Healthy Halloween tips to consider this spooky season

Halloween is a great opportunity to have some seasonal fun with your kids. Make sure everyone is getting the most out of this holiday by keeping things healthy and fun.

Tonya K. Townsell | Public Domain
Children in costume in a Halloween parade
Orion Goodemote

Food Intern, PIRG Education Fund

The leaves are falling and pumpkins are popping up on porches all across the country. For kids this means costumes and, of course, boat loads of candy. For parents, however, the thought of kids having access to all-you-can-eat candy might not be so appealing. Here are some tips to infuse some non-candy fun into the holiday that might keep the sugar-rush scaries at bay!

In this guide we have included tips for trick-or-treating, staying at home and partying – tips for after Halloween and how to start your own Halloween tradition.

Tips

For the trick or treaters

#1 Have your kids fill up before you head out

Before heading out for your trick-or-treating fun, make sure your kids have had a nice, big, dinner filled with protein and fiber, so they are fueled up for a big night out and might have a little less room for candy (no guarantees!). To make it extra fun for them, you can try making some of these special Halloween-themed recipes. If your kids are going trick-or-treating with friends, you can even invite a whole group over so they can all be part of the spooky fun. 

#2 Bring snacks with you

A great way to make sure your kids stay energized is to bring some snacks. This will also give them an alternative to candy while you are out and about. Also remember to bring water to help keep your kids hydrated while they are running from house to house.

#3 Use the right-sized bag

Part of the fun of going trick-or-treating is coming home with a bag stuffed with goodies, but that also means a lot of candy and sugar that you will have to figure out what to do with. Just as using a smaller plate leads people to take and eat less food, if you give your trick-or-treater a smaller bag, they will still get the satisfaction of having a full bag, but won’t have quite so much candy. 

#4 Have a conversation with your kids beforehand 

Having a short conversation with your kids to lay out expectations before you hit the streets about how long you plan to trick-or-treat and rules about consumption. Some families will decide to be out for a specific amount of time; others might have a certain amount of houses they want to go to. The key is to be clear in advance so everyone’s on the same page. For consumption, you may choose to go “all you can eat” and let your kids go wild, or you might let them have a certain amount of candy while you’re out. Some creative parents of toddlers have used a “we don’t eat the candy until we get home rule,” which tends to make for a short night (and small bag of candy) as the kiddo’s will want to get home to start eating! 

#5 Get active

If your location permits it, walking to the houses you plan to hit for trick-or-treating is an awesome way to get some exercise, for both you and your kids. For those of you who live a little ways out of town or aren’t able to walk to all the houses you want to hit, having a dance party or playing some active games before or after trick-or-treating can also help your kids get some exercise. 

For the stay at home crew

#1 Check candies for unhealthy chemicals

Not all candy was created equal, and there are some things that you should look out for when choosing which candies you should handout. Sugar and allergens aren’t the only concerns: Some popular candies contain dangerous chemicals such as titanium dioxide and TBHQ. It’s a good idea to keep a lookout for these chemicals this Halloween by checking the ingredients label of the candies you decide to buy.  

#2 Don’t go overboard with the candy

One easy way to make Halloween a little healthier is simply by giving out less candy. You can do this by only buying a moderate amount of candy or by only handing out one piece of candy per child rather than a handful. Now, no one wants to be the house that skimps on candy, but you can make it more fun for kids by letting them have a bit of agency when deciding what candy they get. Offer them a few options and let them pick one piece of whatever they choose. This will leave them more satisfied and that candy will most likely be eaten rather than wasted. You can also opt for the mini or bite-sized candy options rather than the regular or king sized bars to help reduce portion sizes. Quality over quantity!

#3 Avoid self service

Handing out candy to each trick-or-treater is a super fun way to interact with all the kids – and can help control portions.

#4 Offer non-candy gifts 

I don’t suggest you become the house that hands out toothbrushes. You can still be involved in the Halloween spirit even if you don’t hand out candy. Glowsticks, temporary tattoos, stickers, art supplies such as crayons, and other small items can be awesome and exciting alternatives to candy.

For the Halloween partier

#1 Play fun Halloween games 

Instead of candy being everywhere at parties, you could play games with the kids that allow them to earn candy. This allows you to monitor and limit the amount of candy they have access to, while also taking the focus off of the candy alone. Here are some fun options:

Fishing game: Parents hide behind a cloth or wall that is painted like the ocean, and kids have “fishing rods” with clothes pins attached to the ends which they dangle on the other side of the cloth or wall. The parents can then attach little goodies to the clothes pins for the kids to reel in. These goodies can be small candies, stickers or temporary tattoos. 

M&M game:  Use M&Ms or any other multi-colored candies. Without looking, kids reach into the bag and pick an M&M. The color they pick is related to a certain topic or activity.

  • Red = share something they love, tell a story about love, or give someone a hug
  • Yellow = share something that makes them happy, or try smiling and showing as many teeth as possible
  • Orange = share something that makes them laugh, tell a joke, or do some silly activity such as spinning in circles
  • Green = share a story about nature or something they like doing outside, or describe and pretend to be their favorite animal
  • Blue = share something that makes them sad or that makes them feel better when they get sad

The activities are, of course, interchangeable, so be creative and make it fun! This easy game takes the focus away from the candy and can be a really fun way for kids to interact with and learn things about each other. It is also a great one to adopt at home as an after dinner activity.

