Eight Ways for Cutting Back on the Candy This Halloween

We’re well into October, which means that a gaggle of witches, ghosts, vampires, and more are about to descend on neighborhoods around the country. For kids, Halloween is a dream come true: the chance to dress up, stay out late, and—best of all—fill their bellies with candy. For parents, though, Halloween can seem like more of a trick than a treat. In the age of childhood obesity, it’s already a huge struggle to get our kids to live healthy lives; the last thing we need is to compete with a bag bursting with candy bars.

Relax—you don’t have to resign yourself to weeks of sticky fingers and chocolaty smudges as your children gorge on the wrong kinds of food. According to Sarah Stone, your family can enjoy this holiday without consuming ghoulish amounts of calories.

“If you’re the parent of an overweight child or adolescent—or even if you’re just interested in reducing the amount of sugar your kids consume—it’s natural to worry about Halloween candy and the effect it will have on your child,” says Stone, director of operations at MindStream Academy, a co-ed health and wellness boarding school for teens who want to get fit, lose weight, build self-esteem, better manage stress, and take control over their health and wellness destinies.

So how can you keep your child from succumbing to the obvious health pitfalls during a candy-obsessed holiday like Halloween? Stone explains.

Unless you put your kids in a cave until candy corn has disappeared from store shelves, you can’t prevent them from wanting to indulge. But you can take the focus off of junk food while still enjoying this holiday! Here are eight tips:

Infuse Halloween with some action. Leading an active lifestyle is at the heart of MindStream’s success formula. And while it’s a good idea to remain active year-round, place a special emphasis on exercise during the weeks leading up to Halloween in order to prepare for the extra calories that are on the horizon. Talk with your kids about how you can offset increased calorie consumption so that they make the connection.

And when the witching hour itself arrives, walk instead of ride while trick-or-treating. Point out to your kids that being active doesn’t have to be “work”—in fact, it can be freakishly fun. Your kids can race from house to house, play flashlight tag while trick-or-treating, etc. (Make sure to wear tennis shoes!) And as the navigator, you can plan out a route with widely spaced houses in order to get in more walking and less candy.

“After the trick-or-treating buzz has faded, make it a rule that no one gets to consume candy calories without first burning them,” suggests Stone. “In order to eat a leftover treat, your kids will first have to play outside or participate in some other type of physical activity. This is a great time for some family bonding time too—play a game of kickball together or get everyone rounded up for a lap or two around the neighborhood.”

Fuel up for trick-or-treating. In the midst of all of the costume-donning, face-painting hustle and bustle, don’t forget to eat dinner—a healthy one. You might consider pre-planning a crock-pot roast or long-simmering soup that will be ready to eat when you need it so that you won’t have to divide your energy between the stove and your little ghost’s sheets. If your kids feel full while collecting candy, they’ll be less likely to overindulge.

“In fact, the MindStream FLOW program is designed to rekindle kids’ natural relationship with simple healthy eating,” Stone explains. “We work to change the way kids think about what they eat, and that’s something you can also work toward at home. When your kids fuel up on a hearty meal that they enjoy, they won’t be as tempted by the things that aren’t good for them, like candy.

Play up dress-up. As Halloween approaches—and during the evening of October 31st itself—build your kids’ excitement around things other than candy; namely, their costumes! At least within your own house, you can make Halloween a holiday about dressing up, not about amassing a collection of candy. Let your children play an active role in choosing what they want to be, and if possible, spend time together working on a homemade costume. Remind them how much fun it will be to pretend that they’re saving the world, just like their favorite action hero, for example.

“When you focus on the dress-up aspect of Halloween, that’s what your child will be most likely to look forward to—not candy,” points out Stone. “I’m not saying that a cool costume will overshadow all thoughts of candy, because it won’t. But it might just take the edge off your child’s plans to gorge on treats. Even after Halloween is gone, you can still encourage your kids to don their costumes and play—another fun way to encourage physical activity.”

Welcome the Great Pumpkin. We’ve all heard of the Great Pumpkin. According to Linus van Pelt from the beloved comic strip Peanuts, the Great Pumpkin rises from the “most sincere” pumpkin patch on Halloween night, then flies around the globe delivering toys to good boys and girls. You can easily make this holiday figure a part of your family’s tradition and cut down on candy consumption in the process.

