Easiest Upgrade: Peanut butter cups
A crowd-pleaser! No one will TP your yard if you dole out a de-junked version. We love The Double One by UNREAL. These babies have no artificial ingredients, preservatives, hydrogenated oils, or corn syrup. ($5 for 12, Target)
Healthiest Chocolate: Mini dark chocolates
“These offer automatic portion control, plus healthy antioxidants,” says Kristi King, R.D., of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Mix together milk and dark Hershey’s Kisses to ease kids into the stronger flavor. ($3 for 12 oz, Walmart)
Best for Allergies: Gummies
Halloween is tough for allergic kids, so it’s nice to have something just for them. Many gummies are free of top allergy offenders: milk, eggs, soy, nuts, and gluten. We like Annie’s Homegrown Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks. ($15 for 20 packs, grocery stores)
Best Savory Bite: Popcorn
“It’s a whole grain with all the proven health benefits,” says pediatrician Jennifer Gardner, M.D. For trick-or-treaters, try Smartfood Popcorn, which comes individually packed. ($16 for 50 bags, Target stores)
Top Treat for Teeth: Gum
“Sugar-free gum creates saliva to help clean out germs and sugar,” says King. Orbit for Kids Micropacks come in fun personal-sized packs. ($4 for 10, grocery stores)
Most Fun Non-Candy: Variety box
“Kids love getting stickers, tattoos, bubbles, and little toys,” says Dr. Gardner, “so I always have a non-food option.” The Halloween-themed Cauldron of Favors is an easy buy. ($10 for 55 pieces, Party City)
How to Sort Their Stash
Not all candies are created equal. Read on for tips on how to avoid an all-out binge on Halloween night. Then go through that plastic pumpkin and pick your battles.
- Lollipops: “They last longer than most candies, making kids think they’ve eaten more than they really have,” says King. A great over-indulge deterrent.
- Candy-covered nuts: “Nuts are a good source of healthy protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy unsaturated fats and omega-3s, making them a fantastic Halloween treat,” says Dr. Gardner. And, yes, run-of-the-mill Peanut M&M’s count!
- Covered raisins : Raisins are naturally sweet, nutrient-dense, and packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, says Dr. Gardner. “Even with the yogurt- or chocolate-covered variety, kids will at least get some fruit in their tummies!”
- Hard candies : Thanks to their size, texture, and shape, these slippery goodies can way too easily block a child’s windpipe. Kids under 5 are especially at risk.
- Taffy and caramel candies: Sticky, chewy candies get stuck in kids’ teeth. “The longer a food sticks to their teeth, the longer bacteria can feed on it,” says Timothy Chase, D.M.D. If your tot must eat these, save them for at home (not the lunch box), so he can brush and floss right after.
How to Fend Off a Candy Binge
No parent wants to be the Halloween equivalent of the Grinch, but you don’t want your kiddos bouncing off the walls and complaining of bellyaches either. Here’s how to keep spirits high and GI issues low:
1. Eat First. Feed your kids a well-balanced dinner that includes a lean protein, a healthy starch, and plenty of vegetables before hitting the road.
2. Set Binge Rules. Before heading out, decide and discuss how much candy they can eat that night. “I’d say 5 to 10 pieces max,” says King. One to two a day after that is a good goal.
3. Buy Some Back. “I usually recommend that parents have their children pick out their favorites and sell the rest back to Mom or Dad for one to five cents per piece,” says King.