunities to feed our children junk and I that's the real problem," said Kirk, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Health Services Research at Dalhousie University in Halifax. "It's the normalization of junk food."

"The unhealthy choices are the default in our environment as it is constructed today."

Kirk wants people to use their imagination to keep the holiday fun with healthier options.

Suggestions include:

  • Ensure your child has a good meal before trick-or-treating.
  • Let children choose their favourite candies and portion them up in small amounts to eat after meals.
  • For younger children, have the "switch witch" come in the night to take away the candy and replace it with a small gift, such as a toy or some other non food-related item.
  • At parties, hand out decorated fruits and vegetables such as clementines with Jack-O-Lantern faces drawn on or pieces of banana on popsicles.
  • Provide treats that aren't food, such as erasers, stickers, temporary tattoos or glow sticks.
With files from CBC's Pauline Dakin