A Halloween Compromise


I think Halloween costumes are a blast. I love Halloween parties and festivals. I like dressing up and people watching. But there is this other side to Halloween which really gets me down: candy.

I don’t like candy and I don’t want anybody giving it to my kids. But that’s the nature of trick-or-treating and it’s usually the favorite part of Halloween for kids. What is a parent to do? Deny kids the fun of eating sweets and the excitement of trick-or-treating? I don’t think so. Control only lasts so long before it backfires, so I came up with another way.

Halloween for Babies

Forbidding Halloween candy altogether is the best and easiest option for kids two and under. They’re babies for goodness sakes! They don’t even know what sugar is until you give it to them! They don’t need it, they don’t want it, and their bodies can’t handle it. Abstinence is best when it comes to babies and sweets. (Anything but the freshest foods will compromise these processes. Check out the Hawaiian Libertarian for a real life juxtaposition of baby poo on fresh food and baby poo on jarred food.)

My daughter at a neighborhood festival. Age 1.75. Still never had sugar and totally happy with her apple and a comedy show.

Babies who are not exposed to sweets don’t know what it is anyway. They cannot extrapolate based on color, texture, packaging, or smiling faces. They have no clue that what they eat is not the same thing as what you eat.

For babies under 1 year Halloween can be skipped all together. Once a child is walking, however, they can start to join in the fun.

  • Handing Out Candy – While it may seem simple, handing out candy or little toys to trick-or-treaters is plenty exciting for small children.
  • Neighborhood Festivals – These often include rides, face painting, apple bobs, photo ops, plus so many fascinating things just to observe, which is half the fun for us all.
  • Pumpkin Patches and the Corn Maze – A Halloween tradition which is fun, memorable, and candy free.

Three Year Olds

Trick-or-treating can be a little overwhelming for three year olds. They have to walk a lot right at bed time and the streets are dark and even scary. Festivals might better for kids this age.

I start with a big, high fat meal and then stuff a few little treats in my pockets to snack on at the event. Kids get to experience the excitement of the games and costumes with a few bites of their favorite Paleo treats. Steer clear of the food booths and you probably won’t hear a word about it.

Four Years Old and Beyond – Trick-or-Treating

All the candy kids pick up on their travels through the neighborhood is junk. It’s all cheap candy made with cheap ingredients. You’ll be hard pressed to find a single one without corn syrup or food colorings. At a health food store you can buy candies made with pure cane sugar or fruit sugars which don’t contain artificial flavors or additives. Candy is candy and no one should be eating pillow cases full of it, but a few real ingredients are better than 20 or so artificial ingredients found in a regular candy bar.

When my daughter was 3.75 years old she had her first trick-or-treat. I planned on doing a little switcheroo behind her back but quickly realized that wouldn’t work. She knew what was in her bag. Instead, I showed her the new bag full of healthier goodies and suggested we throw the other junk away. I asked her if she wanted me to do it for her or if she wanted to do it herself. She said sniffling, “Mommy, I’ll take it to the trash myself.” Holding the empty bag up to me she asked for her special candy and never looked back.

Now, when Halloween rolls around she exuberantly takes the bad candy to the trash. Last year though she paused over the trash can, “Do you think donate it maybe? It’s kind of a waste.” I said, “If it’s not good for you, do you think it’s good for anyone else?” She laughed.

The Candy Store

Last year we came up with a new Halloween idea. We set up a little shop where she could “buy” the good candy and toys in exchange for the bad candy. It can get pretty silly, figuring out exactly how much everything is worth; she absolutely loved it!

In advance I bought some dark chocolates, crystallized ginger, packages of nuts, and dried fruits from the health food store. I also got some little toys from the grocery store toy dispensers. After trick-or-treating we set up the shop and spent the evening playing store.

Sarah Fragaso of Every Day Paleo liked this idea so much when she read my article in Paleo Magazine she said she’ll definitely be adding this to her Halloween tradition.

How-a-bout you? What is your Halloween going to look like this year?

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  1. Thanks for the linkage, Peggy. “Paleo Baby” is only 15 months old, so I don’t have to worry about the candy thing yet. I like your ideas about substituting “healthier” candy so the kid doesn’t feel left out and tempted to sneak it.

    Funny thing was, my Mom, while not “paleo” was a health food “nut” 80’s style, and she forbade us from trick or treating or eating candy. My brother’s and I most certainly snuck out, filled up the pillowcases and hid them under our bed so we could gorge onthe candy all November long.

  2. Most kids in our area trade in the candy at the Dentist’s office. They get a dollar per pound I think….the Dentist’s typically send the candy to the military overseas I guess at least the candy is not being thrown out.
    We are giving out “pirates Booty” to the kids this year. I know it is processed, but I felt it was better than giving them sugar. I like the idea of dried raisins, etc. and Trader Joes sells almonds in individual packets, I thought of those for next year. Just worry about the choking hazzards for the little ones!
    My little girl is one, so I have some time before she is out trick or treating!

