The Annual Halloween Post, Part 1: What to Give Away

When you write about kids and food, the topic of Halloween is inevitably generates a lot of discussion.  And since this blog has grown dramatically since my first Halloween post back in 2010 (yay!), I thought it might be nice to recap some of our past candy discussions and to also share some new ideas with you.

Today we’ll talk about what to give away and on Halloween I’ll share some ideas on what to do with your kid’s haul.

Just Going With The Flow 

In 2010, I gave my rationale for giving out traditional candy on Halloween.  Here’s an excerpt:

First, my kids absolutely love going to the store every year to pick out the candy they want to give away.  They spend what seems like hours searching for just the right bag with just the right mix of stuff, and then we come home and sample one or two before putting it all away for Halloween.  The whole ritual gives them such pleasure that I don’t want to deprive them of it. . . . Second, . . .  the candy I throw into a trick-or-treat sack goes home, where a child’s parents can intervene if they so choose.  Third, there’s just a certain sense of hopelessness: on a holiday like Halloween, the candy deluge is so overwhelming that I feel like my one little bag of pretzels is never going to make a difference to anyone.  And finally, I can’t help but think  – oh, please, it’s Halloween, people!  Let the kids have their candy.

That year I also polled Lunch Tray readers most of them agreed with my approach.  A whopping 72% of respondents agreed with this statement: “[I’m giving away] the usual candy. It’s HALLOWEEN, for goodness sake!”  Around 16% were giving away something other than candy, like pretzels or trinkets, and the rest responded in a comment.


toy treats Halloween
Our non-candy treats.

But in 2011, I wanted to try something new.  I managed to convince my kids to let me give away trinkets — you can read the rather hilarious exchange between me and my tween daughter about that here.  We filled our giveaway bowl with everything from tiny cans of Play-Doh (which turned out to be weirdly popular with teenaged trick-or-treaters) to spooky tattoos and fake fingers.  It was a big hit with the kids who stopped by, as I recounted the next day in a post called “Ten Things I Learned this Halloween”

All Natural Candy

Candy is candy, of course, but some parents prefer to hand out treats without the troubling ingredients they like their own kids to avoid.  If that’s your approach, you might want to check out a new brand, Unreal Candy, which has no hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, or artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.   There are lots of other types of natural candies out there (here’s a great source for year ’round treats) but Unreal has a particularly “cool” vibe that seems to appeal to kids.

Stop Zombie Mouth

There are even alternatives to candy and trinkets.  One new idea this year comes from The American Dental Association.  The ADA’s Stop Zombie Mouth campaign allows parents to download and print out free coupons that can be redeemed for a chance to play the popular Plants vs. Zombies video game between October 30th and  November 10th.

The folks at Center for Science in the Public Interest also recently contacted me to share some other ideas for what to hand out. Their helpful PDF is here.

Think Drinks

Susan Tang of Little Ladies Who Lunch shares a great idea on her blog: setting up a water “hydration station” for thirsty trick-or-treaters.  I think I remember Susan mentioning on Facebook last year that she also shares glasses of prosecco with parents who stop by . . . now that’s a Halloween idea we can all get behind!  :-)

What Not to Give Away

While the motivation to make homemade, healthy treats is admirable, most parents won’t let their kids eat anything from their treat bags that’s not store-bought and tightly sealed.  So unless you know all of your trick-or-treaters personally, baking up a batch of whole wheat pumpkin cookies is probably time and money wasted.

I also saw some pretty “out there” food ideas on the Internet, including the suggestion that we give out packages of beef jerky or small boxes of cereal.  (Really?)  Other frequently recommended giveaway items are toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes or samples of dental floss.  If those ideas work for you (and you’re OK with getting your house egged :-) ), great, but my feeling is that Halloween is a little bit of societally-sanctioned kid debauchery.  You certainly don’t have to give away sweets but maybe it’s not the best time to give lesson in oral hygiene either.

So, What’s Your Plan?

Here in the TLT house, the kids don’t seem enthused about repeating the trinket experiment, and I did have some reservations about the quality and manufacture of those cheap items, as I expressed last year.  So this year we’re deciding between the Zombie Mouth coupons and the Unreal candy, or perhaps we’ll give away a combination of those.

