Dietitian's Dish on How to Handle All That Halloween Candy

Jennifer Hall and Emma D’Arpino

Halloween is an exciting time for children to dress up as their favorite movie character, a dream job or an imaginary villain. It also comes with the excitement of candy. 

This candy laden holiday is something that concerns parents - upset tummies, cavities, empty calories and weight gain. However, the more we view candy as a “bad” food – or one that is only given as a reward – the more likely children will want it, even for reasons other than its sweet, satisfying taste.

Here are a few tips to guide you through this crazy Halloween season:

  • Serve a healthy, satisfying dinner before trick or treating.

  • When you return home with that bag of goodies, let your kids pick out their favorites, and then make a “giveaway” pile to donate to troops, bring into parents’ workplaces, community center, etc. Perhaps have them pick “31” of their top selections, for October 31. This practice demonstrates moderation and generosity. 

  • Serving smaller amounts of these sweets will allow the children to enjoy the pieces they choose and pay attention to the taste, smell, and texture.

  • Make a routine (either after school or after dinner) where kids get to choose one or two pieces to enjoy.

  • If you do not want your children to consume artificial colors and/or if they affect your child negatively, consider having an honest discussion with them saying you would be more comfortable with chocolate-based candy without added colors.

Staying present with taste and texture:

  • Gather a variety of candy with different tastes, textures, smells and looks and invite children to be mindful of all these different senses

  • With this attunement, we invite children to enjoy the holiday’s treat without shaming the tradition. Further, they will be able to sense their physical cues of hunger, fullness, discomfort or even the yuck feeling after consuming a lot of candy.Consider this opportunity a teachable moment in discussing “growing” food and smart fuel versus food that simply tastes good. 

Do you really need to be that parent? 

Handing out toothbrushes or floss takes a lot of courage.  But you can take some actions to not contribute to the holiday going overboard.

  • Buy small sizes – “minis” or fun packs vs small sized candy.  Avoid trying to be the neighborhood jackpot by offering regular or king-sized candy bars, etc.

  • Remember they are children and don’t need handfuls of candy.

  • For familiar trick-or-treaters from your neighborhood children, consider giving out ‘jack o lantern’ mandarin oranges (decorated fresh or individual fruit cups), small apples, packets of sunflower seeds, pretzel snack bags (available pre-packaged), or bake up a batch whole wheat pumpkin mini muffins. 

Teal Pumpkin Project

Consider the Teal Pumpkin Project to ensure that all children feeling included when trick-or-treating. This organization promotes awareness to various food allergies and creates a safe place for kids with allergies to visit. If you’re looking to participate, simply place a teal pumpkin on your front porch. If you do not have time to do so, visit their site to print their free signage

Non-food Treats

Let us not forget, that Halloween encompasses all kinds of “treats” and “tricks.”  Be flexible as you honor the kid in all of us and consider non-candy items to give away. These items will be appreciated by many for those with food allergies, non-sweet eaters, or children just looking for something different in their bag of treats.    

  • Temporary tattoos/stickers

  • Googly eyes

  • Playdoh 

  • Glow sticks, bracelets, or necklaces

  • Pencils, pens, crayons, markers, coloring books

  • Bubbles

  • Halloween erasers or pencil toppers

  • Mini slinky

  • Whistles, kazoos, or noisemakers

  • Bouncy balls

  • Coins (pocket change, not chocolate gelt)

  • Spiders/spider rings

  • Vampire fangs

  • Mini notepads

  • Playing cards

  • Bookmarks

  • Stickers

  • Stencils

And remember, Halloween is important to children.  Let’s make it safe and memorable.

Jennifer Hall and Emma D’Arpino are both pediatric dietitians at UMASS Memorial Medical Center.  Jennifer is a mother of two and teaches at West Boylston Jazzericse regularly. Emma is part founder of Nutrition Counseling, Both are committed to children enjoying food, life and their bodies.