Avoiding Halloween's Dark Side: Toxic Candy
Original article October 2014.
Whether you're going trick or treating or focusing on home-centered fun this year, let’s face it – if you’re a kid, Halloween is about one thing: candy. Parents have legitimate concerns around this spooky night out (especially during a pandemic): safety on the streets and of social distancing, safety of the treats, and handling sugar overload with our kids.
Reinvent Halloween for Better Health and Habits
Halloween’s dark side is not the ghosts and zombies—it's the toxic candy. Millions of kids, teens and adults gorge themselves each year on massive amounts of candy.
That packaged candy essentially equates to:
- refined sugars
- artificial flavors
- artificial colors
- and loads of GMOs.
Americans are crazy for this beloved holiday. Admittedly, it's a blast! But there's one issue that continues to be a major health concern: excessive candy consumption.
We originally covered this topic in 2014, when the statistics were $2.5 billion in candy sales. Have we progressed on this sugar addiction? Sadly, we're getting worse...
The National Retail Federation estimated $8.8 BILLION in candy sales during the 2019 Halloween season. That tracks to an increase of $2.3 billion each year.
The truth is, we can conquer this with a shift in habits, focus and mindset. Halloween should continue to be a season for fun and food (we know, holidays revolve around food), but the focus on candy needs to be addressed. Let's explore simple, totally doable ways to make Halloween a bit healthier.
Tips for a healthier Halloween.
Fact: We are more likely to indulge in too many sweets and carbohydrates if we’re hungry. Ever go grocery shopping on an empty stomach? For Halloween, think about that as "don't go trick-or-treating on an empty stomach."
Craft a pre-treating plan:
- Serve a delicious and filling dinner before going trick-or-treating. Try chili, pinwheel sandwich wraps, or a DIY salad bar with an assortment of healthy proteins, fats, and veggies to top a mixed green base.
- Include a healthy, sugar-free dessert to take care of the looming sweet tooth. This puts you in charge of sweetness, and adds an element of celebration to your Halloween family night. Try sugar-free sugar cookies, a classic pumpkin pie with monk fruit, or a simple fruit dip.
Talk to your kids about candy consumption.
How children feel about sugar and candy now will shape their habits as adults. Help them make positive dietary habits while they’re still young! Kids don't automatically know healthy limits. We can talk to them about overindulgence, setting limits, and having fun without going overboard.
- Agree in advance on what, and how much, your kids may eat
- Teach them that it’s OK to decline candy when trick-or-treating
- Educate your kids about the problems with sugars, artificial colors and GMOs
- Discuss peer pressure and how to deal with it. If kids see all their friends eating a mountain of candy, they will feel tempted to follow suit. Explain how it's okay to set healthy limits and do things a little differently!
Make Halloween more about the fun and festivities.
We get to choose where to focus our attention. While candy and trick-or-treating may forever be the American way for Halloween, we can build in more excitement around the other facets of the holiday that make it truly memorable.
- Place more emphasis on the fun of dressing up. Make costumes with old objects or thrift store finds. Set the living room or patio up for a costume contest.
- Make gathering and giving center stage by arranging a donation drive for winter clothing items. You can make simple signs and put out clothes baskets for neighbors to drop donations in.
- Spooky stories make great memories. Whether you make a tradition to tell the best classics with props, lighting, and sound effects... or you design a spooky event to happen each year—and add to the 'history of Halloween' story each year, it's up to you how to make Halloween stories stand out.
Candy management is key.
So your kid(s) comes home with a bag full of candy. It's our jobs as health-conscious parents to be prepared for the tidal wave. Setting limits for how much candy is okay to eat is a very personal topic, but one you need to set in stone. Make it clear, and then have options:
- Propose they trade the candy for special privileges, such as: A trip to the movies, a new book or toy, extra computer time, relief from chores.
- Don’t leave candy available out in the open. Out of sight, out of mouth! After your kids have chosen their favorite pieces to have on Halloween, put all the remaining candy out of reach.
Be the house that gives out other Halloween treats.
Little ghouls and goblins are going to bomb-rush your door. Don't feel like you have to hand out candy, or even buy that expensive stuff and keep perpetuating the problem. Take a stand for being a little different, and a little healthier!
Alternatives to sugary, processed Halloween candy:
- Pre-packaged pumpkin seeds or nuts
- Mini popcorn bags
- Gum, without sugar or artificial sweeteners
- Stickers, temporary tattoos, small toys
- Glow sticks or glow in the dark bracelets
- Small bottles of water
- Crayons, stamps and other craft items