First, allow your kids to pick a few things from their bags after they get home from trick-or-treating. (Set a limit; for example, a maximum of 10 treats.) Then put the rest of the candy out for the Great Pumpkin. While your children sleep, he will visit your home and trade the candy for a game or toy they’ve been wanting.

“For older kids or teens, consider a ‘Great Pumpkin Prize List’ instead of a visit by the mythical gourd himself,” suggests Stone. “You can list several small items your child might want and assign a value to each. For example, turning in ten pieces of candy might earn a $5 iTunes gift card, and five pieces might be traded for an evening of TV privileges. Your children are still satisfied, and you can rest easy knowing that the candy is not going into their bellies.”

Don’t hold onto leftover candy. Whether you decide to welcome the Great Pumpkin or not, it’s not a good idea to let your kids hang onto their candy weeks after trick-or-treating is over. MindStream Registered Dietitian Peggy Smith says there are several strategies you can employ:

• Consider letting your children have a few pieces of candy each night until it’s gone, as opposed to limiting them to one piece a day. Kids get so much candy at Halloween that if they eat one piece a night, they won’t run out until they get Christmas candy, then Valentine’s Day candy, then Easter candy. When treats never run out, your children will begin to think that it’s okay to indulge every day, instead of only on holidays and special occasions. You might consider dividing the candy into Ziploc baggies, each containing an appropriate serving size. Allow your child one bag to eat per day.

• It might seem wasteful, but it’s better to throw leftover candy away than to let it sit around as a temptation, or to struggle with your children each night about how much they’re allowed to eat.

• Take the leftover candy that your kids don’t choose to work or to other adult activities if you don’t want to waste it by throwing it away.

• Share leftover candy with the less fortunate. Your kids might donate treats to a local soup kitchen, for example, or include it in a Christmas box for a disadvantaged child. (The winter holidays might seem far away, but many charitable organizations begin collecting in November!)

“Choose the option—or options—that seem best for your family,” says Stone. “And as your child’s candy supply begins to dwindle, be sure to have healthy alternatives around, like fresh fruit. Your kids will be less inclined to remember their Halloween haul than you think.”

Buy treats in a timely manner. Unless you want to be known as a Halloween Grinch, you probably won’t be able to get away with not buying any seasonal treats—so time your shopping trip well. In other words, avoid buying candy too early or too late.

“If you bring home bags of candy bars several weeks in advance, your kids (and let’s face it, you) will be tempted to eat it all before the costumes even come out,” points out Stone. “And avoid buying the half-price candy that goes on sale just before and after Halloween, too. Lots of people fall into the ‘it’s a good bargain’ trap, but remember, discounts don’t make food any healthier. The bottom line with sale items is: If you don’t have it, you won’t eat it.”

Attend an alternative bash. Many communities offer alternatives to traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating, such as parties, fall festivals, or “trunk-or-treats.” If there’s nothing in your area, consider throwing your own bash, perhaps with the help of your friends and neighbors. You can set up Halloween-themed games, offer pumpkin-carving, bob for apples, and hold costume contests, for example. And at the end of the night, you can provide all of the attendees with treat bags.

“At a party, your kids will be having fun all evening—but they won’t be collecting a new handful of candy every five minutes,” says Stone. “What’s not to love?”

Hand out healthy food. If a member of your family will be staying home to hand out your own treats to roving ghouls and goblins, pick a healthy option—or one that’s non-edible. Good choices include granola bars, trail mix, raisins, pretzel snack bags, Halloween pencils, key chains, stickers, etc.

“Remember, strive to have a Halloween that’s about moderation, not deprivation,” Stone concludes. “Not only will you be navigating this particular holiday in a healthy fashion, you’ll be setting the stage for a more balanced life.”

Sarah Stone is co-creator and director of operations for MindStream Academy. Along with Founder Ray Travaglione, she has worked on the MindStream Academy project from its inception. She is an honors graduate of the University of Toledo whose dream was always to work with youth. After her previous work as director of admissions at a teenage recovery management facility, Sarah found a path that led her to her work at MindStream. Her dream has been realized as she takes great pride in helping teens work to heal and nurture what is broken and learn to be tolerant and understanding of themselves.