  3. We go trick or treating to a few houses in our neighborhood (we’re on 1 acre lots so it takes a while). They don’t eat the candy they get — my daughter (6) loves to make an art project out of them (paper and glue + candy). I’ve also read somewhere that you could do some science experiments with the candy — like which ones float/sink, how fast they disintegrate in water, etc. We do this with the candy my kids get from school on Valentine’s Day too. :)

    • I love it! My daughter does art projects with fingernail polish and old makeup. Candy is the obvious next step. Lol

  4. We don’t hand out anything that is pure garbage. Like you say, it is bad enough – but we hand out raisins, freeze-dried apples & pears, pencils & stickers, and for a few close neighbors – larabars. That’s it. IMO, if they don’t see it going out of our house there is no excuses.

    As for what comes in, anything with artificial colors gets dumped, period. I let them choose one or two small treats from the chocolates. (We try to make it about seeing others’ costumes rather than about the treats.) I am prepared with some healthier options to replace what gets taken away. Then quite frankly, I take the rest to work for others to gobble up.

  5. We let the kids keep about 5 – 7 pieces of their very favorite candy, then the “SWITCH-WITCH” comes the day after Halloween and switches out all the candy and leaves them a prize… a toy or something they’ve had their eye on… it works really well for us.

    • This will be our first paleo Halloween, so I’m excited and nervous to see how it goes. I plan to do something like the “Switch Witch” you mentioned (cute name btw :) and let the little one keep a few candies and then ask her what she would like to trade the rest of it for.

      The great thing about kids, is you can easily steer them towards a different direction if you make it exciting.

      There’s a neat website too, called candyexperiments.com that shows you fun things to do with candy.

  6. This year, I will be finally doing what I’ve been contemplating for at least the last five years: Cooking and giving out bacon. Depending on how badly anyone gets up in my grill, they may get a lecture on how much healthier it is than candy.

  7. I don’t have kids of my own, but this year I’ll be handing out toys instead of candy. I figure if sugar isn’t good for me, why am I giving it to children?

    • My daughter LOVES to find little toys and temporary tattoos in her trick or treat bag.

  8. I don’t even like to support the candy industry enough to go trick-or-treating, because somebody is still buying loads of candy and the companies are still making money and getting the message that people want it, even if we don’t eat it.

    For the past two years we have had a halloween party in my backyard. Everybody gets to dress up and socialize and we have treats with ingredients that I approve of and FOOD instead of all candy (chicken wings in a bacon based hot sauce = win). We are rural, so we even have room for a bonfire to add excitement and something out of the ordinary.

    I know my daughter is old enough to understand that “different from everyone else” is not always a bad thing, but I just don’t get the NEED for trick-or-treat. What are the kids actually missing out on if they skip it? Costumes? Got that covered, we got creative for the party, not just selves, but house too. Treats? Handmade caramel apples and pumpkin pie. Socialization? Costumed sleepover wins. Tradition? Start a new one.

    • Bevie, if only I had a backyard! Your Halloween sounds like so much fun! Awesome tradition!

  9. My kids like the costumes and handing out candy (in our case this year, boxes of raisins, homemade larabars to people we know), but they’re pretty health conscious and gratefully aren’t candy hounds. They get to keep a few of the “good” candies, ie mini snickers, any homemade goodies from neighbors we know, dried fruits. We actually only visit maybe 10 houses, so it’s not like we’re throwing out pounds of candy. It was interesting to watch the same mechanism work in them that worked in us – get away from the grains, crave less sugar, lose interest in sugar, better able to determine what we’re actually hungry for. I’m guilty of having underestimated that as only a mental exercise for discerning adults – it’s quite natural in children, too, according to our little micro-experiment. Love your site, Happy Halloween!

  10. Thanks for all the suggestions. This is our first “paleo” Halloween. My kids are 5 and 3. Of course there have been plenty of school holidays and summer parades to stock pile candy. They will ask for a piece here and there, but it’s only approved at certain times of days and ALWAYS based on when they have last eaten food. Their candy seems to just disappear(I take it and toss it out). They don’t notice one bit. Love the store idea! I’ll have to try that one maybe when they are older and start to realize their candy is disappearing.

  11. I agree. A young child doesn’t have any idea what sugar, candy….is. The longer you can keep them from this junk…the easier healthy eating habits can be established early on in life. This will produce better lifelong healthy eating habits.

