The Annual Halloween Post, Part 2: What To Do With The Haul

On Monday I shared with you some different approaches parents take in deciding what to pass out to trick-or-treaters on Halloween.  Today I want to talk about what to do with the sack of candy coming home tonight.

Just Let ‘Em Eat It

In 2010 I told you how kid/food expert Ellyn Satter urges parents to let kids manage their own Halloween candy without parental interference.  She writes:

Halloween candy presents a learning opportunity. Work toward having your child be able to manage his own stash. For him to learn, you will have to keep your interference to a minimum. When he comes home from trick or treating, let him lay out his booty, gloat over it, sort it and eat as much of it as he wants. Let him do the same the next day. Then have him put it away and relegate it to meal- and snack-time: a couple of small pieces at meals for dessert and as much as he wants for snack time.”

If he can follow the rules, your child gets to keep control of the stash. Otherwise, you do, on the assumption that as soon as he can manage it, he gets to keep it. Offer milk with the candy, and you have a chance at good nutrition.

Others agree with the “Just let ’em eat it” approach.  K.J. Dell’Antonia, then writing for Slate and now editor of the New York Times Motherlode blog, said this in a post that was widely circulated last year:

I have my rants about candy, too. . . .  But it’s Halloween. And Halloween is about dressing up in spooky costumes and being given candy. There is no tradition that’s been set aside in favor of the emphasis on candy, no requirement that we “remember the reason for the season,” no need for bemoaning the horrible commercialization of the whole thing. That’s it. That’s all there’s ever been to it . . . . [I]n the long run, what’s the absolute worst thing that will happen if you let the kid eat every single thing out of the bucket that he or she wanted, whenever she wanted it?  Dare to find out.

I’ll admit that the free-for-all notion makes me squeamish, but in 2010 on this blog I recalled how my mom dealt with the Halloween candy:

. . . I do have vivid memories of being alone in my room as a child with my big bag of Halloween candy, free to eat it — entirely at will — for weeks after Halloween.  (I know! And this is my carob-and-brewer’s-yeast, 1970′s, Prevention-reading mom we’re talking about!)

Whether that was the result of a lack of parental oversight or deliberate parental strategy, I have no idea (Mom, if you’re reading, feel free to comment), but I will say this:  I was neither overweight nor sugar-crazed as a result, and as an adult, I love candy and eat it often, but I rarely over-indulge.  And maybe that wouldn’t be the case if, as a child,  my candy had been carefully doled out (or entirely withheld from me).  Maybe then it would be such tempting forbidden fruit that I’d go candy-crazy whenever I had the chance.

(And, by the way, my mom did come by and comment!  You can read what she said here.)

Get Rid of the Candy – Creatively

Another popular approach is getting the candy out of the house as fast as possible by letting kids exchange it for money or toys.  In some communities, there are candy exchanges run by dental offices — one dentist even released a thoughtful You Tube video about it [hat tip: Casey Legler Hinds].  More often parents arrange the swap, either openly or via a pretend “Switch Witch.”  (Sarah Vance of ReBalance Life sent me her article about the Switch Witch here.)

But for those of you considering a candy buy-back, Dina Rose of It’s Not About Nutrition makes this interesting point:

The buy-back programs, however, don’t do much to teach kids a general strategy for surviving other situations where there’s also an onslaught of sweets and treats.  That’s a lesson they really need to learn. After all, kids still have to navigate past Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday parties, the drugstore candy aisle and, of course, Grandma’s house. (And I don’t know about any buy-backs for those occasions.)

Dina actually has this unorthodox suggestion: let your child exchange candy he/she doesn’t much like for candy he/she adores.  Read her rationale here.

I’ve also seen suggestions that parents find other uses for candy such as craft projects, decorating gingerbread houses or conducting crazy science experiments, and many people donate candy to the troops or to children in homeless shelters.  (I’m OK sending candy to adult members of the military who can make informed choices about eating it.  I don’t, however, love the idea of dumping candy I don’t want my own kids to eat on less fortunate kids who might not have anyone looking out from them that way.  But I suppose one could also argue that homeless kids have the same right as every other American kid to overindulge.)

Something in Between

What we do in my house is somewhere between a strict doling out of candy and a crazy free-for-all.  Basically I let my kids have as much as they want on the night of, and then after that they can have a “reasonable” amount each night until they get sick of it and we toss the dregs.

And while we never did the switching thing in the past, my son got wind of the idea and — always eager for more spending money — he’s been pestering me to consider it.   Given how eager he is, I’m certainly willing to shell out a little cash to reduce the stash!

What’s Your Plan?

And now for my second highly unscientific poll of the week.  What do you do with the candy?  I’ll share the results in a future post.


