How you handle Halloween candy with toddlers changes depending on their age and awareness. To help, here’s how you might want to approach the holiday, year by year with your toddlers taking both reality and health goals into consideration!
There’s a lot that goes into Halloween—including toddler Halloween costumes, treats, games, and trick or treating. It’s a fun time of the year, but it can often be a little stressful to help the kids manage the onslaught of candy. To help, I’m sharing some ideas on how to handle the sugar part of the holiday based on age.
How to Handle Halloween Candy with a 1-Year-Old
For the most part, if you choose to ignore the candy part of Halloween, your 1 year won’t notice. (Okay, if they have older siblings and they are closer to 2 they might!) Here are some tips for handling Halloween with a one year old.
- Focus on the costumes. Because costumes are fun and your one-year-old has no idea that Halloween means candy!
- Downplay the candy. Even if you do go trick-or-treating, a lollipop is often a simple way to satisfy a little one’s urge to participate because they don’t have any expectations of eating a whole pile.
- Keep the candy out of sight once it’s in the house and they’ll forget all about it.
How to Handle Halloween Candy with 2-Year-Old Toddlers
A 2 year old may or may not have a clear sense of what Halloween (and birthday parties, for that matter) is all about. It might depend on how close they are to 3 and/or if they have older siblings. They will almost always know there is candy involved, once the holiday itself gets going, so you’ll have to decide how to handle their loot if you go trick or treating. Here are some ideas:
- Let them pick a few pieces of candy to enjoy, then make the rest disappear however you see fit to contain the candy to the actual holiday.
- Let them pick a few pieces of candy to keep, then trade the rest in for money, to the dentist, or to you for a book.
- Let them pick a few pieces of candy to eat on the holiday, then let them pick one treat to have with a meal on days after for as long as they remember it. (You might be surprised to see how fast they forget!)
How to Handle Halloween Candy with 3-Year-Old Toddlers
The Halloween game changes more with a 3 year old. When my oldest was 3, she talked about it for weeks ahead of time (she dressed up as a hyena from the Lion King, yes really, and was SO excited about it!) She knew that she’d get candy while trick or treating and she didn’t forget about her loot the following day. 3-year-olds do, however, have the ability to reason (at least a bit) and to delay gratification (at least for a little while). Which means that despite them being much more all in, you have more options.
- Let them eat the candy they want to on the holiday, then have once piece with a meal each day after until the candy runs out. Join in on their candy tasting. Spread it out and talk about how things taste. Have fun with it!
- Let them choose a certain number of pieces of candy on the holiday (such as 3 because they are 3!), and do a piece of candy every few days or just on the weekends with dinner. This spacing will help prevent the candy with dinner part from becoming a set routine that you then have to break. Though this may be harder for some kids who want it everyday, and so you’ll have to see how your child does. If they push back or get upset about not having their candy (which is “theirs”!) you may want to loosen up and let them have a piece each day until they forget about it.
- Let them eat the candy they want on the holiday, and do the same the following day. Then put the candy away, but let them choose a piece or two to have with meals occasionally after (for the same routine reasons as above).
These tips for 3 year olds work well as the kids continue to grow.
What candy do you like to hand out that’s safe for toddlers?
The Key to Managing Halloween Candy with Kids
The key with any of those options would be to explain the rules, and reexplain them as needed, so that your child knows what to expect. Like feeding expert Ellyn Satter, delaying the candy until mealtime—rather than having it available whenever they want it, and possibly taking the place of other nutritious foods—helps it not become too powerful since in that context it’s on equal footing with other meals.
Will this approach to Halloween Candy with with my kids?
Think it won’t work? Here’s an example from my life. L got a box in the mail from my mom with a few Halloween treats including three packages of Bunny Treats which are her very favorite. She opened the mail about an hour before dinner and while I know that a few fruit snacks won’t ruin her appetite, I choose to make her wait until dinner to have a package. She agreed and put them onto the table by her placemat. An hour later, she ate them in between bites of pizza and peas.
The next day, while we were out of the house, I discovered that she had put the other two packages into her little purse. She asked if she could have some mid-morning, and I said that she could have them with lunch. Again, she was okay waiting. Since then, she’s totally forgotten about the third package.
How to Balance Nutrition with Holiday Fun
When we let kids learn that treats are just another food, and a food that we have less often than our healthy, growing food, they won’t become as powerful. They aren’t off limits, they aren’t forbidden, but they are simply a special food that’s eaten within a structure. Kids should be given the chance to enjoy holidays—even when the holiday in question includes sugar—and you shouldn’t have to feel like the food police.
(I do admit that this is harder when there are multiple Halloween events, like there are in my life, but we try to handle the candy the same way each time so that we’re consistent.)