I’d love to know your plan, too, so take a second to respond to this poll and I’ll share the results on Halloween when we talk about the other side of the Halloween equation: what to do with the candy haul.

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  1. Nina says

    We live in a big apartment complex, and there is no ToT here, so I’ve never had to worry about what to give out. I do take my son to ToT at my work each year (we are on 6 floors, so he gets a lot of stuff). He gets to keep about 5 pieces and we donate the rest to a homeless youth shelter.

  2. Kat says

    We have opted for the trinket route since discovering my daughter’s nut allergy 4 years ago. Not only does it ensure that all kids can pick something allergy safe at our house, but it gives me s stash of stuff that I can trade her for when she brings home stuff she can’t eat.

  3. says

    I found small boxes of organic raisins and 4 oz. 100% juice boxes in bulk online. Seems like those would be great options that are natural and sweet!

  4. Nancy Huehnergarth says

    We always give out a mixture of small chocolate bars, sugar free gum, and little toys like stretchy men skeletons, fake eyeballs, tiny ghosts and bat rings. The kids love the mixture! A few years back, one trick-or-treater actually thanked me for “thinking outside the box!”

  5. stef says

    We’ve been giving away non-edible treats for several years now. I can’t recall exactly when I started. This year, we will have a non-edible bowl and some left over candy (still fresh) that I bought for a school project (lollipops that are top 8 allergen free and some even organic cornsyrup free ones). My kids are excited that *some* candy is included this year. But they’ve been fine with giving out non-edible toys, glowy bracklets, stickers, in the past etc. This year’s non-edible mix is stickers, notebooks, erasers…all a western theme…again left over from an event. I have some halloween stickers too.

    I’m not sure I understand why a group that loves The Lunch Tray would want to give out candy…”for peets sake on Halloween” with 72% of the readership going candy only. I feel like this group are leaders in the reasonable limits of sweets.

    In my own neighborhood, when we trick or treat, only 2 of the maybe 50 houses we went to last year gave non-edible treats. I’m surprised this trend hasn’t caught on more.

    We don’t want our own kids to eat all the stuff….but it is ok to feed other people’s children the candy …and let them deal with it if they don’t want their kid to eat it?

    I dunno. I’m only going half way this year, so maybe I can’t talk.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Stef: I think even health-conscious parents (myself included) are conflicted about Halloween, given the centrality of candy to the celebration. That might explain the 72% from 2010 but I’ll be interested to see where my (totally unscientific) poll comes out this year.

  6. stef says

    looks like the poll this year is having different results. maybe things are changing since you polled in 2012!

    I just clicked and …am I reading it incorrectly…looks like more picked non-edible…

    Yes, I understand the conflict. My kids were excited that the lollipops were making it to Halloween. After the hoedown, I put the remaining candy (used for making creative cakes…that’s another story)…into a ziploc and into the cupboard…to save for giving out for Halloween.

    Ok, now for more on why I have the surplus of lollipops. My school has a CakeWalk as a large activity where the winners get to pick a cake. It is a HUGE deal at our school. And in the past, allergic kids had no option to win a cake. 2 years ago, I introduced a concept that a cake doesn’t have to be flour, sugar, milk, eggs. It could be made of lollipops, or a carved watermelon (2 of my entries this year).

    So I’m not perfect either…..I ok with candy for my allergic kid…if everyone else is having it.

    Halloween is not one that is too challenging for me on the non-edible treat stuff. But I’m sure I have conflicts on other things.

    One thing I find a bit of a conflict is that every parent I know doesn’t want their kids to eat so much candy….but many go to the store and buy it for the purpose of Trick or Treating….and the majority are the same varieties. Many people I know do the Switch Witch themselves…but give out candy. One family gives out whole candy bars. But doesn’t let their kids eat much of it.

    Much of it ends up at work….where it fattens up the parents and coworkers.

    So who are we buying the candy for? For trick or treating? Is it just so the kids have the fun of getting it….and giving it away? Maybe it is the sheer joy of the abundance of it all…and then the joy wears off and you give it to your mom to take to work. Dunno and don’t want to deny kids that sense of joy either.

