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« But What Are You Going to Do With All That Halloween Candy? | Main | The Happy Bite »

The How-to Control-Your-Kids'-Candy-Consumption Con

The Internet is teeming with ideas on how to curb your children’s consumption of candy over Halloween.  DON’T DO IT!

Don't fall for the idea that your job at Halloween is to cut off the candy.  Being the Candy Police is no fun. Worse. It’s high risk for teaching your children the wrong habits about candy, about eating, about holidays, about power dynamics, about fun, about LIFE.

Last year I wrote about the "hidden" problem with Halloween: it teaches kids to eat what they have, not what they want. I countered the problem by encouraging my daughter to turn in any candy she didn't absolutely LOVE and then I gave her money to go shopping for candy she adored.  Read A Better Buy-Back.

From a nutrition perspective, sugar is everything.  From a habits perspective, however, there are lots of other pitfalls—especially during Halloween.

5 Unintended lessons kids learn when parents try to restrict Halloween candy consumption.

1) I'm going to dump it so you better eat as much as you can now.

All the suggestions to take candy away from your kids are especially high-risk.  These include letting your kids go at it for a week (or giving them one candy for every year old they are) and then dumping the rest. Buy-back programs that send candy to overseas troops are wonderful if your motivation is to teach your children the habit of generosity.  But this strategy only works if your children want to share their haul.  If they don’t, they'll feel that what is theirs isn’t really theirs.  This type of insecurity leads to gorging, hoarding and a lack of parent/child trust. 

Want to limit how much candy your kids have? Limit the amount of candy your children can collect. Reduce the number of houses your kids can hit up, or make sure their Halloween bag is somewhat smaller than a suitcase.

2) Candy has power.

Allowing your children to trade their candy for something else, such as a trip to the toy store, teaches kids that candy has power. Powerful items are sought after, not discarded.  But even if this strategy works for awhile, it won't teach your kids a thing about how to moderate their own candy consumption. What's more, you're not always going to be willing to pay their trade-in price. What then? Can you say car?

Neutralize the candy by letting your children choose when they eat their Halloween delights... until they are all gone. The only caveat is this: the candy has to be folded into your kids' sweets routine—candy or a cupcake, candy or an ice cream, candy or a cookie—not supplement it.

3) Feel guilty when you eat candy.

Some people advocate that you show your children pictures of decayed teeth, rotten from candy consumption. This is like showing smokers pictures of tar-filled lungs. These kinds of pictures don't do much to change behavior, but they do a great job producing guilt.  And for what? These pictures are misleading. Halloween isn't to blame. One day (or even one week) of extreme candy eating won't make your kids' teeth fall out. It's chronic candy consumption the causes all the damage.

Similarly, the suggestion to use Halloween to talk about nutrition is misguided.  Nutrition education doesn't change behavior because kids (actually all people) make food choices based on their hedonic value -- i.e. their taste.  Besides, kids already know the difference between candy and carrots. One more lecture won't tip the scales.

Instead, teach your kids the difference between plenty and greed.

4) It's best to eat candy when you're full.

In theory, filling your kids up on a healthy meal before they go trick-or-treating will dissuade them from sampling their stash...too much.

Unfortunately, when it comes to candy, it's more likely that if you fill your kids up on a healthy meal before sending them out on the hunt they'll still snack, I mean overeat.  It's better to give your children a small or moderate healthy meal, thereby teaching them to save room for their Halloween haul.

5) You're not to be trusted around candy.

Some people suggest that parents give their children a few treats and then put the candy where the kids can't get to it.  Of course, the idea is that what's out of sight is out of mind.  This definitely is a strategy that works to limit consumption but at what cost? It teaches kids to feel out of control and to covet the candy they crave.

Kids need to learn to regulate their own intake of candy and sweets, and they can do this even when they are young. Put the power in your kids' hands. They'll eat less than you think. Read Lollypops Whenever They Want?

Don’t get me wrong; I understand the concern about candy.  By some reports, our kids stuff 5% of their yearly candy consumption into their Halloween candy bags.  

From a nutrition perspective, that’s a lot of crap compressed into a short amount of time.

From a habits perspective, though, 5% is no big deal.   Flip the statistic around and, well, that’s another story.  If 5% of all candy is consumed around Halloween, then 95% of all candy consumption happens during the rest of the year.  In other words, when it comes to candy, Halloween isn’t where the action is.

Research backs this up. Kids are increasingly snacking throughout the year on…you guessed it…candy.  In the longrun, this is a much more detrimental habit than Halloween, but no one's writing about it.

