Pediatric Associates of the NW Blogs

Tricks for a Healthy Halloween

Connie Liakos, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD
October 12, 2013 10:38AM

Is indulging in candy the reason kids love Halloween? Or is it more about dressing up in funny or scary costumes, decorating, parties and socializing that make the day? My view is that kids love having fun and the treats and sweets are simply a bonus.


To prove this point, I once used my neighborhood trick-or-treaters as a science project. In addition to offering a bowl of the smaller "fun-sized" candy, I also offered a bowl filled with items such as stickers, pencils, colorful shoelaces, arcade tokens, sugar free gum, bubbles, small packs of nuts, trail mix and lower sugar cereal bars. I asked the trick-or-treaters to choose one item from each bowl. I kept a record of how the kids responded and how many actually took something from the non-candy bowl.


My first trick-or-treater of the evening was so excited about the bubbles, he almost forgot to take candy. He actually ran from my house screaming "I got bubbles!"


By the end of the evening, 43 total kids had visited my house. All of them made a selection from both bowls. The most popular items in the non-candy bowl:

  1. Bubbles (by a landslide!)
  2. Cornnuts
  3. Sparkle stickers
  4. Low sugar cereal bars
  5. Crayons

The young children were especially thrilled by the non-candy “treats” & some even had to be reminded to take candy! I declared my experiment a success and have continued this Halloween tradition ever since.


Below are a few more tricks that parents can use to encourage healthy habits and cut down on the candy "goblin." 

  • Make sure kids eat a balanced dinner prior to trick-or-treating. Eating candy instead of a meal often results in upset tummies and crabby moods. Your child may be more interested in eating if you cook a hearty soup or stew in your "cauldron" and call it Witch's Brew.
  • Don't send kids out trick-or-treating with a pillowcase! Instead, use a smaller bag or bucket. If kids can't lift their bag at the end of the night, that's a sign they have too much candy.
  • Set a policy for eating trick-or-treat candy. In my view, it's better to eat candy moderately over several days as a substitute for dessert or one or two pieces along with a healthy snack. It's also been my experience that the kids get bored and actually forget about their candy after a few days.  
  • At Halloween parties, include healthy snack choices such as air-popped popcorn flavored with pumpkin pie spice and a light coating of honey, roasted pumpkin seeds (see below), whole grain pumpkin muffins (recipe below), whole grain crackers and hummus, baked tortilla chips and guacamole, punch made from a mixture of 100% fruit juice and seltzer water, fruit chunks, and cocoa made with fat free or 1% milk. The healthy choices will help balance out the treats. 
  • To get into the Halloween spirit, try one of the following fun food activities with your kids:

1. JACK-O'-LANTERN Cutouts
Using either light and dark breads (e.g. light and dark rye), white and orange cheeses, or thin melon slices (e.g. cantaloupe and honeydew), create contrasting designs with cookie cutters. Carefully cut identical sections out of both slices of cheese or bread. Insert the dark cutout into the light piece and the light cutout into the dark piece.

Save the seeds when you clean out your pumpkin. Rinse the seeds well. Mix 3 T. of olive oil, 1/4 tsp. garlic salt and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Mix together with the seeds. Spread out on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until the seeds are brown and crispy.


Pumpkin Apple Muffins


2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 15 ounce can pumpkin
1/3 cup canola oil
1 apple, peeled and chopped
Nonstick spray
Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly spray muffin tins with nonstick spray. Mix flour, sugar, spice, baking soda, baking powder and salt in large mixing bowl. In another bowl, slightly beat egg and mix in pumpkin and oil. Stir into dry ingredients and mix lightly. Gently fold in the chopped apple. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake 25-30 minutes until done. Loosen muffins and serve warm.

Servings: 18 medium muffins
Nutrition per muffin: 154 calories, 3 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrate, 5.6 grams fat, 2.7 grams fiber

Connie Evers is a registered dietitian with Pediatrics Associates of the Northwest.

This blog was adapted from an online article which was originally published at