  7. says

    Our family quit giving out candy back in 1974, after Ronald Clark O’Bryan (a.k.a. the “Candy Man”) offed one of his kids for the life insurance money, and handed out poisoned Pixie Stix to other kids in order to cover the deed. Ever since, we have used packages of rolled pennies (5/package) instead. The fact that I think I still have some of the original packages, created back in 1975, speaks to how popular these “treats” have been.

    Of course, that may also be due in part to the fact that we haven’t hosted a Halloween give-a-way since I got married, since my MIL is a Halloween baby, and we tended to spend the evening at the in-laws. These days, we live in an apartment complex with no public access, and as a rule there are few (if any) trick-or-treaters about. However, if a kid shows up, I probably have a penny (or 5) to give them!


  8. lindtfree says

    After spending much of my summer in a dental chair having teeth re-restored that were originally damaged during a childhood that was definitely NOT sugar-rationed, Halloween has two strikes against it this year: childhood obesity AND tooth decay. I just learned about the Zombie Mouth coupons on your website, but happen to think computer/video games (except for the “brain training” sites) are as damaging to children’s brains as junk food is to their bodies overall. With some guilt, I’ll be passing out treats of a sort.

    This year, we’re going middle-of-the road: I bought several boxes of store-brand “fruit and grain” breakfast bars on sale. Yes, these contain the dreaded HFCS and some artificial colors, but they are lower in fat than candy, not as sticky and damaging to teeth, and actually contain some nutrients! We’re not trying to be uncool or get egged; we were actually inspired to do this by Halloween 2010, when we ran out of candy about a half hour before we wanted to turn out the porch light, and, in desperation, started passing out fruit-and-grain and granola bars from our cabinets. Some of the older children actually appreciated it!

    I also went to an Asian grocery and bought several boxes of vanilla Swiss cake rolls. These are slightly less expensive than Little Debbies, aren’t frosted on the outside (less sugar!), aren’t chocolate (no allergy or Fair Trade issues), and are vegetarian but not vegan.

    I considered giving small packages of peanut-butter crackers, but we used to give locally-made candy bars with peanuts in them, and grew weary of asking “Is anyone allergic to peanuts?” each time we answered the door (we had a peanut-allergy alternative). I loved various things with peanuts and peanut butter as a child, but with peanut allergies, it’s just easier to avoid on Halloween. Every year, we’ve had at least one child who affirms a peanut allergy.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      I’m blessed with seemingly cavity-proof teeth and so I often forget the whole dental angle when it comes to sweets. Thank you for this reminder!

  9. JoannaW says

    We are going the mostly traditional candy route this year, mainly because I have a newborn and not enough energy for anything more clever. But I have a dozen or so small packages of no-sugar-added freeze-dried fruit that I’m going to throw in the bowl as well. Unfortunately, it’s a bit expensive to be the sole offering, but there’ll be some available for those with allergies or those whose tastes run to the healthy.

  10. Tracy says

    We passed out mini bags of Angie’s Kettle corn, Full Moon Z-bars, gold fish crackers and annie’s cheddar bunny crackers. I was surprised at how many kids, teenager, and parents were excited to get kettle corn. I love when my kids had a few healthier treats because after a week, I throw away all the junk (most people I know throw out a lot). Two houses we went to passed out orange soda. I couldn’t believe it and we were totally annoyed.

  11. Mark says

    While my wife and I struggle with this question every year, we end up falling into the “Let the kids have some Halloween candy” camp. We agree, it goes home, and parents still ultimately have the ability to oversee consumption. We are also a bit cost aware. I live on a street where we get over 2,000 trick-or-treaters over a 2 hour period. It’s a challenge to prepare for that kind of onslaught. Running out to Costco and grabbing 15 large bags of candy is about all we have capacity to do in our busy life. And I don’t think I’d feel much better giving out lots of junk that more likely than not gets tossed.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Wow, that’s a lot of trick-or-treaters, Mark! And no small cash outlay, even if shopping at Costco, to get 15 bags of candy.

      • Mark says

        It is one crazy night in my neighborhood. But it is also a ton of fun and great community building. There is one family who insists on popping fresh bags of popcorn. But this year they limited it to only 1,000 bags!


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