More than 75 percent of U.S. households plan to hand out candy on Halloween, according to the National Confectioners Association. It’s not just kids enjoying the loot—70 percent of parents admit to eating candy at Halloween, often from their kids’ collection. In 2017, the candy industry expected Halloween to bring in $2.75 billion in retail sales.
While collecting candy treats is part of the fun, culture and tradition of Halloween, it’s important for parents to monitor what, when and how much children are eating. The trick for many parents is finding treats the children will enjoy in moderation, without their health suffering in the long term.
Enjoying a few pieces of candy on Halloween and the next day isn’t going to negatively impact children’s health in the long run. The challenge is when the candy stash lasts for months and the kids are eating from it on a regular basis. Excess calories, especially from sugar and carbohydrates, lead to obesity and other health and dental issues. While sugar and candy are only part of the problem, it’s worth it to try to limit the indulgence.
Dr. Stephanie Graebert offers these tips for making Halloween a healthy holiday for your kids and the costumed cuties who visit your door for treats.
- Feed your children a balanced meal or healthy snack before they head out for trick-or-treating. That will help keep them from munching on too many treats as they go door-to-door.
- Tell your children it’s important that you inspect their goodies at home before they pop anything into their mouths.
- Discard all homemade candy or baked goods when your kids get home.
- Parents of toddlers should remove choking hazards such as gum, peanuts and hard candies.
- Inspect commercially wrapped treats for indications of tampering. Look for an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes or tears in wrappers.
- Read ingredient labels with extra care if your child has food allergies.
- Read labels with an eye toward lower fat, calories, sugar, sodium and trans fat totals.
- Consider alternatives to candy. Choices to consider include single servings of:
- Breakfast cereal
- Fruit rolls
- Mini boxes of raisins
- Microwave popcorn
- Trail mix
- Juice boxes
- Graham crackers
- Vanilla wafers
- Animal crackers
If you’re going to let your children keep some or all of the candy they collect, Dr. Graebert has suggestions to help moderate their consumption.
- Set a portion size for each child. Encourage them to take one piece of candy at each house and limit the size of their candy bag. Let them know how much they’re allowed to eat each day and when they can eat it.
- Implement a “buy back” program. Let your children choose several of their favorite candies to enjoy. Then “buy” the rest of the candy in exchange for a special sleepover, toy, book or other treats. Or, find a program accepting donations of candy for the military or homeless, for example. These options allow your children to enjoy some of their candy without going overboard.
- When your child asks for some candy, pair it with something healthy like a banana, apple, carrots or nuts.
Make a plan about candy consumption and talk to your kids about it in advance, so that they know what to expect during and after Halloween. To help them understand candy portions, try putting a few pieces (aiming for 100 calories) in a clear bag so that they can see that a little adds up.
Children love the excitement of dressing up and trick-or-treating on Halloween night. Helping them do so without eating endless handfuls of unhealthy candy doesn’t have to get in the way of their fun. And, there are ways to give healthier options at your door, without being labeled as the “healthy” house that kids want to skip!
About Dr. Stephanie Graebert
Dr. Stephanie Graebert specializes in pediatrics at Children’s Pediatrics Carousel. After earning her medical degree from Louisiana State University in New Orleans, Dr. Graebert completed residency at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. Dr. Graebert chose to practice pediatrics because being able to care for someone while they are growing up, all while building a relationship with their family, is a special experience that she is proud to be a part of. She remembers her relationship with her own pediatrician and hopes to impact her patients in a similar way.