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Controlling the Halloween Candy Chaos (No Raisins Required)

I give candy to trick or treaters. That actually feels like a confession.

I’m a dietitian, so people assume I am poised at my doorway with raisins, carrot sticks, and kale chips for the unlucky hobgoblins that come to my house.

One year, I did buy small bags of pretzels and mini tubs of Play-Doh, which I handed out to the under-age-2 set. And I certainly don’t fault anyone for choosing healthier handouts (the blogosphere is full of good ideas, like this one from 100 Days of Real Food and this one from Green Halloween).

But I give candy. I’m not the cool house that passes out full-size candy bars, and I don’t let greedy trick-or-treaters dive into the candy bowl with both hands. Each kid gets one small piece.

Why? Because it’s Halloween, for crying out loud.

I advocate for healthier snacks on sports sidelines, at preschools and at classroom parties. I serve on the wellness committee of my son’s school, planning programs and events that help instill healthy eating habits. And I’m the mom calling the summer camp director, griping about the sugary sports drinks they serve every day.

But when it comes to Halloween, I’m a purist. I think candy's okay. I also think controlling candy chaos is important. Here's how I balance that in our house:

I buy the goods at the 11th hour: You’ll find me in the candy aisle of the grocery store at approximately 3pm on October 31, finally stocking up for Halloween. The candy may hit shelves weeks before, but I’ve been down the “buy-eat-rebuy-eat-repeat” road before. So by the time the holiday actually rolls around, we haven’t been eating fun-sized candy bars for weeks already.

I give my kids free reign: I cook my kids a nutritious dinner before trick or treating. But once they’ve got their candy stash, I remove my dietitian-mom hat (which is usually replaced with Princess Leia wig or pointy witch’s hat anyway). I’m not hovering over my boys—ages 4 and 8—micromanaging their consumption.

I pull the Switch Witch: At the end of the night, my kids dump out their haul, and I ask them to choose their favorites. When they were younger, it was 3 to 5 pieces. These days it’s more like 10. They put the rest on the dining room table, and when they wake up, it’s replaced with a toy or game they’ve been wanting. And they are ecstatic. (If you’re wondering what the Switch Witch does with all that junk, she sends it to work with her husband. She doesn’t need the extra sugar either.) Because my kids give away most of their candy to the Switch Witch, negotiating the leftovers isn’t the nightmare it could be.

What am I hoping my kids learn every Halloween?

• Some occasions are celebrated with food—and that’s OK. But Halloween is one day. It is not the several weeks leading up to it, the day itself, and then the several weeks following.

• It’s good to play favorites. Learn what treats you truly like best—is it chocolate? Gummies? Or (my personal favorite that everyone else seems to hate) even candy corn? Hold out for the stuff you really like, and don’t waste your time with the stuff you really don’t.

• Sweets can have a place, but it’s a small place. Their leftover candy stash is doled out a piece or two each day until it’s gone. A trick I picked up from Dr. Dina Rose from It’s Not About Nutrition: If they ask for their sweet treat in the morning, they can have it. But that means they can’t have another one later.

• It really is possible to eat too many sweets. Your belly hurts and you feel tired and icky. That’s an important lesson everyone needs to learn eventually.

And frankly, it's one that I usually relearn—after the kids go to bed on Halloween night.

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