17 Magical Paleo Tricks To Avoid a Halloween Nightmare (Without Becoming A Frightful Mummy)


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Halloween is by far my favorite American tradition. Many times, I have spent more money than I could afford to create the Halloween I wanted for myself my kids while they were still little. It was a good investment – the memories were worth every penny.

However, before our kids were even a twinkle in our eyes, and we moved into our house, fourteen years ago and newly married, our new neighbors regaled us with terrible Halloween stories.

Not of ghosts and ghouls but of the 250+ children that would descend on our block that is placed high on the crest of a ridge, the only level street for miles around.

Zombies and witches and fairies, oh my!

We didn’t believe them, thought they were reliving their nightmares, but they were, indeed, correct. I counted. The kids in their costumes at our front door were like strange-looking bees swarming around the entrance to the hive, queuing to make it up our driveway.

Just a walk around our modestly-sized block made you feel you were in a special kind of hell  – houses decorated to the nines and kids hauling catches of candy as big they were. This was a big deal.

The long-time previous owner of our house had been a dentist. She’d given out toothbrushes so you can imagine the delight when we gave out chocolate. The kids cheered as they walked back down our driveway. We felt quite the candy king and queen.

Monsters grow up

But over the years, as we have had our own children and those hundreds of neighborhood children have grown up and moved on, so have we. Where we once tossed out Kit-Kats and Mars Bars with abandon, we pause and consider carefully the effects of all this candy on the kids at the receiving end. Where before we were thrilled at the delight on the kids faces, we now ponder our values and our responsibilities.

Halloween can be something of a nightmare for hardcore paleo folks. We want to join in the fun, allow our kids to share in it but at the same time we’re wary of the conflicting messages we are giving out (literally.) And we worry about the effect on the individual and collective health of the next generation as, once again, celebration in modern times is inexorably entwined with, well, crap.

My kids are now 12 and over the years I’ve tried a swathe of ideas to be a good role model, without being a party-pooper, balance the fun with an eye to the consequences and send the right message without being so rigid that they tune me out. It’s a delicate dance and as ever with kids, you have to adjust for age and temperament. Halloween is no different in that regard.

One Halloween costume size does not fit all

If you want to join in with the Halloween fun, here’s a list of ideas you can consider as you seek to avoid following the crowd and instead make conscious choices about the way you celebrate the holiday. Not all of these will work for everyone – we all have different ideas, tolerances and values – but maybe you will find one idea that will work for you or the list will stimulate one of your own. If you are expected to give out candy, I’ve also included a list of paleo alternatives at the end.

How to Keep a Paleo Halloween

1. Fill up with nourishing paleo food before you go out. Essential. Do this always and especially if your kids tend to eat candy en route.

2. Decentralize the role of candy in the tradition. Hold a party with friends and include all the Halloween trimmings but with healthy paleo food and treats. Go to pumpkin patches, costume parades, corn mazes, enjoy fall holiday crafts and pumpkin carving – anything that celebrates the holiday without involving candy.

3. Set expectations and the consequences of not meeting them. Our culture will eventually, ultimately, drag us towards the candy so have a plan. Do this before you are spreadeagled in front of your front door, as the kids beseech you like wailing banshees longing to go out. Do it earlier in the day or even before that when they are calm and repeat it more than once.  Explain the rules – no running, no grabbing, ‘Happy Halloween’ or ‘Thank you,’ etc. Doing this makes for a happier time and slows kids down so that they aren’t so frenzied. Frenzy plus candy plus kids equals bad time, IMO.

4. Establish a rule of no eating en route and give the kids a firm limit on the amount of candy they are allowed to eat. Take away the bag when they have done so, if necessary. My kids get so much candy the main thrill is to count it and sort it. Eating it as they go around ruins that. When we get back home we take pictures of this haul then they eat 1-3 pieces and away it goes.

5. Give them a small basket if you are likely to gather hoards of candy. Round where we live, the candy bags literally get too heavy for the kids to carry so I devised a cunning plan. With a small bucket, you can switch them out when they get overfilled. The kids don’t notice or really care, they are much too busy shouting ‘trick or treat’ and receiving.

6. Sort the candy before your kids eat any of it. We have a ‘pixy-stix-over-mom’s-dead-body’ rule in our house…hmm, I should make that into a costume one year.