  12. Okay, Halloween is over, here is what it was like for us: Halloween isn´t as popular in Germany as it is in the U. S. A., but it definitely is more important today than it was 10-15 years ago. I went to a Halloween afternoon party with my 28 months old daughter as she was excited to wear the costume I had designed and to meet with other kids. There, they had placed huge bowls with candy on the tables (i hadn´t known about this before)where the kids were supposed to draw and paint if they liked to. That left me with no chance to do anything and it was so annoying. Usually, my philosophy is simple, what is not in hour house cannot be eaten; we do not have candy and a 28 months old cannot shop so she usually needn´t make choices (if you can talk about “choices” when talking about such a young kid). When other people offer her some candy I use to say: “No, thank you” and have actually stopped adding some explanation. But when confronted with bowls of candy and the option to stuff herself with unlimited quantities – what can you expect of a toddler? She doesn´t understand that this is bad, bad “food”. So she joined the others in stuffing herself with candy. It was annoying. Actually, and that is what bothers me most, is happened that play actually becomes less important when an abundance of food is served. I mean the kids were there to play and there where quite a few possibilties to entertain themselves but this wasn´t as important as the candy! This is sad and, well, it is disgusting when play is “beaten” by food. Luckily, my daughter usually is way more into playing and being active than caring about food and she usually enjoys healthy and home-cooked meals but incidents like this really make me realize how important it is to educate a kid about food!

    • I know! Don’t sabotage play with junk food! Ugh. That is so annoying. It’s like that with adults too. They will sabotage the free time they could be using to do cool stuff with eating a bunch of junk food in front of the tv. sad sad world.

  13. I shared your post with a friend of two toddlers a couple of days before Halloween. She and her husband are semi-primal. They try but she’s pregnant with a third and struggles with curbing hunger and nausea with good foods and I think they both just struggle with making time to eat right between work and the kids, etc. I send them recipes and try to keep them encouraged but we live on opposite sides of the country so I can only do so much.

    Her reaction to your post was something along the lines of, “I like primal/paleo for everyday but I think that’s a little extreme. For special occasions we like to let the kids have their fun; we do portion out the candy over a period of time so they aren’t allowed to just sit down and eat the whole bad in one sitting.” Then yesterday she emailed me, “I hope you don’t think I’m a hypocrite, I threw all the kids candy away and I made cookies and pumpkin pie instead.” (with primal recipes) I am so proud of her!

    I just wanted to pass it along. I think it’s wonderful that the blog format allows regular people to share and influence others in such simple, little ways.

    Happy Halloween, a little late! :)

    • Hahaha, that’s really cool! Her kids got the treats they desired, minus the food coloring and chemicals. Yay. Thanks for sharing that.

      I’m going to have to write a post about what extreme really means. People don’t understand the difference between extreme and different.

      • As a preschool teacher, I hear all about different ways families handle Halloween, and to be honest, I love this holiday. While I do not like the unhealthy eating aspect, I do enjoy the idea of dressing up and exploring concepts around fear, feelings, and power. The best Halloween tradition I’ve heard of is the “Switch Witch”. Much like the tooth fairy, the Switch Witch takes Halloween candy and turns it into toys! This means children get all the fun of going door to door trick or treating, but not the tummy ache that goes along with eating ten fistfuls of candy. The toys are at your discretion–tree blocks and aromatherapy playdough sound like they would be great for your lifestyle or you could build a fort for them out of pillows and sheets already available at home! As a side note, I personally don’t think that a small amount of candy would hurt an older child. I’m not sure about this but refusing to let your child have any candy at all may make them more interested and obsessed with it than having them eat it and realize it’s not as great as mom’s homemade ice cream (I know there are lots of paleo recipes for that).

        • I agree with the poster above. My children are not toddlers (8 and 6), and THEY are very careful in their decisions surrounding food they eat. It is so rewarding to see!! But, during Halloween I challenge THEM to decide how many pieces of candy are truly in their body’s best interest. More times than not they pick 2-3 pieces and proudly declare they are done. The next day they donate them to soldiers in return for a trip to our local ice cream store that uses coconut milk and grass fed dairy!
          I feel that teaching kids to be mindful, to think for themselves, and to listen to their body is so important! While we would LOVE for them to grow up free of all junk and be Paleo purists, we know that some day we will not be there to monitor their every move or morsel. We feel giving them the tools to self-monitor is the best thing we can do. Knowing the feeling of eating junk and feeling awful vs. eating nutritious quality food is essential. And trust me, if you feed them Paleo food at 99% of their meals and they eat “junk food”, they WILL feel it!
          Lastly, I love Halloween. And the funny thing is, I am spiritual. But, it is the one day of the year that children go door to door meeting their neighbors and friends. When do we ever do that during the year? It is a great way to meet your community.

  14. I just found your blog through a link from Everyday Paleo (I’m looking for treat ideas for my boys, ages 4 and 3). I love your “Candy Store” idea, and I can see this becoming a family tradition in my house. Last Halloween, I went completely unhinged from all the whining about wanting candy that I let the boys eat their entire bags of loot on the afternoon of Nov. 1. Not a banner day in my career as a mom! Your approach is much better. :)

  15. My fiancé and I are already thinking of how to have a healthy Halloween. Our daughter is only 8 months old, but we thought that after t-o-ting we would “buy” the candy ($1 for every 10 pieces or similar). And I would also make healthy treats so after t-o-ting we could cuddle up as a family and treat ourselves. (: I love Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday.

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