Halloween is a great holiday.

It's communal, silly and thrilling.  It's also filled with candy.  No wonder kids enjoy it!  This year, instead of worrying about the sugar, think about the lessons you want your kids to learn.  It's a strategy that pays off.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

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Reader Comments (22)

This is a great idea. We've got a different challenge: my daughter is sensitive to gluten, eggs and cow's milk products. She can have them occasionally, just not every day. My usual strategy is to keep those ingredients out of the house so we don't have to keep track when we're eating out. But I've been thinking about Halloween and how to handle it since this is the first year we're dealing with the food restrictions. So here's my plan: I'm going to let her enjoy what she really loves, regardless of ingredients, on Halloween. Then she can sort through what's left and pick what she really loves of the candy she can eat. I'll buy back the rest. Then we'll hit the mall and stop first at the candy store to see if there is anything she wants that she can eat. And then we'll go to the toy store and she can spend the rest of her money on the little erasers that are so popular in her school these days.

You know, now that I think of it, I did something similar for myself a few years back. The local co-op market had these fantastic peanut butter cups that made all other candy seem like a bunch of brown wax. So for Halloween, I bought myself a bag of them just for me and I ate only those and didn't touch the Halloween candy at all. I ended up eating less and enjoying it more.

October 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenn

Fond memories of childhood Hallowe'en- parents left us to our own devices as far as candy went. The unintended side-effect was that the child who could hoard it for longest got to gloat while the other one first felt extremely sick and then had to watch the other sibling eat sweets for the next few weeks.

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSimba

Jenn: I think you've hit on a great plan for handling Halloween. It balances the fun and excitement of the day with your daughter's health needs. And it does both without depriving her, or setting up a struggle. Good luck.

Simba: LOL. Your parents laid back approach paid off, both for the one who got sick and for the one who learned to make it all last!

Thanks for sharing.


October 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

Thank you for this post.

We went to the Camden Children's Garden the other day, where they gave the kids candy, pretzels, etc. My husband was a little uncomfortable letting my son just EAT as much as he wanted, but I thought it would be better to let Halloween be Halloween, gorging and all. But I wasn't necessarily sure I was RIGHT about it, LOL. :)

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Gentle Mom

I'm both glad and uncomfortable to read this! I'm glad because 1) I don't agree with the idea of handing out "healthy" treats or doing buy-backs in exchange for toys etc. -- I think Halloween is Halloween, and a fun day where kids get to sort of "break the rules" and collect and enjoy candy should be left alone! 2) The other night, there was a Halloween party at my children's preschool, and my husband and I made a decision before we went that we would not try to limit what they ate. I felt like every time I turned around, my youngest had a caramel apple in his hands, but my oldest actually restrained himself and chose only to decorate and eat one Halloween cookie. They were happy. We were happy. Nobody died.
But I'm uncomfortable, because I SORT of limit their candy. What we have always done is to let them trick-or-treat on a specified route through the neighborhood and collect whatever they get. Then we take it home and give each kid a smaller bucket. We sort through the haul, let them set aside all the candy they really like (as well as anything they want to try), and make piles of the stuff they don't care about. The stuff they choose to keep then gets measured against the bucket. Anything that doesn't fit in the bucket is cause for renegotiation. :-) When all is said and done, we put the candy they don't care about keeping into our family's trick or treat bowl, and give it out to the other kids -- because, we reason, they might like the pieces we don't. Not sure how that fits into the "not limiting" theory, since we do limit the number they can keep based on the size of the buckets!

October 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBri

Bri: I think using the candy your kids don't really like to stock your giveaway stash is a great idea, providing the message is about generosity, or not eating candy you don't actually like. As for switching to a smaller bucket: I don't think it's a bad idea, I just don't know whether it's worth the effort. How much candy are you actually eliminating using this approach? And, instead of eliminating the candy you left it in the bucket, how much longer would your kids have their Halloween candy in the house? Another week? Would they have candy or any other sweets and treats during that time anyway? Probably. So it's really a question of whether you want your kids to eat this candy over time or some other candy/treat over time. It seems like a wash.

In our house, the Halloween candy lasts almost a whole year. It's there, my daughter integrates it into her sweets eating and because it's there, she never feels deprived (or controlled).

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments.


October 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

Gentle Mom:

I'm with you: let Halloween be Halloween. And use it to teach your kids some lessons about choices, greed, managing sweets, etc. Don't use it, though, to struggle over sugar.

Thanks for commenting. I always appreciate it.