7. Switch it out for better quality candy. You can trade it – say 3 pieces of collected candy for 1 piece of the better quality stuff. Or use a different token for your transaction – cards, legos, beads to make a necklace.

8. Negotiate a buy-back. Give your kids money for turning in their haul, reduce it drastically for each piece of candy they eat. One year, I offered a sum of money for my kids haul but if they ate 3 pieces, my offer dropped drastically. They chose to eat three and settled for the lower amount. I tossed the candy and we were all happy (if a bit broke, in my case:-))

9. Donate your candy.  Look out for local donation drives – one dentist in our city makes a donation to the schools for every pound of candy handed in. If you need to, encourage this or reward their donation by giving your kids a healthy treat – some paleo icecream or other such goodness.

10. Switch it out. Agree to buy a toy you agree on in exchange for the candy. You can make this a fun idea by building a big story around it – using the “Switch Witch” or the “Monster Pumpkin” or similar – and doing it the night after Halloween so they wake up to their new toy. The more creative you can get the more the kids will focus on the fun rather than the candy.

11. Put it away. Young children will simply forget about it.

12. Let them eat their fill for one night. But please sort it first, there is no reason on this earth for kids to eat candy that will survive a nuclear holocaust. Then throw it away or donate it.

13. Ration it out. Let them have one or two pieces each day. It can last a long time this way but it might work for your family. Please see #12 above about sorting it (I am on a personal mission! Death to Nerds!) and don’t let them take it to school for lunch. Spare the teachers, the other kids and separate it from otherwise healthy meals so they don’t associate candy with nutritious food.

14. Focus on handing goodies out to trick-or-treaters. Go out trick-or-treating for a short while, collect your candy but then return home to hand out your offering. Kids often love to hand out as much as to receive and now my kids are older we will focus on this. See below for some paleo alternatives to candy.

15. Instead of eating it, use the candy for experiments or art projects. There is a good website for showing you how to do experiments with candy, the aptly named Candy Experiments. And if you make art projects with your candy, make sure to use glue, crayons, glitter and the like so the kids aren’t tempted to eat them later.

16. If you have older kids, ask them to choose when they feel they have had enough. This is what we are doing this year. Done in a family where paleo is the norm, this can be empowering for the kids and quite enlightening and gratifying for the parents. :-)

 17. Hand out paleo-acceptable alternatives to candy. One year, our neighbor gave out used books – they were quite old as her children were grown-up but everyone in our party was delighted. When they got back home the kids ignored the candy and read the books! So brainstorm other ideas to the standard fare of candy. You can offer dollar store toys, unused party favors, pencils, erasers, stamps, sealed packets of nuts and dried fruits, temporary tattoos, stickers, tiny pots of play-dough, silly bands, toothbrushes. :-) If you only have a few visitors, you could give out Lara Bars.

How do you celebrate Halloween now you’re paleo? And what do you hand out to the neighborhood kids? Tell us in the comments!

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Written by 

Alison Golden writes on the topic of paleo over at Paleo/NonPaleo. She aims to share ideas, inspire and motivate readers by teaching them how to live paleo in a non-paleo world. She is also the author of the bestselling book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a unique tool that gives the reader hundreds of strategies to navigate the learning process to successful paleo living.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

NJ Paleo October 23, 2012 at 9:16 am

These are all great ideas! Halloween is the beginning of the food-oriented holidays that can be a challenge in general, not just for paleo/primal people.

We have a family rule that on Halloween, the kids can have as much of the candy as they want. After a few pieces, they end up self-regulating and realizing that they don’t want more. When they were little, they would forget about the candy so disposing of it was no problem. One of the major joys for my kids is sorting and trading the candy, and typically they each make a pile of their favorites and the rest (which is the majority) is disposed of. After Halloween day, they are allowed 2 small pieces each per day, and typically after a couple of days they forget about it.

We also have a local dentist who is going to donate money to charity for each pound of candy that is given to the dentist’s office! I think that’s a good idea.

For my kids, most of the enjoyment is touring the neighborhood with their friends in costume, and coming up with the ideas and designs for their costumes (we make costumes in our family).