#2 Keep your kids moving 

If you want to make sure your kids aren’t eating a bunch of candy, make sure they are having too much fun to even think about it! Play fun music, like the Monster Mash, and have a dance party! You could also have props or other costumes so the kids can play dress up and change costumes throughout the evening, or you could have an arts and crafts table where they can do some fun Halloween themed activities, such as painting with leaves or painting pumpkins!

#3 Provide healthy snacks and refreshments 

There are tons of adorable, healthy, Halloween-themed party snacks out there! Here are a few suggestions to help you get started: Ghost Banana Popsicles, Witches Broom Sticks, Pumpkin Deviled Eggs, Saucy Spider and Witches Guacamole.

After Halloween

#1 Encourage kids to share their candy 

Candy is best enjoyed together, so what better way to cut down on how much your kiddos are consuming than by encouraging them to share? Your kids could share with Treats for Troops, a local Ronald McDonald house, local police stations or fire stations or with teachers or coaches.  It’s a great way to promote healthy social habits and it will also make eating candy about the shared experience, rather than just the candy itself. Fortunately, many candies lend themselves well to sharing – such as KitKats, Twix, M&Ms, and more.

#2 Keep only the best of the best

A lot of times a Halloween haul will bring in all kinds of sweet treats, but in all reality, not all candies are equally yummy. Have your kids pick out 3-5 of their favorite candies to keep, and save or donate the rest. This will allow you to efficiently limit their sugar intake and, ideally, the kids will be satisfied to keep all their favorites so they won’t even miss all lesser candies.  

#3 Swap all the candy for something else

One way to have your kids give up all or most of their candy is to offer them a trade. You could let them pick a gift (a small game, toy or experience they have been wanting) in exchange for their candy. This gives them the opportunity to choose an alternative to all that sugar, without them feeling like they are missing out on all the fun! You can then donate the rest of the candy or save it for other holidays throughout the year. 

#4 Teach your kids to eat their candy mindfully

Mindful eating is a great skill to learn in general, and has lots of benefits on overall health and wellbeing.

#5 Use the candy in fun ways

There are tons of ways to experience the candy rather than just eating it. Here are a few suggestions!

Get creative with eating the candy: You can use Halloween candy to make s’mores instead of using the normal chocolate. This gives kids the opportunity to be creative and experiment with new flavor combinations, and you may be surprised to discover a new secret family recipe! 

You could also play a fun game where you pretend to be candy tasting experts. You can use blindfolds and do a blind taste test, fill out a candy tasting card (try this one from Teachers Pay Teachers), and try to guess each of the candies you try. This can be a fun activity to do in groups, so perhaps a post-Halloween candy tasting party is in order. 

You could also taste each of the candies and judge them as if you are on a cooking show. Have your kids practice using descriptive words and rate the candy on a scale from one to ten to determine the very best candy. 

Use candy in home science experiments: There are lots of cool ideas online for simple and safe experiments you can do at home. If any of them pique your family’s interest, maybe your kids would be willing to give up a little of their candy in the name of science. Here are some ideas to get you started: Halloween Candy Science Experiments, 11 Halloween Science Experiments

#6 Repurpose candy 

At the end of Halloween there is always a lot of leftover candy. Of course, throwing all these extra treats in the trash is not the best option, so here is what you can do instead. 

Reuse: A great way to make sure candy doesn’t go to waste is simply by reusing it at other holidays. You can save it and use it to stuff stockings at Christmas, fill Easter eggs with it, use it as a treat at birthday parties, add it to Valentines cards for a little more sweetness, and you can save it for next Halloween. Candy is shelf stable so it can last quite a while. For a guide to make sure your candy hasn’t expired check out this link.

Donate: Some organizations that accept candy donations include Treats for Troops, Operation Gratitude, Halloween Candy Buy Back Program, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and Operation Shoebox. Keep in mind, many of these organizations receive thousands of pounds of candy donations each Halloween and many only accept donations in the days immediately after the holiday. Local firehouses, police stations, nursing homes, homeless shelters and food pantries are also worth contacting to see if they would like to accept your donation.

Start a new tradition

Traditional Halloween isn’t for everyone. There is a significant amount of plastic waste and sugar involved in the traditional model of Halloween, so if this holiday doesn’t align with your family’s values, you can try starting a whole new spooky-season tradition. Try gathering a group of family or friends, making some yummy Halloween treats, dressing up and heading over to a local hospital, police station or firehouse (just make sure you make arrangements for a visit ahead of time). This is an awesome way to still participate in this holiday, while also giving back to and including members of the community, who might otherwise be missing out on some of the Halloween fun. It also takes the focus away from the candy and redirects it toward giving, which is awesome for the kids. In the end, what’s important is recognizing what works for you and your family!

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Authors

Orion Goodemote

Food Intern, PIRG Education Fund

Danielle Melgar

Food & Agriculture, Advocate, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Danielle works to ensure our food system produces enough nutritious food to feed everyone, without threatening our health, the planet, or the ability of future generations to grow food. Danielle lives in Chicago, where she enjoys staying active in the outdoors, trying out new recipes, and writing short stories.

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