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Zombie eyes, sick dogs and weight gain: 5 ways to avoid an unhealthy Halloween

By Jen Christensen, CNN
October 31, 2013 -- Updated 1559 GMT (2359 HKT)
Kids may be willing to trade some of their candy for another treat, experts say.
Kids may be willing to trade some of their candy for another treat, experts say.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eat before trick or treating to limit snacking
  • Skinnier glasses give you the illusion of drinking more alcohol
  • Scientists find millions of germs on Halloween masks

(CNN) -- Watching your health this Halloween doesn't have to be scary. Here are five easy things to keep in mind for you and your family to stay happy and healthy this Halloween.

1. Eat before you (trick or) treat

Hopefully you've already talked to the kids about their trick or treat strategy. Mentally prepare them not to snack while they're walking, and don't be one of those parents who drives them from door to door.

"Talking to them in advance (about not snacking) makes it a lot easier," said Wendy Palmer, a registered dietitian with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. She also makes sure her sons trick or treat on a full stomach.

"I know it's crazy that night with everything going on, but you should make it a huge priority that your kids eat dinner before you go out," Palmer said. "Even a quick peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and a piece of fruit. Kids are really in tune with their appetite and won't be as tempted to snack if they are full."

It's only after Palmer's little Superman and Ninja Turtle get home this year that they can pick out a piece or two. Binge eating -- for child or parent -- is not allowed.

Did you know the sugary loot children collect on Halloween adds up to about 11,000 calories, according to Children's Healthcare testing? (They were vague about what happened to the candy afterward.)

That's the equivalent of a week's worth of calories. The candy also packs an average of 365 teaspoons of sugar -- the equivalent of 12 double-dip vanilla ice cream cones -- and the same amount of fat as 15 large servings of fast food French fries.

What to do with all that candy? "I would never recommend hiding food as it makes it more valuable to the kids," Palmer said. "If you keep it in the house, it should be free game for mom and dad as well as the kids."

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Pure chocolate stays good for about two years without causing any real health risks, although the texture changes after about 12 months.

If you are counting calories as you snack, sugar candies tend to be lower in calories than chocolate. Dentists hate the sticky stuff, though, as it is harder on your teeth.

If your child has food allergies, be sure to read candy wrappers. Keep in mind, mini-size servings of the candy you know and love can contain different ingredients than their larger cousins.

Mireille Schwartz has a daughter, Charlotte Jude, with severe peanut and tree nut allergies. She founded the Bay Area Allergy Advisory Board and says Halloween is her busy season. She advises parents to talk to their neighbors about keeping a separate bowl of allergen-free candy for kids like her daughter.

Parents who worry about their kids eating Halloween candy could try the Halloween Fairy method, also called the Switch Witch or Great Pumpkin.

It's like the tooth fairy: Your kids set out at least some of their candy before they go to bed. The fairy, witch or pumpkin comes in the middle of the night, takes it and leaves behind something they want, like a toy or tickets to something they want to do.

Palmer does this at her house.

"It really works. My kids are actually willing to give up their candy, really," Palmer said.

2. Trick or drink

If pumpkin ale is more your thing than pumpkin candy, remember Halloween is a work night this year.

Because it's a long night of waiting for the doorbell to ring, there is an easy trick to fool yourself into drinking less: Try a skinnier glass.

Scientists at Iowa State University watched how much people pour and learned people struggle to assess volume, tending to focus more on the vertical rather than the horizontal measures.

Participants poured around 12% more wine into a wide glass than a standard one.

Drink from a narrower glass and you'll only think you are drinking more. Plus, you'll get a little exercise if you do have to get up for that refill.

3. Zombie-proof your face

Watch what you put on your face: You don't want a bad mask or face painting accident to leave your co-workers wondering why you are still in costume on Friday.

The CDC suggests testing face paint on a small area on your arm. That way you can see if it irritates your skin before you slather it everywhere.

Skin around your eyes is extremely sensitive, so check labels on face paint or makeup. If it says avoid applying by your eyes -- even if the people on the package are doing the opposite -- follow the directions.

Throw away makeup that smells bad, as it may be contaminated.

If your inner devil prefers a mask, wipe it down before wearing it. You likely weren't the first to try it on in the store.

CNN Newsource affiliate KTVK took more than a dozen masks to be tested. Even the biologist was shocked by how many germs and molds he found.

"In terms of gross, this is particularly disgusting," said Stan Kikkert, a biologist from Mesa Community College.

The microscopic monsters can cause infections. Alcohol should disinfect properly. Pay particular attention to the nose and mouth.

4. Just because Michael Jackson wore them ...

Color contacts made Michael Jackson look extra spooky in "Thriller," but unless you've got a prescription, don't wear them. Some stores do sell them, but that's illegal without a prescription.

Optometrists warn the contacts aren't one-size-fits-all.

"Wearing lenses that don't fit properly can suffocate the eye, causing irritation and infection," Dr. Christopher Coad, director of Chelsea Eye Associates in New York, said in a statement. "Bad infections can even lead to blindness and/or loss of the eye."

If you want to wear them, get a prescription.

5. Don't let chocolate go to the dogs

If you dress up your pet, make sure the costume lets them breathe and move. Avoid costumes with small parts they might swallow.

Speaking of eating, chocolate may be a favorite in your goodie bag, but it can be deadly to dogs and cats.

Pet insurance company Petplan sees 25% more claims during Halloween -- more than any other week in the year.

Swallowed wrappers and lollipop sticks can cause blockages that might not be noticed for days.

The darker the chocolate, the deadlier it is to your pet, according to Dr. Ron DeHaven with the American Veterinary Association.

"When kids come home after a night of trick or treating and dump their bag of candy, be sure that your pets are safely away in another room away from your kid's loot," DeHaven said. Store it somewhere where your pet can't get to it.

If pets do get hold of chocolate, call your vet immediately. The ASPCA has a poison hot line, too: (888) 426-4435.

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