The scariest night of the year approacheth, with massive offerings of sugar, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated fats for your hyper, costumed offspring or pals of any age. Plus, the discovery of toxic melamine in some Chinese-made candies makes this Hallow's Eve particularly harrowing. How do you avoid the nastiest processed sweets while still allowing kids their Halloween candy binge? The trick: choose USDA organic treats, whose ingredients are traceable back to the farm. For freshness' sake, patronize your local bakery or candymaker, if they can assure you they use healthy ingredients. Oh, and tell kids not to accept White Rabbit "milk" candies, which have been recalled for melamine.

Set a good example to the rest of the neighborhood by not giving out handfuls of cheap, drugstore candy containing the high fructose corn syrup that has been linked to diabetes and high cholesterol. Instead, buy treats like Endangered Species Halloween chocolates. They offer milk chocolate, dark chocolate, organic milk and dark chocolate, and organic chimp-shaped chocolate mints, but order early, because they sell out quick. As always, 10 percent of their net profits go to protecting endangered species. Equal Exchange individually wrapped fair trade organic chocolate bars are sold at the Natural Candy Store along with organic Creepy Crawly Worms.

Speaking of fair trade, help children in cacao farming regions by purchasing Divine fairly traded chocolates, also available in small-size bars, hearts and mini-mints for giving away. Those pirates in your midst will love a hoard of fair trade chocolate gold-wrapped coins. If you don't do dairy, and are leery of the caffeine in dark chocolate, Vegan Essentials is a good balance, offering all-vegan treats such as organic lollipops, organic gummi bears, organic mixed fruit toffees and organic licorice. You can't go wrong with a granola bar from Betty Lou's, Inc., which caters to even the pickiest parent with a variety of all-natural, all-organic, vegan, and kosher bars and cookies. At least you'll have something to eat! Or get into the spirit of spice with all-natural ginger chews from The Ginger People, the world's only producer of closed-kettle, artisan-style, crystallized ginger. It's also a traditional palate cleanser, to refresh the mouth between helpings of, sigh, sweets.

You could also bypass a lot of the candy crisis by keeping your kids happy at home with a Halloween party instead of taking them trick-or-treating (well, at least not all evening). Order a quick and easy load of freshly baked organic cookie bats, cats, acorns, "candy corn" and maple leaves from Dancing Deer Bakery. If the treats are Halloween-themed, children will eat them with gusto, even if they are healthy fruits and veggies in disguise. Watermelons can be carved to resemble brains, carrots can be true "finger food" and grapes can be eyeballs. For desert, cupcakes are easy to make and can be decorated to look like brains, spiders and jack-o-lanterns.

These whole wheat apple cupcakes are easy and healthy. Or make a vegan caramel apple (with regular organic corn syrup, not the high-fructose kind).

Meanwhile, melamine continues to crop up in the oddest places, as reported by nutritionist Marion Nestle in her excellent food safety blog.

This story originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008. The article was added to MNN.co.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

See also:

Homemade Halloween costumes