October 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

We're gluten-free, so there is a lot we give away. But I just let her eat it. Live and learn, I say. And I'd rather have that than 30+ days of me yelling, "I SAID TWO PIECES!"

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJenni

Dina - great ideas! Would you use the same approach for a just-turned-two year old, or would you change some tactics? We're going trick or treating with friends, so I can't really limit how much he's going to receive (except that his bucket is pretty small), but I'm thinking I'll make him share it out with me & Daddy (teaching generosity), to make his stash smaller. And I might use that idea from one of your previous posts about letting him eat as much as he wants the first night, but he has to eat it at the table in one sitting (so that attention span limits his intake).

October 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVestifarian

Jenni: I love your perspective. I'm curious, though, do you really think your daughter would sneak more candy than the amount you agreed upon if, let's say, you agreed upon 2 pieces per day, whenever she wants them?

Vestifarian: I would use the same approach for a 2 year old. Obviously, they understand less about choices so need more help regulating their intake. But I think 2 year olds can choose between candy and cookies during the days following Halloween. I love the idea of making him sit at the table for his candy "fest."

Good luck and let me know how it goes!


October 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

I love your blog. I love it that you are addressing how to change attitudes toward food and eating for children.

I also am the child of obese parents who have very poor eating habits which they passed on to me. I am not obese, but I obsess over food and I know it is because I was never taught to have a healthy relationship with food.

I am determined to teach my children otherwise.

Thanks for helping and providing professional recommendations. I am starting to use them with my four year-old and will use them with my 12 week old.

I recommended your site on my blog today. :) I hope I can spread the word to my readers too!


October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElle

My 2 year old son on way home from my work's "trick or treat" today (where I resisted my urge to limit him, and let him eat whatever he wanted, which was about 5 goodies in total)... "Mum, I had enough. I not need more candy".

October 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVestifarian

Elle: Thanks for the kind words about my website. I'm so glad to hear that you find the articles useful. And thanks for spreading the word!!

Vestifarian: Another success!! Hurray.


October 30, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

I don't get it. Your title says don't curb your kid's consumption of candy, and just a few lines down you say that your kid traded in all the candy she didn't love. How does that not cut the consumption from a big trick-or-treat bag full of candy to her favorite dozen or 25 pieces of candy, then?

Even 25 pieces of candy, folded into our normal family routine, will probably last at least a few weeks. We don't reduce our candy supply by anything other than the occasional Mom or Dad tax, as it happens, and the consumption gradually tapers off until it's noticed once a week or a few times a month or so, and we pretty much never run out. I'm not trying to be all holier-than-thou here, I'm serious - we eat our fair share of sweets, when we want them, in moderation but at least several nights a week after dinner or for an aftershool snack, and sometimes more than once a day.

Also, where does that 5% number come from?I think Halloween is responsible for 60% of my kid's candy consumption, and Valentines Day and Easter the other 40%. That container that we never "trade-in"? It's basically full around halloween, we toss the remianing stale slim pickin's around the following Easter, and toss stuff again the following Halloween, and it's quite an adequate supply. And I don't feel like candy is particularly lacking around our household as a result.

November 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpekmez


It sounds like you've worked out a great approach to handling Halloween candy. Thanks for sharing your strategy. We too save our Halloween candy for consumption over the course of the year. And as in your house, the attention to the candy wanes as we move away from Halloween.

Yes, my daughter traded in the candy she didn't love, but you missed the part where I said I bought her replacement candy that she did love. Why? I want her to eat candy she adores, not the candy she happens to have.

Thanks for your comments.


November 6, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

Such a nice idea. It makes the kids enjoy candies and protecting their health at the same time.

November 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkids clothing

Since learning that kids like sugar more than adults, I've been thinking about how I'm going to limit Halloween candy eating down the road (my daughter is still a toddler). I love your idea for limiting how much candy your child can collect and I included it today in a post on the 3 best tricks I've come across for limiting Halloween candy consumption:

October 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Saranow Schultz


I love that you included my suggestion for limiting candy consumption in your blog. I'm honored. Thanks.

I have to say, though, I disagree with one of the other suggestions—fill kids up beforehand with dinner and water in the hope that they'll be too full to eat candy. In my experience, kids just learn to eat candy when they're full. I say, teach the larger habit on Halloween--how to manage plenty--and then focus on your kids' eating the other 364 days of the year.



October 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

Fantastic article! Thank you for this well thought out advice. I'm really impressed with your wisdom. I wish there was a Pinterest button so I could pin this for future reference.

October 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAnn


Great idea. I'm going to add a Pinterest of these days...when I figure out how. Looking into it now!


October 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

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