5 Dietitian-Approved Strategies for Handling Halloween Candy Leftovers

Should you be limiting Halloween candy? Is there a right or wrong way to parent through the pile of sugar? Dietitians share their best tips and tricks for a happier and (slightly) healthier Halloween. 

Every parent knows that all-too-familiar rush of anxiety as the Halloween season rolls around. As soon as we hit October 1, visions of tummy-aches and all-you-can-eat-candy buffets dance through our heads. I get questions all the time asking, “Should I limit Halloween candy?” or “How should I approach Halloween treats this year?” If you’re wondering how to handle the Halloween candy influx, you’re not alone.

There are many different tactics parents choose to take with children and the pile of trick-or-treat goodies. Some let them loose to eat as much as they want until they are sick, while others limit to one or two items each day. Because moms and dads worry and wonder if there is a right or wrong way to parent through the pile of sugar, I got down to the bottom of it asking 5 fellow “mommy” dietitians to share their best tips and tricks for a happier and (slightly) healthier Halloween. 

5 Strategies for Handling Halloween Candy

1. Introduce the “Switch Witch.”

Let the Switch Witch help your kids eat less Halloween Candy

A visit from the Switch Witch is a popular idea for many families and one that we practice in our home. My friend and fellow RD, Sally of Real Mom Nutrition, first introduced me to this friendly witch. At our house, once the candy has been inspected and the girls have eaten their fill, the trick-or-treat loot division begins. The girls make 2 piles – one to keep and one to give to the switch witch. I don’t require them to give a certain percentage of their candy – they’re allowed to share what they don’t want. Over the years, I’ve found that they usually part with about half of it. That evening, they leave the candy by the door and the Switch Witch swaps it out for a special gift such as a small toy, money or a gift card.

The Switch Witch also visits the home of dietitian, Mary Ellen Phipps.  Mary Ellen shares, “They each pick 4-5 pieces after trick or treating to eat and then leave the rest out that night for the switch witch to grab… she brings a small collection of dollar store finds.”

If you’re interested in the Switch Witch visiting your home, I found this cute printable here: Switch Witch Poem.

2. Pass Out Something Besides Candy.

RD Approved Approaches to Halloween Candy - Pass out toys like glow sticks

“I usually give out glow sticks at Halloween. We live in a really busy Halloween neighborhood and feel good about giving the kids something to make them more visible on the street. Plus, I have something safe for food allergy kids.”
-Andrea Greenberg Ventura, RDN

“I do not have children, but I pass out Halloween pencils and erasers, fun Halloween rings, etc. I figure they get enough candy. Parents love it and it is great for any child with allergies.” 
-Kerry Barbera, RDN

3. Donate Extra to Charitable Causes

Operation Gratitude - Leftover Halloween Candy donation

If your kids are anything like mine, you have A LOT of candy by the end of the night (hello, candy mountain). Luckily, there are lots of opportunities to donate your extra candy to local charities, schools, and families. This is a great option if you’re looking to free up some space in your pantry and help others. Check out Operation Gratitude for more information.

4. Participate in Candy Buy-Back Programs

Give away leftover Halloween Candy in Halloween Buyback programs at local dentists and business - image of girl handing back lollipop

Many dentist offices and businesses will “buy-back” Halloween candy in exchange for money, toys, etc. I love this idea, mainly because it may save a few teeth from getting a little extra love at the dentist’s office. Check the site Halloween Candy Buy Back to see if locations in your area participate.

5. Feed the Kiddos a Big Meal Before Trick-or-Treating

Holley Grainger's Spooky Spider Sandwiches 3 Ways

Not as worried about the leftover candy as much as how to handle Halloween night? Melisa Altman-Traub, RDN, suggests feeding the kids a hearty meal before setting out. This is a great opportunity to fill those tummies before they race outside for candy. By providing a fun and filling meal, your children are sure to get the energy and nutrients they need to last the entire night. Check out some of my favorite Halloween dinner recipes: Spider Sandwiches and Hot Dog Worms.

Should You Allow Your Children to Self-Regulate Halloween Candy?

Should you allow your child to self-regulate candy intake, like this preschooler boy with bowl of M&M's?

Not everyone agrees on what is right or wrong when it comes to Halloween candy. Even dietitians are on both sides of the fence.

“I did not restrict their access to their stash and they were able to self-regulate well. I’m not a big believer in food rules and restrictions. I find that modeling healthy eating habits is a better approach. My kids never finished all of the candy they collected, and eventually lost interest. Many times, the beginning of one Halloween was to throw out what was left from last year.”
-Sally Hara, RDN

I let my kids at it on Halloween and for a day or two after, then we put it up and they have it when they ask for it. Usually kept to normal snack times, but occasionally other times also. I don’t want to restrict, but it is hard to get on board with the fact that children will self regulate if they aren’t restricted! So, this is a compromise. I also like it being put up because I don’t want kids grabbing it and running around with gum or suckers, I don’t want food in bedrooms or play areas (mice 🤢), and I don’t want the dog getting it.
-Savannah McGrath, RDN

At the end of the night we let our 2 boys pick out their favorite pieces (which really only ends up being like 15-20 altogether), then I honestly just let them have it as they please, as long as it does not interfere with mealtimes. I like to have it out of the house asap.
-Christina Speaks, RDN

Once she goes to bed, I put the candy away in the pantry, and from that point on, I let her have a few pieces each day as part of her regular meals. She must ask for a piece, and I don’t fight the request. Kids sense our hesitancy, so I don’t hesitate. This gives us the chance to talk about eating candy and how it tastes good, and it is fun to trick-or-treat, but candy is something we enjoy in amounts smaller than other foods. It opens the door for wonderful conversations about food and nutrition. I know you may not believe me, but when you take away the power of no, food battles are lessened.
-Leah Kittle Schumacher, RND of Authentic Nutrition Charleston

My 7 yr old can eat whatever she wants whenever she wants on Halloween day. Then until candy is gone she can have whatever candies she chooses with each meal and snack and it’s her choice in what order she eats the candy. No limit, but if she does not diligently brush her teeth she knows she could lose the whole bag. Sure the “natural consequence” would be to get cavities or lose her teeth, but this Mama is not going to let that happen.
-Jamie Peguero, RDN

At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to handle the candy mountain but there are definitely many different approaches. Try one (or a few) of these Halloween tips and see how your children react. You never know… you may just discover a new Halloween tradition!

 

PS – I shared more about our tradition with the Switch Witch with Food Network. Be sure to check out the article!!

 

 

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How Do Dietitians Handle Leftover Halloween Candy

 

 

Looking for more fun and healthy Halloween tips?

I’ve got you covered for food, games, parties and more over at my Halloween Headquarters. See you there!

Holley's Halloween Headquarters