Each year, Halloween marks the beginning of a 3-month long sugar rush for kids nationwide. Since it’s hard to escape the candy-coated assault of Halloween, I try to think of it as an opportunity to teach kids an important nutrition lesson: the role of sweets as a special treat, to be enjoyed in moderation, rather than an everyday entitlement that knows no limits.

Here are some time-tested tips gathered from savvy moms and dads we know, but we invite all you parents out there to share what’s worked for you in the “comments” section below! Whatever strategy you choose below, set the rules up front and make sure your child understands them, before the trick or treating ever even starts.

For toddlers and pre-school aged children who don’t have older siblings or understand Halloween yet, consider celebrating Halloween by parading around the neighborhood in costume without actually Trick or Treating. If they’ve already caught on to the candy association, give them a teensy bag of treats at the outset  and explain to them that their job is to GIVE AWAY candy as a present to other kids; you can reward them at the end with one or two pieces for a job well done.  The experience will be different and fun for them, and they’ll be none the wiser that it was supposed to be anything different!

For young school-aged kids you’re accompanying, limit the size of the bag you give them to collect their goodies (avoid those huge plastic Jack-o-Lantern buckets!).  Have them turn over any overflow to you.  At the end of the night, they can sort through the total collection and choose the candy they like best so long as it fits into the small bag.

All overflow beyond the small bag can have one of several fates:

  • You purchase it from them on a per-unit basis for an agreed-on price ($0.05 per piece for young kids, more for older kids?). This plan works especially well if your child is saving up to buy something special.
  • You bring it into work as a gift to your colleagues from your child along with a handmade “Happy Halloween” card your child makes in advance
  • You and your child wrap it up, save it for Thanksgiving, and bring it together to a local shelter, soup kitchen or community charity as a reminder that there are people in the community who may not have had been so lucky to participate in the holiday fun.

In addition to setting limits on the size of the collection bag, agree in advance on how many pieces your child may eat on Halloween. The remainder is turned over to you and rationed out one piece per day or so instead of their typical treats (not in addition to). Some parents I know use this opportunity to siphon off some of the loot to help run down the supply faster.  I will neither condone nor object to this type of deception, but leave it to you to decide.

Plan a fun Halloween-themed family activity you’ll do together that evening to celebrate Halloween, like going to a local farm that offers a corn maze and hayrides, watching a fun movie like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, decorating pumpkins, cooking an orange-and-black themed meal, baking pumpkin muffins, or making cookies that use chopped up candy bits in lieu of chocolate chips.

Finally, you could just go with the flow. Let your kids go crazy that night and eat as much candy as they want. Enjoy the candy with them, brush your teeth, and then promptly throw the rest of the bag of candy away.

Happy Halloween!

About Tamara Duker Freuman, MS, RD, CDN

Tamara Duker Freuman is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and New York State Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist (CDN) who holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She completed her clinical training at New York University in affiliation with Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, and currently offers medical nutrition therapy and nutrition counseling services to clients in the New York metro area; for information on her nutrition services, visit www.tamaraduker.com/nutrition-services/. Tamara is a member of the American Dietetic Association, the New York State Dietetic Association and the Greater New York Dietetic Association.

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