4 Nutritionist-Approved Tips for a Healthier Halloween

How to avoid tears, prevent overindulging, and make leftovers go poof!

Children reaching into a bowl of candy at a Halloween party
Photo: Jonny Valiant

The National Confectioners Association projects that retail sales of Halloween candy this year will reach $2.6 billion. And while only a tiny percentage of that spend will make it into your child’s belly, sugar overload this time of year is pretty much a given. So how can you get through the season without sabotaging your child’s health? We asked pediatricians and nutritionists to share their go-to strategies.

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Make “Everything in Moderation” Your Mantra

Children reaching into a bowl of candy at a Halloween party
Jonny Valiant

Kids should be taught from an early age that candy has little to no nutritional value—but also that it’s a treat kids (and adults!) can enjoy now and then. “Parents can acknowledge how good candy tastes, but because it doesn’t contain the nutrients kids need to grow bigger and stronger and smarter, it should have a small place in the diet,” says Jill Castle, registered dietitian in New Canaan, Connecticut and author of the book Fearless Feeding.

Forbidding candy altogether doesn’t work anyway. A study in the Journal of Pediatric Obesity found that restricting treats is not an effective approach to helping children learn moderation. Setting limits works better, the study says.

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Set Indulgence Guidelines

Parents should talk to their kids before Halloween about how (and when) their haul will be distributed, says Nicole Silber, a registered dietician and pediatric nutritionist at Middleberg Nutrition in New York. “Saying ‘no’ while they’re counting their loot at the end of the night is an invitation for tears,” she says.

Castle suggests that children wait until they get home to nosh (so you can give their stash a once-over). But, if you can’t keep them away from the candy while they’re trick or treating, you can still set guidelines. “Have kids ask first before they eat any candy,” Castle says. “And for older kids, give them a limit.”

Speaking of limits, Castle advises that toddlers and preschoolers receive one piece of candy on Halloween and one piece a day for a few days afterward. “Children this age are still developing taste preferences,” she says. “Research tells us that exposure to sweets early in life begets a sweet preference later.”

As for older kids? Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, recommends an age-based approach. Here’s how it works: multiply a child’s age by one or two to determine a sum to be enjoyed during Halloween night. Example: A 6-year-old could enjoy up to 12 pieces. Swanson says kids will usually self-regulate and call it quits before ever reaching the max amount.

In the days following Halloween, Swanson recommends limiting consumption to three pieces per day for three days and then nix leftovers.

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Serve a Healthy Meal Before Trick-or-Treating Begins

If children are hungry or thirsty while they’re trick-or-treating it will be even more challenging to rein in their candy consumption, Silber says. Offer them a healthy afternoon snack (like veggies and hummus), along with a balanced dinner that includes a protein, a complex carbohydrate, and vegetables. (A hearty bowl of chili is a great option). Filling them up with wholesome foods will help maintain blood sugar levels throughout the night.

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Give Leftovers Purpose

If it pains you to trash treats, consider donating the stockpile instead, says Swanson. Your local dentist may offer a candy buy-back program, which provides incentives per pound to children parting with their stash.

Dentists then donate candy to a program like Operation Gratitude, which provides care packages to military troops. If you don’t have a participating dentist, you can also mail in your leftover candy by November 15. Get kids involved by having them write letters or make greeting cards to accompany the donation.

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