14 Things Nutritionists Do on Halloween That You Don’t

Learn how top food experts make the idea of a healthy Halloween less scary.

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They don't get "fun-size" candy

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If it’s smaller, it’s healthier, right? Not exactly. Miniature candies can lead to overeating; save them for trick-or-treaters, not for your pantry. “Get normal sizes, because the fun-size you have to buy in bulk,” says nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH, author of The One One One Diet. “You don’t think it adds up because they’re small, but they can add an extra 200 to 400 calories a day.” If you crave sweets, purchase a normal candy bar. Eat half, then stash the rest in the freezer for another time. (Related: Here's what 100 calories of your favorite Halloween candy looks like.)

They avoid candy corn

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“There’s nothing good from candy corn—just don’t touch it,” says Brooke Alpert, RD, founder of B Nutritious, a New York City-based counseling practice. “At least a Snickers bar has nuts, which can slow the absorption of sugar down. With candy corn, you may as well be injecting sugar into your bloodstream.” Nutritionist Robert Ferguson, CN, author of Diet-Free for Life, avoids licorice with trans fats (though he loves the natural kind), and Batayneh says even though she wouldn’t completely exclude anything from her diet, she tries to avoid high-sugar candies, like mellowcreme pumpkins.

They watch for these three ingredients:

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“I let my kids keep all the candy they get—as long as it doesn’t have trans fatty acids in it,” says Ferguson. “As a parent, I’d avoid any foods made with three ingredients: partially hydrogenated oils, fractionated oils, and interesterified oils.” All three can be spotted on ingredient lists, and contain unhealthy fats that have been linked to conditions like heart disease and obesity. (Related: Here are 11 ways you never realized you've been reading food labels wrong.)

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They play games to resist temptation

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“Put a glass jar on your desk, and every time you have the willpower to forego the office candy jar, give yourself a dollar,” says Joy Bauer, RD, nutrition and health expert for NBC’s TODAY show, and founder of Nourish Snacks. “At the end of the week, you have a glass full of money you can use to go pamper yourself with something special."

They wait until the last minute to get candy

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“Halloween is one day,” says Alpert. “People start stocking up on candy October 1. That’s not the time.” Save candy shopping for the week of the 31st. “Otherwise, you’re going to be left with this candy around and it’s going to be very hard to resist,” she says. Or consider doling out these non-candy Halloween treats to trick-or-treaters.

They make healthy treats easy

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“Here’s my easiest recipe ever: I take vanilla low-fat Greek yogurt, and I mix it with a dollop of 100 percent pumpkin puree,” says Bauer. “I shake on nutmeg or ground cinnamon, and I top it with toasted pecans or walnuts. There you have a pumpkin pudding for 150 calories.” Here are other delicious ways to eat pumpkin puree.

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They're wary of coffee bars

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It’s the time of year when pumpkin lattes and gooey almond tarts make a sugary breakfast all too tempting. A medium Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte with 2 percent milk packs 380 calories, 49 grams of sugar, and 13 grams of fat (8 of which are saturated fat). “Caffeine, when combined with large amounts of sugar, shifts the body into a fat-storing mode,” says Ferguson. If you’re really craving a PSL, try a small, non-fat version.

They celebrate with other fall foods

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“Halloween is so much more than just the candy,” says Janet Helm, RD, author of The Food Lover’s Healthy Habits Cookbook. “It’s about celebrating the things that are in season during the fall. I’ll have warm apple cider spiced with cinnamon sticks or roast pumpkin seeds.” Another one of her favorite healthy alternative treats: baked apples. Try coring an apple, stuffing it with raisins, cinnamon, and sugar, and baking in a pan until soft (with a little water so it doesn’t dry out). You can also celebrate Halloween with canned pumpkin for breakfast, which feels festive without candy. “Add canned pumpkin puree to pancakes and waffle batter, then add some pumpkin spice or nutmeg,” Helm says. “That’s delicious and very easy.”

They manage their kids' expectations up front

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Most nutrition experts agree that it’s helpful to inform kids ahead of time that they can’t keep—or eat—an entire pillowcase’s worth of sugar. Calmly explain they'll be able to select only their favorite candies. “If you make it a big deal, saying, ‘We’re going to take away your candy,’ of course they’re going to be upset,” says Alpert. “For my daughter, the real excitement is just the getting of it, not the actual eating. She loves Tootsie Rolls, and it kills me, but I let her have them.”

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They're smart about leftovers

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Remove the temptation to overindulge after trick-or-treating. “I have three kids and many Halloweens under my belt,” says Bauer. “We would do this whole feel-good thing about going into New York City, putting candy in packages, and giving them to homeless people and food kitchens. My kids really loved that aspect of it, and they also got to eat their favorites.” Many dentist’s offices will also reward children by handing out prizes or money for every pound of candy they turn in (the sweets are then often sent to troops overseas). Find a Halloween Candy Buyback program near you here, or consider one of these clever ways to use leftover Halloween candy.

They indulge in dark chocolate

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“That’s my go-to Halloween candy,” says Ferguson. “It’s satiating and satisfying. The higher the cocoa content, the better.” Chocolate high in cocoa is higher in disease-preventing flavonoids, and its slightly bitter taste makes you naturally more mindful of how much you eat. As a treat, it's relatively healthy when paired with protein, says Batayneh. “I would do some dark chocolate, or even a little Snickers, with a cup of milk,” she says. Pairing sugar with a protein like milk helps stabilize your blood sugar, meaning you won't fall victim to an insulin spike that would leave you even hungrier.

They sip healthier drinks at Halloween parties

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“I stick with wine at Halloween parties, because it’s packed with antioxidants and it also lasts a bit longer than other drinks,” says Ferguson. “You can pace your time at the party. With beer you often drink it a little faster, and if you do a shot, you’re drinking that even faster.” Red wine is also a healthy alternative to sugary holiday drinks, so try a glass of Pinot Noir (or, healthier still, seltzer with lime).

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They get creative with party recipes

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Heading to a potluck? Don’t bring a store-bought pumpkin pie. Instead, get clever using foods that will help keep you fuller, longer. “I have made really fun things where I use the pumpkin as a serving dish,” says Helm. Her go-to party pick: Carve out and clean the inside of a small pumpkin, and use it to serve fresh vegetables and a pumpkin hummus dip (combine pumpkin puree with your favorite hummus and fall spices).

They skip the guilt trip

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“My whole philosophy is 90/10,” says Bauer. “90 percent healthy, 10 percent fun. If you go out of your way 90 percent of the time to make really smart, high-quality food choices, we all have wiggle room.” Her favorite wiggle-room candy? Butterfingers. And don’t feel guilty about that afternoon chocolate bar. “If you’re going to eat a dessert, you should feel good about it,” says Alpert. "If you feel guilty about what you’re indulging in, you might continue to make bad food choices. For example: 'I ate too much candy today, so the day is blown and I'll just have a slice of pizza for dinner.'"


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