Summer vacations are a distant memory, a chill is in the air, and scary decorations, creepy costumes, and candy-packed grocery aisles are clear signs that Halloween is on the way. Kids spend hours planning the perfect costume to romp the neighborhood in pursuit of a pillowcase full of candy. But many parents dread the season -- not because of the festivities, but because of all the calories from the Halloween treats that are so plentiful this time of year.
Halloween is the beginning of the feasting season, which lasts all through the holidays. If you are like 60% of overweight Americans, you're looking to keep your weight in check or even lose a few pounds -- not blow your diet by mindlessly eating fun-size candy bars.
"One day of splurging on a few small candy bars won't hurt most kids or adults, but unfortunately there is so much candy that the indulgence goes on for days, even weeks, and that can spell dietary disaster," says Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar, MHS, RD, a pediatric dietitian at the Washington University School of Medicine.
Halloween Candy, Desserts, and More
All it takes is an extra 100 calories a day to pack on 10 pounds in a year. Just one piece of Russell Stover chocolate-covered pumpkin caramel has 150 calories and 7 grams of fat. A fun-size Reese's peanut butter cup has 110 calories and 6 grams of fat. And these are not the worst candy offenders.
Even more frightening is the fact that it's not just the candy that makes Halloween a weight control nightmare. Halloween desserts are equally scary.
"Walk into any grocery store and witness decorated cupcakes with one inch of frosting and iced and candy-coated cookies that are land mines of fat, calories, and sugar," says Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Further, many restaurants spice up their menus with pumpkin, spice, and gingerbread seasonal specials that can be nutritional nightmares.
"Pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamin A for eye and skin health, a good antioxidant if you bake it or use it to make soup. ... But this time of year, most pumpkin foods and drinks have lots of sugar, fat, and whipped cream, which strips away the nutritional goodness," says Sandon.
Here is a look at the most fattening Halloween foods and beverages, along with tips on better choices.
Fattening Halloween Treat No. 1: Full-size Candy Bars
In general, the bigger the bar, the more calories it has. "Dispersing large candy bars invites kids to overeat, and they are expensive, so do your neighborhood kids a favor and pass out fun-sized bars, or better yet, sugar-free gum, pretzels, stickers, or pencils," says Tanner.
Fattening Halloween Treat No. 2: Snack-size Bars Loaded With Coconut, Caramel, Nuts and/or Chocolate
"Eating a mini snack-size is not terrible, but who can stop at just one?" says Keri Gans, MS, RD, an American Dietetic Association spokesperson. And the worst snack-size bars are loaded with coconut, caramel, nuts and chocolate."
"Read the labels; it will surprise you to learn that a snack-size Kit Kat bar has 220 calories and 11 grams of fat," Gans says.
Better choices are fun-sized Twizzlers (45 calories, negligible fat), Milky Way (75 calories, 3 grams of fat) or a peppermint patty (50 calories; 1 gram of fat). Less caloric options include candy corn, fruit chews, jelly beans, fruit leather, licorice or hard candies (but do keep in mind that these are still "extra" calories, and can contribute to cavities).
Fattening Halloween Treat No. 3: Pumpkin Desserts and Baked Goods
This time of year, restaurants are full of pumpkin muffins, donuts, cakes, and scones. Panera's pumpkin muffin has 530 calories and 20 grams of fat. A Dunkin' Donuts pumpkin glazed donut weighs in with 280 calories and 6 grams of fat, and their pumpkin muffin packs 560 calories and 24 grams of fat -- ouch! Krispy Kreme offers a spice cake donut with 300 calories and 14 grams fat. Starbucks has a pumpkin loaf with 330 calories and 12 grams of fat, and its innocent-sounding pumpkin scone has 500 calories and 20 grams fat.
"Most people enjoy a donut, muffin, or scone as an afternoon treat with their coffee or as a breakfast, but these will contribute excessive calories and they will be hungry in a few hours because it is mostly refined carbohydrates," says Sandon.
Then there's the pumpkin pecan cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory; a 9.3-ounce slice will cost you an astounding 950 calories and 58 grams of fat.
Instead of any of these pumpkin treats, buy a box of Kashi TLC pumpkin spice flax granola bars and stash it in your desk or briefcase for a satisfying treat with only 180 calories and 6 grams of fat.
Fattening Halloween Treat No. 4: Hot Beverages
Lattes look delicious, but they can be lethal to your diet. A medium Starbucks pumpkin spice frappuccino has 400 calories, "more than most people need for breakfast," says Sandon. Dunkin Donuts offers a medium gingerbread latte with 330 calories and 9 grams of fat, and a pumpkin spice latte packing 340 calories and 9 grams of fat. A 13-ounce pumpkin spice latte at Panera weighs in at 410 calories and 10 grams fat.
Sandon warns that beverages don't satisfy hunger, even though they can add plenty of extra calories.
Order your latte without whipped cream, and made with skim milk. Some outlets even offer lite syrup for real calorie savings. Other options: Sprinkle cinnamon on your skinny latte, or try a cup of hot chai tea -- rich with antioxidants and calorie-free, as long as you don't use sweeteners or milk.
Fattening Halloween Treat No. 5: Seasonal Milkshakes and Ice Cream
Ice cream gets a Halloween makeover with the Halloween Popping Candy Milkshake at Steak & Shake, weighing in at 875 calories and 32 grams of fat -- more than a meal's worth of fat and calories. An 8-ounce serving of Cold Stone Creamery pumpkin ice cream has 454 calories and 25 grams of fat.
Not to be outdone, Dairy Queen boasts a large pumpkin pie Blizzard with 1,080 calories and 40 grams fat -- which would take an adult roughly two hours of jogging to burn off.
Forego these fatty treats and enjoy a small portion of simple ice cream without all the add-ins, or try frozen yogurt. You can enjoy a half-cup of any of Edy's slow-churned ice creams for under 150 calories.
"Portion control is how you can have your cake and eat it too," says Gans.
Fattening Halloween Treat No. 6: Popcorn Balls
Popcorn is a whole grain and can be a nutritious snack, but when you add syrup, it becomes a calorie-laden, gooey mess. Instead of popcorn balls, try a 100-calorie snack pack of kettle corn. It's portion controlled and has a little sweetness that will satisfy.
Fattening Halloween Treat No. 7: Caramel Apples
Apples are great sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but when you coat them in caramel and nuts, you can end up with a 500-calorie treat. It's best to eat apples plain and if you need something sweet, dip apple slices in a little peanut butter for a snack with staying power. Another option is to dip apple slices in a small portion of low-fat caramel sauce.