Halloween is a dream for kids, but it can be a nightmare for parents. Is there such a thing as healthy Halloween treats?
If you have a child with food allergies, learning or behavioral challenges, or a bigger kid, you might have a different area of focus when it comes to Halloween: Keeping your child safe and healthy.
Read on to learn about how to handle Halloween treats when you have a child with food allergies or ADHD and my Halloween candy exit strategy (my tips for enjoying treats and letting them go).
An Allergic Reaction on Halloween
When the candy-filled Halloween holiday is mixed with food allergies, behavioral challenges such as ADHD, or weight worries, it can be a nightmare for parents.
Me and my conscientious pediatric nutrition thinking had a little surprise that turned into my own little nightmare on Halloween.
Halloween and Food Allergies
Two years ago, my son was up to his elbows in pumpkin. Literally. He was cleaning out a large pumpkin, readying it for carving. When I looked down at him, I noticed red welts all over his face, neck, and when I looked closer, his upper chest.
Dang it! He was having an allergic reaction!
We simply had no idea he was allergic to pumpkin. He had cooked pumpkin every Thanksgiving—a slice of pumpkin pie and a serving of pumpkin casserole (which is out of this world, and more like a dessert than a squash-based casserole)—and had never had a hint of a reaction.
But, he’d never really been exposed to raw pumpkin.
I always imagined that if he had an allergic reaction, it would be due to an oversight on my part, an accidental ingestion on his part, or a cross-contamination of foods. It never occurred to me that an allergic reaction to a new food would occur, but of course, that’s always a possibility when you have food allergies.
Surprise reactions are certainly not out of the question.
One way to protect kids with food allergies during Halloween trick-or-treating is by using a universal alert system that announces the absence of food allergens, such as The Teal Pumpkin Project.
Place a teal pumpkin on your doorstep to let kids with food allergies know that you offer allergen-free treats, and they can trick-or-treat at your house safely.
Also, I’ve made a chart of the food allergens in some of the most common Halloween treats out there. You can nab that chart here.
It turns out that it isn’t just the parents of kids with food allergies who worry about Halloween treats. The parents of kids with other challenges worry, too.#Halloween can be a dream for kids, but a nightmare for parents. Click To Tweet
ADHD and Halloween Candy
Between a sugar overload and the artificial food dyes in Halloween candy, parents of children with ADHD have a long Halloween night to endure, as well. And, yes, Halloween can be a nightmare.
A hyperactive, impulsive child can make Halloween a stressful and even dangerous holiday for any parent to manage, as they try hard to keep their child safe.
Although not all kids with ADHD are sensitive and reactive to artificial food dyes or sugar, some are.Not all kids with #ADHD are sensitive to #artificialfooddyes, but some kids are. Click To Tweet
To cut the food dyes in Halloween treats, shop at stores that are known to nix products with artificial food colors, such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
The Natural Candy Store is an online store that offers US made dye-free candy options.
Read the ingredient label. Terms or identifiers such as, “made with organic ingredients,” don’t necessarily mean food is color-free. Synthetic colors, such as Red #40, must be listed by name.
Natural colors are simply that: natural, not artificial. Look for annatto, carotenes, beet and paprika extract (capsanthin), as these are natural colors used for coloring Halloween candy.
Pass out non-candy items such as whole grain pretzels, popcorn packs or tattoos.
Worried About Too Much Candy (& Your Child’s Health)?
You’ve probably had the experience of a Halloween candy table at school. If you have a child who overeats candy or who may carry extra weight, this may stress you out.
For many kids, Halloween represents the pinnacle of over-indulgence.
Yes, many people will say, “Oh just let your child enjoy it! It’s just one night!”
I may have even said that myself.
But many kids today extend the candy-eating festivities beyond one night to several days, weeks, or until their stash has been consumed completely. This steady diet of fun-size sugar infusions happening several times a day can be hard on you and hard on your child’s health.
[Related: The Calorie & Sugar Cost of Halloween Candy with a FREE cheat sheet]
Most nutrition professionals will advise a gradual weaning away from the candy experience so as not to make an issue of it, while allowing enjoyment of the holiday and the Halloween treats.
However, you do need a Halloween Treat Exit Plan.
How to Wean Off Halloween Candy
Here are some ideas to help you eliminate the magnetic draw of Halloween candy while minimizing the emotional trauma of trashing it:
Lay Down the Law.
Be clear about candy rules. From one piece per day to free indulgence for one week, your rules about when, how much and how long the Halloween treats will be available is key to regulating the candy influence.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind.
Young children tend to be “in the moment.” If the moment includes candy, they will want it. Hide Halloween candy out of sight, in a high place, or where it is not easily detected. This helps both children and adults reduce their overall consumption.
Consider a Switch Witch Visit.
Let your child pick out the 10 most important Halloween treats and place the rest in a large bowl. Leave the bowl in a central location before bedtime. Overnight, the Switch Witch visits, trading out the candy for a toy or other gift. (Hint: the Switch Witch is you-know-who…)
The Freezer Goblin.
“He” eats the candy (placed in the freezer in a freezer bag), keeping it fresh. Both “out of sight” and inconvenient, storing candy in the freezer can reduce consumption, while saving it for other activities throughout the year. (I do this every year.)
Operation Gratitude or Candy Buy-Back Programs.
These programs buy back candy by the pound and send it off to the troops to show them gratitude for serving our country.
Send your candy in to your spouse’s office and let the adults fight over it.
Save candy and use it to decorate Gingerbread houses, or make a candy wreath for Thanksgiving.
Shower a Shelter.
Donate candy to a women and children’s shelter, a soup kitchen, or a food pantry.
Use Halloween candy to stuff a piñata. It’s awesome for birthday parties!
Melt it, boil it, or mix it. You name it, with candy, the sky is the limit.
There is even a guidebook on an array of scientific experiments you can do with candy.
No explanation needed.
Whatever you decide, you don’t have to live with the ghostly temptation of Halloween treats forever.
What About Healthy Halloween Treats?
Yes, Yes, Yes!
Clementine pumpkins are easy, healthy, a natural source of sugar and free of artificial food dyes. Nature’s candy, so to speak.
Also, sprinkle as much healthiness into the day as you can, especially if your child is doing more than Halloween trick-or-treating.
Check out Real Mom Nutrition’s list of 10 Healthy Halloween Snacks, which are perfect Halloween treats for school, for classroom parties, preschool parties and daycare events.
Super Healthy Kids have an awesome list of healthy and festive Halloween snacks—you’ll surely be inspired!
And don’t forget to feed your child well throughout the Halloween holiday—before, during and afterward.
Start the day with a wholesome, filling breakfast, encourage a healthy lunch, and be sure to eat a nutritious dinner before you head out for the night.
How do you make sure Halloween isn’t a nightmare for you or your child?
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: October 26, 2016
Updated on: May 8, 2019