Alison Golden October 23, 2012 at 9:28 am

Hey NJ :-)

We have one those dentists donations drives too, and it always amazes me how much candy is collected just from our school – and I only see the donations, which I’m sure is only a fraction of what is handed out on Halloween night.
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Ellen October 23, 2012 at 9:28 am

I think these were all very good, and timely, suggestions. I don’t have any little ones at home anymore but I’ll pass this on to my sons and daughters who are just starting to deal with these issues with their kids. It’s important for the kids to participate in our society’s social functions and yet learn how to do that responsibly. Especially Halloween!


Alison Golden October 23, 2012 at 11:09 am

Yes, indeed, Ellen. I think self-regulation is one of the most important skills in life to learn.
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quilley October 23, 2012 at 10:47 am

How about a fistful of pennies? That’s my solution. EVERY kid loves money…and their fists are small…


Alison Golden October 23, 2012 at 11:07 am

I’ve never heard of that…but I like it. I bet the kids love it! :-)
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Brad October 23, 2012 at 11:22 am

Great suggestions. Our family (9 children) has a tradition of dressing up and going to dinner together. This year we are also going to go to a movie so that they get to show off their costumes more. Last year we were all dalmatians. This year…Cavemen/women/boys/girls:)
Paleo all the way baby.


Alison Golden October 23, 2012 at 11:29 am

OMG, that’s hysterical! Good for you! (Perhaps you should get paleo leaflets printed up, you know, just in case.) :-)
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Miko October 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm

What about encouraging trick or treat for UNICEF? I can remember as a child think ing it was cool to help folks by asking for a little change… instead of asking for candy… still a small amount of candy would come home, but no where near what would otherwise. I saw a Trick or Treat for UNICEF commercial just the other day.


Alison Golden October 23, 2012 at 4:51 pm

GREAT idea, Miko! I found a link to the the trick-or-treat for UNICEF: http://youth.unicefusa.org/trickortreat/participate/
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Steph October 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm

We are giving out glow bracelets this year- 10 for a buck at Target. My 8 year old approved them as something just as good as candy:-)


Alison Golden October 23, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Yeah, I like those too, Steph. I would put the necklaces and bracelets on all the kids in our party so that they stood out and I could see them!
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Cassie (Chow Bella) October 24, 2012 at 9:12 am

I had a corn allergy when I was a kid, so before I ate a bite my parents would take my candy and sort through it all and pull out any pieces they suspected might have corn syrup in them (a lot of them do!), which reduced my pile considerably. They got the corn syrup-containing items, and I got the rest, which usually meant Reese’s cups, Kit Kat bars, and the occasional box of raisins. Still not a bad amount. It was kind of good in another way because it taught me to share my plunder. I was also only allowed 1 piece a day till it was gone, so my candy lasted well into November. Also, because we live in less wholesome times, and I think they wanted to look at the candy to make sure it wasn’t tampered with.
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Linda Sand October 24, 2012 at 6:30 pm

When I was a child one neighbor gave us each a dime. We loved it!

Our version of that is to gather a big bowl of change–mostly pennies but nickels, dimes and quarters, too. Each kid gets to take one handful. Keep an eye out for bigger kids trying to sneak back for another handful. :)


Lindsey October 26, 2012 at 5:50 pm

We don’t get too many trick or treaters, usually less than 20, so we have a fun time choosing a cost-effective non-candy option.

We bought a huge bag of small, individual containers of play-do when they were on sale at back-to-school time. We are going to hand out a few colours of play-do to each of our trick or treaters.


Amanda October 27, 2012 at 8:15 pm

My grandmother used to give out a nickle taped to a little piece of index card. She said it was “for kids to start their savings”, yeah right we all know they probably used it to buy more candy. Over the years it went up to dimes, and then quarters and now she just stopped. A quarter won’t buy a kid too much these days but at least it is better than some junky old candy.

I tend to do the eat all you want tonight, if you get sick it is not my problem (even though it really is because I will have to deal with ) tactic and then ration the rest out. This year most of the kids are older and are having some people over. They were going to have a bonfire but the weather is supposed to be horrid so it is snacks, SOME candy and a movie. Since the weather is going to be bad trick or treating is out for my younger guy so whatever I buy is IT.


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