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  1. says

    We do this:
    Our kids are still young, so we trick-or-treat fairly early in the evening, compared to the masses. When they get home, they each get a container of some kind for “keep” candy — a Ball jar, usually. The pieces they truly want and love go into the Ball jar. The pieces they’re not crazy about (or can’t have, in the case of my dye-allergic son) get traded to us for awesome candy like dark chocolates, Yummy Earth lollipops, and Unreal Candy. Anything that doesn’t fit in the jar at the end of all the sorting and deliberating is deemed “for the other trick-or-treaters” and gets swept into our giveaway bowl. We “regift” to the other kids and are done with it.
    As to the consumption part, they can eat several pieces on Halloween night. The next day, I usually put a piece in their lunchboxes for the excitement factor, and then they can choose a couple of pieces for after dinner. After that, it becomes just another option at treat times and they can choose that or whatever else we have on hand.
    And to your point about the homeless shelter kids: I see what you’re saying, but I’ve worked with families in homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters. Most of the time, those kids can’t go trick-or-treating, and they know what they’re missing. With donated candy, not only can the homes where they are staying usually manage to put on some sort of party or event for the kids so they don’t feel so left out, but the kids can feel, frankly, somewhat NORMAL the next day at school when everybody’s talking about the candy, eating the candy, etc. When it comes to this, I’m firmly on the side of letting them feel like regular people for a few moments in their lives, because most of the time they don’t.

    • says

      When my kids were younger, I did what Bri did, especially about getting rid of the artificial dyes. We would go through the candy, and I would pull all the Skittles, Nerds, Laffy Taffy, etc and trade in higher-quality candies for those. Then the kids could eat whatever they wanted to the first night and the quantity of what they could eat decreased from then on out.

      And thanks, Bri, for giving another side to the story regarding sending candy to shelters. I admit, my first instinct is to not give anyone candy that I wouldn’t give to my family. But I see your point completely.

  2. says

    We do a hybrid: sort out the candy my son doesn’t like, and donate that to the troops. He can eat whatever he wants on Halloween, and then gets a piece per day.

    FYI: Operation Gratitude not only takes candy, but small stuffed animals as well. The troops use both of these for goodwill gestures in places where they are stationed – keep in mind, a Snickers bar or Reese Cup is good nutrition if you’re starving (peanut and dairy based candy are not terribly different from the emergency malnutrition food Plumpy’nut, and let’s not forget M&Ms were developed expressly for quick energy in emergency situations.)

  3. says

    My daughter is almost 2 and I don’t think we are taking her trick or treat till next year; however, I think when we do take her, she will be able to have her favorites from the candy, rationed out, and then the rest of the candy will go to my husband’s police department.

  4. RedinNC says

    We do the jar thing too. My son goes trick or treating, gets to eat a few pieces that night (but really I just want to get him in bed… tomorrow’s a school day and the kid just really NEEDS his sleep). Tomorrow he will sort through the candy and decide which kinds he really likes (although he said today there were no kinds of candy he didn’t like) and put them in a small (12 oz ) jar with lid. Whatever does not fit is “too much.” We’ve been trying to work with him on appropriate portions and fitting in occasional small treats into his life without going nuts or forgetting the “growing food.” Then he gets one piece a day from the jar, at whatever time he wants it as long as he’s eaten breakfast. Last year he always wanted it the second he swallowed his cereal. I don’t know what I’ll do with the excess. Probably bring it in to work :).

  5. Emma says

    You know, I don’t think I finished all of my Halloween candy ever. It was about the getting more than the eating, and my mom was of the “let them manage their own” camp. So I’d eat some good stuff, but after a while I’d just forget about the haul and she’d quietly throw it away. The idea of all that waste makes me a bit sad, though. Pounds and pounds of sugar going to the landfill….

  6. Katherine says

    Hi Bettina, here’s what we’ve done the last many years (kids now 10 and 12). On the night of, they have as much as they want. After that, we put away the stash and use it when we go to the movies. Before a movie, each kid can choose a handful of candy and put it in a ziploc. Or, if I’m packing lunches for something (they usually eat in school cafeteria), I’ll throw in a piece as a surprise treat. However, I’m wondering if at their age now, that’s too controlling, and this year I’m thinking I’ll let ’em keep the stash. (Hard for me to swallow!! But your comments above are persuasive.)

  7. Jamie says

    I’m still working on what strategy I like best. Last year I offered money for any candy they were willing to give up. This year we did some trick-or-treating at events before Halloween. Both kids were sick last night so there was no trick-or-treating. They picked out a few things to keep and I offered to trade them the extras for a treat made with real food ingredients. The chose the healthier treat.

  8. says

    Is there a reason we have to let them (or encourage them to) trick or treat?

    When I was a child, I never went door to door for candy on Halloween. I always went to some Halloween party, wore my costume, bobbed for apples or some such and went home. (I lived in NYC and Connecticut). I’m doing the same for my child. His Waldorf school has a creative non-candy, non-commercial celebration, and that’s it.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Sylvie: I think it really depends on where you live. In a lot of places, trick-or-treating IS Halloween. Around here, there are often parties right before everyone leaves to trick-or-treat, or, as was the case this year, the parties were on the preceding weekend.


  1. […] The Lunch Tray is a school-food-reform site that I’ve followed since day one.  Bettina always has interesting food articles and Halloween is no different. I also really like Brianne, of Red, Round and Green’s take on candy, et al. […]

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