When my kids were first old enough to understand and appreciate Halloween, I was stressed—how was I going to be able to control the sugar intake? How was I going to navigate the meltdowns and fights over how many pieces of candy they could have? Could I cut trick or treating short to try and limit how much sugar came into the house? In short, I wanted to control the situation.
My feelings about Halloween (and eating in general) have evolved a lot since those early days. Over the years, I have come to believe that rather than setting rules and restrictions with my kids, I should focus on raising them to have a healthy and happy relationship with food.
This means that when it comes to Halloween, instead of focusing on rules about how much “bad” sugar they are allowed, I have turned my attention to 1) making sure that there are nourishing options available for dinner, and 2) allowing them to enjoy the treats without restriction.
How to Handle Halloween Treats
After years of trial and error, here is how my family and I now handle the onslaught of Halloween candy.
On the first night
I make sure to serve a nourishing dinner that they love. Then, after dinner, all bets are off when it comes to candy consumption. My kids can eat as much candy as they want.
While no one has ever puked, there have definitely been some uncomfortable stomachs, but I see that as part of the learning process – when you overdo it, you’ll feel it.
After the trick or treating and gorging, my boys like to pour all of their candy out onto the floor to organize and trade their candy. They also make a pile of all of the candy they don’t want, which we immediately set aside for giving away.
The Week After Halloween
For the days following Halloween, the kids are allowed to have as much candy as they want as their treat for the day, after dinner. I have noticed that in the first two or three days, they really gorge, but by day three or four, they’ve lost some interest and start to going to back to regular amounts (2-3 pieces).
In addition, on day two or three, I ask them to go through their candy again and pull out any additional candy they don’t want for giving away.
When they were younger, I would offer them the option of exchanging candy for something else non-food related that they wanted (for example, one year, for every ten pieces of candy they turned over, I bought them a pack of Pokemon cards from the dollar store). Now that they are older, we have eliminated the incentive, but they are still willing to give up a good amount of candy and only hold onto their favorites.
After the Week Is Up
After the week is up, we shift to having Halloween candy as an option for their regular treat for the day, which means 2-3 pieces, rather than as much as they want. They can choose to have candy or something else. I have found that they often opt for something else.
Why do I think that this approach works? For a couple of reasons. First, there are no longer any fights or (unwanted) negotiations about candy consumption. Second, because, as I said before, I have noticed that within just a few days they start to lose interest, which tells me that the novelty of the candy is short-lived. And finally, because every year, when Halloween comes around again, we end up discovering Halloween candy still left over from the previous year.
Worry Less About the Halloween Sugar with these Dinner Recipes
If this approach sounds like it would relieve some of the Halloween-related stress for you, here are some fun (but easy) ways to celebrate the holiday while filling those bellies with substantial food that will keep them going.
This fun recipe packs in the vegetables and protein, so that your little demons will be able to spook with the best of them. One of the things I love about this recipe is that you can make the stew in the slow cooker, which makes it so much easier to throw together during such a busy time of year!
Pro tip: The stew will taste even better if you make it a day or more ahead of time, so this is a great make-ahead option.
This is my younger son’s favorite! I usually serve it with some spreadable cheese for the bread sticks (goat, Boursin, cream cheese, etc.), to offer up some protein as well.
We normally call this our We Got the Beet Soup, but for Halloween, you can shift it into the creepy/spooky territory just with a name change: Bowl of Blood Soup. Not only will everyone be shrieking with delight, but they’ll be filling themselves up with some great nutrition.
And if you want to make it really fun, you can serve it with our deviled eye deviled eggs.
Adding pumpkin to the homemade enchilada sauce not only makes this dish seasonal, but it also makes it especially healthy and extra creamy because of the light consistency of canned pumpkin.
Want dinner inspiration so that all family meals can be fun? Check out The Scramble’s family-friendly meal plans!
Have a Happy and Safe Halloween!