Much ado about Halloween candy, and other holiday dilemmas

Dietitian and mom Christine Berman dishes out tips for handling the Halloween candy conundrum.

By Christine Berman, M.P.H., R.D.


Christine Berman is a registered dietitian and co-author of Meals Without Squeals: Child Care Feeding Guide and Cookbook and Teaching Children About Food.

Posted on Sep 29, 2014 12:43 PM

In one family I know, the rule on Halloween is that the children can collect all the candy they want while trick-or-treating, but they must throw away everything they haven't eaten by the end of the evening. In another family, the children are allowed a piece or two a day until the candy is gone.

Coping with overdosing on holiday goodies

These are just two examples of how parents cope with the prospect of children overdosing on holiday goodies. Many parents who make great efforts to feed their children well face a yearly double whammy in October. First, the question of how much of that stuff in the trick-or-treat bags to let the kids eat, and second, what to give as treats—candy? pencils? stickers? And Halloween is just the first event in a round of holiday celebrations that lasts for several months (a period, incidentally, when the average American puts on a few extra pounds and feels guilty for losing control). No wonder just thinking about it makes us a tad anxious.

A few days of candy is okay…

As a dietitian—and a mother—I will tell you that eating a lot of candy over a few days' time will not ruin your child's health if he has been otherwise eating well, assuming there are no bona fide medical reasons for avoiding sugar, chocolate and so on. There is no evidence that gorging on Halloween candy for a few days will turn him into a candy-craving machine the rest of the year or the rest of his life. And, though like most nutrition issues this one is still under debate, there is little evidence that sugar causes the majority of children to behave badly, even at pretty high doses (a lot of sugar on an empty stomach may be a different story). Your child may be the exception, but it's rare.

A sugar free-for-all is not

Does this mean I advocate a sugar free-for-all in every household between October and New Year's? Absolutely not! I am genuinely concerned about the quantities of sugar many children eat throughout the year, for several reasons (enough to devote a separate article to it). But for families who generally eat well and worry that the holidays may spin the situation out of control, here are some tips for dealing with the stress around holiday treats:

  • Go ahead and buy candy to give trick-or-treaters, something your child thinks is "cool," and refuse to feel guilty about it.
  • Insist that your child eats a good dinner before going out trick-or-treating or a substantial meal or snack before holiday parties (think protein).
  • It's reasonable to limit the number of homes your child visits, which should help limit the volume of candy coming into the house.
  • When your child returns from trick-or-treating, create a little ritual of looking admiringly at the haul, which you can use as an opportunity to weed out treats that could cause a young child to choke, or to which your child is allergic.
  • Make sure your child is a devoted and competent tooth-brusher.
  • Work out whatever candy-eating plan seems best for your family. Most kids will probably do pretty well if allowed as much as they want for a couple of days, at which point they will get sick of it, return to regular eating habits, and may occasionally want a few pieces as a dessert or part of a snack.
  • Try to plan at least some aspects of holiday celebrations that don't include food, like games, videos or other diversions. Incorporate non-sweet treats into party menus (when I think about Halloween, I think popcorn). Stickers, small figurines and cars, crayons and hair ornaments can go into goodie bags.
  • Make sure everyone in your family is getting plenty of physical activity and plenty of rest during the hectic holiday times.