Get inventive with these toy options for kids this Halloween.
Maybe it’s time for us to be spoilsports, just a little bit, starting with this Halloween.
There was once a time when you couldn’t get me to consider giving a trick-or-treater anything other than candy. Chocolate, in fact, was a necessary ingredient. It’s their once-a-year night, I figured. Let them go all out. Let them have fun.
But we’ve been learning a lot more in recent times about the cost of a diet too filled with sugar, and the American way of eating and drinking definitely contains far too much sugar. Scarier than any Halloween costume is our nation’s rising rate of type 2 diabetes, which is increasingly showing up in teenagers and young adults. The eating of those big hauls of candy goes on for a couple of weeks, followed by other holidays in which candy is marketed as though it’s an essential part of the celebration.
Wow. That wasn’t a fun paragraph to write. Not in keeping with the season at all. In fact, I’m a major fan of Halloween. What other holiday is filled with such imagination, turning the usual rules for children topsy-turvy for one evening? Sure, go out at night—on a weekday, no less! Pretend to be someone or something you’re not, wear otherwise forbidden makeup in heavy doses, act goofy and demand treats. Take a great big giant vegetable and instead of having to eat it, carve it into a monster. I wanted to do better on the health front, but never wanted to be the disappointing neighbor who tossed apples into trick-or-treating bags.
That attitude was turned upside down 15 years ago, when I read about a study conducted by Yale University. It found that when children were offered a choice of candy or a cheap toy for Halloween, they were just as likely to go for the toys. Age didn’t matter—kids ages 3 to 14 all showed that same split. Boys and girls were equally likely to choose a toy.
And that’s when given a choice. Probably many others who chose candy would be just about as happy with the alternative.
So let’s allow our imaginations to go wild when it comes to dreaming up fun but easy costumes, decorating the house with crafts that we make with the kids. Let the artificial spider webbing practically cover the front of your house, and carve the wildest jack-o-lantern around. And let’s give kids a choice of treat—but one that doesn’t include candy.
We’re a lot luckier these days than parents used to be. There are far more options. On the healthier food front, small packs of dry toasted edamame make a great, crunchy snack. Fruit rolls with no added sugar are another option, as well as snack packs of nuts. Kids especially like pistachios because of the work that goes into opening each nut. It’s just a little different from what they’re used to.
But we also need to be honest with ourselves: Kids might like these well enough, but a bag of nuts isn’t going to be exciting unless those nuts are encased in a chocolate shell. And Halloween is one night when children should somehow be entitled to excitement.
Fortunately, there are some fun possibilities on the toy front. And giving kids a choice of toys should work especially well. Two other advantages of toys over food: You can save leftover toys to give away the following year. That sure doesn’t work with candy. And if you search around, you’ll find some giveaways that are much cheaper as well.
Glow-in-the-dark bracelets are a perfect choice. I recently found them online for $1 per dozen—less than 10 cents each. Kids can wear them right away and enjoy the lurid snow-cone colors. Even better, the bracelets make trick-or-treaters more visible, and thus safer, as they make their rounds.
Tattoo transfers are also popular with kids of just about any age. Oriental Trading Company has many different kinds, including one that’s particularly suited to Halloween: Day-of-the-Dead-style sugar skulls in bright colors. At $4.99 for 72 pieces, they cost about 7 cents each. Mini-containers of noise putty, which makes gross sounds when squeezed, go for about 16 cents each.
Keychains with colorful dolphins hanging from them are about 10 cents each when bought in bulk.
Willing to spend a little more? A seller on eBay was offering keychains equipped with colorful micro-squeeze flashlights for about 37 cents each. The kids will probably want to start using them immediately, another way to help keep them safer on their trick-or-treating rounds.
School supplies like pencils and eraser toppers are likely to be greeted with a shrug. Who wants to think about practical gifts and, worse yet, school, on a fun night out? Halloween wasn’t meant to be constructive or responsible. But the good-sized bloody-eyeball erasers sold by Oriental Trading Company would be a big hit with older kids.
If you really want to give candy, how about something like good old lollipops? Kids are surprisingly thrilled by the bright colors showing through the cellophane wrappers; a big bowl in multiple colors gives kids that sense of making a choice. A single lollipop lasts longer than chocolate bars, and you can easily find ones that have about 25 calories each. They’re also less expensive than many other forms of candy.
Here’s an easy one that might surprise you: Kids love getting money, and when I fill a bowl with shiny quarters, they’ll almost always choose one over anything else. You might want to suggest to neighbors that if they go along with you on this idea, kids could end up with a few dollars to spend toward something they really want. Just toss spare quarters into a jar to build up a collection for Halloween.
It’s inexpensive, and you can always keep the change.
Karin Klein is a 34-year Orange County resident, a freelance writer and editor, and the author of the hiking guide “50 Hikes in Orange County.” She is a naturalist for both OC Parks and the county chapter of the American Cetacean Society.