As a parent I didn’t want to instill the bad habits of junk eating, knowing the detriments to health. Nor did I want to mess with our good, day-to-day dietary habits I was aiming to maintain! 

Sugar – the simplest carbohydrate. Our bodies don’t know what to do with candy.  Sugar’s the most isolated, concentrated form of carbohydrate there is. Refined sugar is harmful; the sugar in the form of whole fruits with fiber is beneficial. Because it’s cheaper and sweeter, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is in most commercially produced candy. Both sucrose and HFCS are made up of glucose and fructose molecules, and though glucose is regulated through hormones, (insulin from the pancreas and leptin from adipose cells), fructose goes right to the liver to be metabolized without such hormonal regulation. Large amounts of fructose, particularly in HFCS, is implicated in our obesity epidemic, particularly in children.

Health Effects of Refined Sugar


  • Lower immunity
  • Fuel and fatigue regulation
  • Hormone and behavior swings
  • Cell-damaging oxidation)


  • Risk for disease
  • Unsightly and uncomfortable symptoms
  • Weight problems 

So what’s a concerned parent to do?

Here I offer some lessons and suggestions on the cultural practice of trick-or-treating from a plant-based nutritionist, to make Halloween fun, healthy, and a golden learning opportunity for our kids!

  • Consider this an educational moment: From mother and Center for Nutrition Studies instructor Cara:  “I don’t forbid or discourage trick-or-treating because the activity itself is fun for most kiddos.  I just embrace it as an opportunity to talk about nutrition and health.” Make it a fun and fortunate time to chat about health.
  • Spell Out Parameters: Explaining to the kids that they will not be eating everything they gather but choosing from their pile, may avoid hard feelings later.
  • Kindle kindness – charitable giving: Collecting for UNICEF which offers secure children a way to help needy children, as well as the opportunity to bring the habit of giving into their young lives. Send durable treats to the troops through organizations such as Operation Gratitude or Soldiers Angels
  • Thinking for themselves: Involve the kids in setting parameters to limit the amount and number of days of candy consumption.  What do they think is a safe window of time to consume stuff that doesn’t support their health and energy?
  • Offering a trick for their treat: Are your kids talented in something? Can they make up a jingle or show them their wrapping, dancing, twirling talent as a thank you to the candy-giver? It will surely bring smiles and unexpected joy to the world.
  • Crowd out the bad with the good: Make sure any candy eaten is consumed along with whole plant food like apples or carrots. They which contain fiber to regulate simple sugar absorption, and also has the benefit of crowding out even more candy.

Beyond Candy – When they come knocking, why not offer healthier alternatives to the cute characters and gory ghouls?This can be more expensive than the cheapo commercial candy in big bags, so shop around. You can easily find cheap toys in second-hand and big box stores, and online.

Alternative to Candy to Offer
  • Toys
    • Key chains (popular characters from movies, etc.)
    • Cool writing utensils
    • Colorful erasers
    • Puzzle books
    • Hair accessories
    • Decorative pads or sticky notes
    • Stickers
    • Tattoo stickers
    • Miniature dinosaurs or animal figurines
    • Party favors from hobby or party stores
  • Candy alternatives
    • Oat or cereal bars (watch out for added oil, sweeteners and isolated protein)
    • Fruit crisps (dehydrated fruit)
    • Fruit leather or ropes
    • Chocolate almond milk in single-serving boxes
    • Cute little clementines or tangerines, skin intact
    • Nuts (preferably raw, in teeny bags for small portions)
    • Individually wrapped pumpkin seeds
    • Apples sauce snack packs (watch out for added sweetener)
    • Fruit and nut (trail) mixes
    • Raisin boxes (though considered duds in the loot bag)

After the Treat Gathering – consider some family rules about the loot.  For Instance:

  • Parents have first right of inspection, to discard anything potentially unsafe
  • Let’s Make a DealLet them choose 5 or 10 pieces of candy from their haul to eat within a week, and get rid of the rest.

Here we have a dilemma—donating the rest means someone else will be eating unhealthy stuff, and throwing it away adds waste and trash—40% of our food in the U.S. is simply wasted and most ends up in landfills creating methane and contributing to our warming planet. Limiting the amount that gets into the loot bag in the first plcae is the best approach to our over-consumption habits.

  • Trade up
    • Offer a candy exchange – Say for every 5 or 10 candies, kids may earn a book, toy or trip to a fun place.
    • Two better treats from your kitchen (that you know they love) for one awful candy.                                                                                       
  • Arts-and-Crafts – Start a bowl of candy pieces for fun projects. Add candy corn, Skittles, Lifesavers, Starbursts, M&Ms, etc., not to be eaten but used to create something new, though this could be a dangerous temptation.
    • Use colorful candy for decorating picture frames for Halloween pics
    • Build a candy house with crackers and glue
  • Game time:  Who can identify the healthiest treats in their stash? Parents, how can you reward this critical thinking exercise?
  • Candy math
    • Use little candies to practice addition, subtraction, or counting by fives and tens – and then you have to throw them out because they’re dirty!
    • Segmented chocolate bars are great for visualizing fractions.
    • Sort candy by themes and then figure out what percentage each group contributes to the total stash, (chocolate, gum, lollipops, fruit snacks, etc.)
  • Donate the candy away
  • Honor our solders – Not that we want to offer them ill-health, but as adults, they can choose their treats in times of stress – this may be a way to give them attention.  Operation Shoebox ships candy and presents to our troops overseas:  Operation Gratitude, Operation Shoebox or Soldiers Angels
  • Dentists can do the troop donation for you and they add some dental hygene! -Operation Buy back
    • Kids can make up small gift bags from the loot to offer kids from school or activities who may not have had the opportunity to go trick-or-treating
  • Reverse Trick- or-Treat – Cara suggests kids walk around with their candy bag in a public area the day after trick-or-treating and give away candy to passersby.  This can be a load of fun, and an exercise in kindness, civility, and community.

Kid Kindness – Ask the kids what a better use of their candy might be. You may be surprised at their generosity the broad-thinking that you have instilled!

Written by Kathy Pollard, MS