Trick 'em out of those treats

Parents share their dark secrets about how they pry all that Halloween candy from their children's clutches.

By Leslie Crawford

Candy and more candy!

This year, Americans will spend nearly $2 billion on Halloween treats. Where do most of those sweet treats go? Into the mouths of babes, or down the gullet of your middle schooler who, if he's anything like mine, gathers pound upon pound of Snickers (the second in Halloween popularity only to – incomprehensibly – candy corn) and other scrumptious confections, brings them home and weighs them (so he'll know if his sister or, ahem, mother eats any), and goes out again and again – enough to sustain him for the long winter months.

This, the darkest yet sweetest of holidays, may be a windfall for dentists, but Halloween is an unmitigated disaster for parents trying to protect their children from OD'ing on sugary delights. How do we keep that great Halloween spook – sugar – from haunting our homes? After consulting with seasoned parents across the country, we uncovered eight sinisterly smart ways to tackle the upcoming tsunami of sucrose. Mwahahaha!!!

The Great Pumpkin

Linus was right all along: The Great Pumpkin lives! Turns out this benevolent Halloween spirit, who also goes by the name Halloween Witch and Candy Fairy, has a sweet tooth. So before going to bed on Halloween night, leave a bucket of candy in exchange for a Halloween gift."We leave at least half out for the Great Pumpkin!" writes mom Jen Owens. " . . . he takes all the candy and leaves small gifts instead." In Trinity Ann Maki Silvin's home, "Our Candy Fairy takes the excess candy to build her castle with, and leaves books, puzzles, or toys behind."

Tricky treating

Mom Jessi Cazaly works in cahoots with willing neighbors to prevent noxious sweets from ever crossing her threshold. While her son is at school she drops off what she deems healthy acceptable candy alternatives. Later that evening Cazaly and her son go knocking on those neighbors' doors. At the end of the night “the most he has in his bucket is about one packet of [unhealthy] candy,” she says, “And then I'll let him have it over the week."

Candy freecycling

How's this for a Halloween win-win: Don't buy candy. Instead, go trick-or-treating first, then give out most of your Halloween winnings to the ghosts, ghouls, and goblins who ring your door later. "We go early then come back home and give it all back out," writes Pompa Ramos, who limits her kids to a few choice pieces. "They enjoy giving to the trick-or-treaters, but get to enjoy doing it too."

Trick-or-treating by the numbers

Mom Kelly Corson keeps candy intake in-check by limiting the number of homes her child visits. "We go to only the amount of houses that equal [my daughter's] age, plus five," writes Corson, whose daughter will get to trick-or-treat at 15 homes this year. This not only keeps the candy to a manageable amount, adds Corson, but also keeps trick-or-treating from being a multi-hour, candy-collecting marathon.

Eats before sweets

Kids filling up only on chocolate and glucose? Skip the "eat your good dinner or else" lecture and instead serve a pre-trick-or-treating "celebratory" Halloween dinner, serving your kids yummy autumn healthy fare. (Sweet potato fries, anyone?) "We do the famous Halloween dinner just before going out," writes Misty Adcock Jacobs. The kids are so full of healthy fare that when, tricked out in their costumes and hitting the sidewalk circuit, they don't fill themselves with so much candy.

Treats for the troops

Most kids end up with enough candy to feed an army, so help them do it! That's what Karen Pipkin does each Halloween: Her kids keep only their “most favorite" sweets, then mail the remainder to deployed troops overseas. Halloween Candy Buy Back is run by local dentists who "buy back" your candy, offering, say, a coupon or toothbrush in exchange. (The site lets you type in your zip code to find a nearby participating dentist.) They then give the donations to Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends care packages to U.S. military. Want to send the candy overseas yourself? Learn how to at Operation Shoebox.

Sugar for the shelters

Another way to turn mercenary candy collecting into an act of good will? Do as Angel Zobel-Rodriguez does by appealing to your kids' sweet nature and donate to a local homeless shelter that does what's called a candy split. "Kids keep half the candy (or less...)," suggests Zobel-Rodriguez, "and the rest goes to a food kitchen as treats to their meals for the homeless."

Coins not candy

Over the past 60 Halloweens, in lieu of hoarding all that candy, kids have collected coins for UNICEF, raising nearly $160 million (also through Halloween fundraisers) towards education, healthcare, food, and clean water for needy kids worldwide. Check out UNICEF to find out how to participate, or visit a local Crocs dealer to pick up your orange-and-white UNICEF box.

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.