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The Candy grab

There's more to the annual candy-gathering ritual than meets the thigh.

It all seems so innocent: The kids return from an exhausting Halloween forage. Mom or Dad carefully sorts through mountainous piles of candy, looking for dangerous contraband, unwrapped items and small rodents.Some salivating parents wait longingly for their costumed chicks to return to the roost so they can raid their candy collections. Wise adults know that their children must be warned that all Butterfinger, Baby Ruth and Snickers bars MUST be destroyed by someone over the age of eighteen . . . "due to expired shelf life."

The "stash," hoarded for months by tricked-and-treated kids, is blamed for spoiling too many meals, hyper behavior, rotting teeth and Clearasil addiction.

It's no news flash that the majority of Halloween sweets are just empty calories.

Even though plans to rid the country of Halloween candy don't sit well with the young, professional nutritionists keep fighting for healthy Halloween food.

Dr. Janice Stuff (really!), a nutritionist at the USDA Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, says parents should "make a deal with your kids that Halloween candy will be removed after about a week."

"After the deal takes place, pick special times to give candy to your kids," she says. "Tasting it occasionally will help them satisfy their sweet tooth."

It's no secret that consuming too much candy on a regular basis can cause kids to develop bad eating habits.

Stuff, who is also a Baylor assistant professor of pediatrics, says that if children don't have a good appetite, "they may not regularly eat the fruits, vegetables and meats they need to grow up healthy and strong."

What in the world can we offer those darling doorbell-ringers this Friday that's non-sugar-coated?

Stuff says . . . stuff.

"Small boxes of raisins, granola bars, peanut butter crackers and sticks of sugarless gum are good choices," Stuff suggests. "Other non-food items, such as crayons, small puzzles, pencils and erasers will work," she said.

WAIT A MINUTE, STUFF!

We admire your superior standards of nutrition, but erasers?

The gum-chewers we know could easily mistake a Pink Pearl for Double Bubble. Forget the costume . . . a lawsuit's a better fit.

And individual sticks of sugarless gum? Concerned parents would probably toss singles pieces of gum; however, an unopened pack of sugar-free bubble gum would be a nice prize.

Non-food items (pencils, puzzles and crayons) might please the giver, but the costumed recipient probably won't do cartwheels over the inedible treat.

So what's a concerned Mommy or Daddy to do about the plethora of sugar their children hoard after the Halloween hunt?

You can either do the Dr. Stuff routine, or subtly introduce your kids to a haunting phenomenon that occurs annually.

Here's the game plan: The children's sacks o' sweets mysteriously disappear a couple of weeks after Halloween.

The blame for the robbery is placed squarely on the shoulders of a creature called The Grab-Footer. The stealthy monster supposedly lives under the child's bed - existing on lint, dust bunnies and lost socks.

In the days following trick-or-treating, the Grab-Footer is compelled to consume huge amounts of candy.

The tale of terror is weird enough to satisfy the kids' withdrawal from junk food.

Thankfully, there's a season for everything. Pumpkins die on the vine, kids forget about their lost candy cache, and the Grab-Footer eventually gives up candy . . . for lint.

*****

RECIPES

HALLOWIENERS

6 Rhodes Texas Rolls, thawed but still cold

3-inch square piece of aluminum foil

4 franks

8 currants or small raisins

1 egg, beaten

1 red licorice lace

Press 1 1/2 rolls together and roll them into a 15-inch snake, leaving one end a little thicker for the head. Using a sharp knife and a toothpick, cut slashes and poke holes to decorate the body of the snake. On larger end of snake, poke holes for the nose and slice a 1 1/2-inch opening for the mouth. Crinkle up the aluminum foil and place in mouth to wedge it open during baking. Cut slashes across the tail section to resemble a rattler. Wrap snake around a frank and place on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Poke deep holes for eyes and press currants into them. Brush well with egg and let rise for 15 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Place on cooling rack and carefully remove foil. Poke a 3-inch piece of licorice into the throat. Clip the end to make it look like a forked tongue. Makes 4 snakes.

- Each snake contains 319 calories, 19g fat, 25g carb, 891mg sodium, 31mg cholesterol.

- From Rhodes Bake 'N Serve

GINGERSNAP PUMPKIN PIE

1 3/4 cups gingersnap crumbs (about 43 cookies, finely crushed)

2 1/2 tablespoons reduced-calorie stick margarine, melted

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Cooking spray

1 1/2 cups fresh or canned pumpkin puree

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 large egg whites

1 large egg

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated skim milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Combine first 3 ingredients in a bowl; toss with a fork until moist. Press into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Bake at 325 degrees F for 5 minutes; cool on a wire rack. Combine pumpkin and remaining in-gredients in a bowl. Pour into prepared crust. Bake at 325 degrees F. for 1 hour or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 10 servings.

- Each serving contains 295 calories, 8g fat, 50g carb, 195mg sodium, 36mg cholesterol.

- From Jim Fobel

PUMPKIN BARS

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 eggs, lightly beaten (or 3/4 cup egg substitute)

1 16-ounce can pumpkin

1 cup packed brown sugar

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a small bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a large bowl, mix eggs, pumpkin, sugar and oil. Add the flour mixture to the liquid ingredients and mix well. Spread the batter into the baking pan, evening it out with a spatula. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cut into 18 squares and store in an airtight container.

- Each square contains 119 calories, 3g fat, 25g carb, 147mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol

- From American Institute for Cancer Research

MAPLE PUMPKIN SAUTE

4 cups cubed peeled fresh pumpkin (about 11/2 pounds)

1 1/2 cups chopped Red Delicious apple

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/3 cup raisins

Cooking spray

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

Combine the first 4 ingredients in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray; cover pumpkin mixture and cook over medium-high heat 20 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in syrup, salt and ginger. Serves 4.

- Each serving contains 137 calories, trace fat, 35g carb, 151mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol.

- From Cooking Light

SMASHED POTATOES AND PUMPKIN

3 cups cubed peeled fresh pumpkin (about 1 pound)

3 cups diced peeled baking potatoes

1 cup 1% low-fat milk

1 10 1/2-ounce can low-salt chicken broth

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup low-fat sour cream

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally. Remove pump-kin mixture from heat and discard bay leaf. Mash pumpkin mixture with a potato masher. Stir in sour cream and remaining ingredients. Serves 6.

- Each serving contains 136 calories, 3g fat, 23g carb, 148mg sodium, 10mg cholesterol.

- From Jim Fobel

HALLOWEEN PUMPKIN CAKE

2 packages Bundt cake mix, vanilla or lemon

4 tubs prepared vanilla frosting

1 package red food coloring

1 package yellow food coloring

Several packages gum drops, M&Ms, assorted candies

Flowers and Halloween candies for decoration

Prepare both cake mixes, according to directions on the box. Pour batter into two standard-sized Bundt cake pans and bake according to package directions. Let cool completely. Set aside. In a large bowl, whip frosting until light and fluffy, using an electric mixer. Use food coloring to dye frosting deep orange color. Place one Bundt cake, round part down, on a serving platter. Invert the second Bundt cake and place on top of the first cake to resemble a pumpkin shape. Using a cake spatula, spread the orange frosting over the top and sides of the pumpkin cake. Then, using your favorite candies, design the eyes, nose and mouth of the pumpkin. Garnish with flowers and candies. Serves 12.

- Each serving contains 992 calories, 20g fat, 205g carb, 526mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol.

- From Christina Ferrare