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Oatmeal And Pretzels _ Tricks Or Treats?

October 23, 1995

NORTH POTOMAC, Md. (AP) _ Michael Bergamini is spooked by thoughts of what he could get for Halloween: oatmeal or pretzels instead of sweets.

``They should give out candy, not breakfast,″ said Michael, a freckle-faced 11-year-old, shaking his head in disgust. ``You’ll get the same answer from every single kid. Everyone likes candy. Not Cream of Wheat or oatmeal or raisins.″

But non-candy snack foods are becoming a new trick-or-treat tradition, according to the Snack Food Association, which has joined the National Potato Promotion Board to push them as an alternative to sweeter treats this Halloween.

``The popularity of pretzels in particular, with their excellent nutritional profile, has made them an excellent choice for handing out at Halloween,″ association spokeswoman Jane Schultz said.

Edith Hogan, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, cited a government report this month that the number of overweight children had more than doubled in the past 30 years. She said the holiday is a perfect time to teach youngsters about healthful eating.

``You can make a difference with kids, even at Halloween, with what you give them,″ said Hogan, adding that she loves to pass out individual-sized packages of instant oatmeal or Cream of Wheat.

Bagels, raisins and sunflower seeds make healthy treats, too, she said.

``They’re all great ideas, but the main thing is it should be fun for the kids,″ Hogan added. ``A little candy is not going to hurt them, but why not start introducing them to some alternative treats.″

Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for the consumer advocate Center for Science in the Public Interest, said variety can be a treat in itself. ``It’s nice to have something other than your 25th Snickers bar.″

Consumers bought more than 416 million pounds of processed snacks during the four-week period that ended with Halloween 1993, a 6.5 percent increase over 1992 sales, said Schultz of the snack food group.

More than 417 million pounds were purchased last year.

Susan Smith, spokeswoman for the Chocolate Manufacturers Association and the National Confectioners Association, said some candy on Halloween night won’t harm a child’s diet, provided it is balanced and varied.

She suggested that parents spread the Halloween loot out over several days, instead of allowing children to eat it all at once.

Candy companies naturally defend their product, calling it a Halloween tradition that shouldn’t be disrupted, however well-intentioned the motive.

``I think you’d have some pretty disappointed kids if they went out and didn’t get a piece of candy for Halloween,″ said Marlene Machut, spokeswoman for the M&M-Mars Co. of Hackettstown, N.J.

Natalie Bailey of the Hershey Foods Corp. of Hershey, Pa., said getting candy was the most fun part of Halloween. ``I don’t know if children would react the same way to a bag of pretzels,″ she said.

Kids believe it’s their right to have candy on Halloween.

Michael’s 8-year-old brother, Thomas, agreed. ``It’s like a special day and you should get stuff you like _ like candy.″

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