Remove the Halloween Spotlight From Eating

In this season, the goal is to minimize the acquisition, retention, and consumption of candy. Mainly, the first. If acquisition can be minimized, the other two threats become moot. One way might be to set a crude physical limit, by for instance using a smallish plastic pumpkin with a handle, and going home when it’s full.

The goal, leading up to Halloween, is to fill up a chunk of time with creative activities that kids enjoy. With any luck, they will be motivated to invent even more alternative (and minimal-calorie) activities for next year. Theoretically, a savvy parent could plan a whole month’s worth of spare-time activities centered around Halloween without anyone ingesting a single gram of sugar. One answer is to remodel the holiday by switching the emphasis to creativity and participation.

This might be an opportunity for some neighborhood bonding, if you can get other families on board with setting up attractive non-food-related activities. And on the home front, what could be better than spending quality time with little people who value your attention more than sugar? If you want a candy-less Halloween, or anyway one with less candy, and provide enough entertaining activities, that just might be possible.


Do you live in a city where haunted houses materialize just before Halloween every year? Visit them on foot, if possible. Weather permitting, kids can paint their faces and ride around on bikes. They could wear any crazy stuff, as long as they can see where they’re going and no trailing scarf gets caught in a wheel. Maybe, the day after Halloween, folks could go out with bags and pointed sticks, or grabber tongs, and pick up trash.

Get in the spirit by making the holiday about giving rather than getting. In some communities, groups of little kids dress up and visit retirement homes and assisted-living facilities. You might promote the idea that showing off costumes and delighting the seniors is reward enough. The grownups arrange ahead, of course, for no sugary treat distribution, and kids have a splendid time parading around, collecting a ton of approval.

The creative arts

Many parents shy away from pumpkin carving because of the mess factor. This is where those cute little miniature pumpkins enter the picture. They too can be carved, etched, drawn on, or studded with fake gems. One low-impact project in the time that precedes the holiday is to write and illustrate an original ghost story comic book. Maybe last year you checked out the post-Halloween sales and got hold of a bunch of blank masks. They can be colored with paint or crayon or marker. Stuff can be glued onto them, including hair-like substances at the top or bottom edges. Odds and ends of frippery can be attached.

Long before October 31, the exchange of ideas can begin about what to wear. A Saturday afternoon spent browsing the racks and shelves at a thrift store can be so exciting, kids might even forget to nag for soda and junk food. Explore the costume possibilities for all family members. Of course, animals can wear them too. Many dogs dress up quite satisfactorily; cats almost never.

At home, as we discussed, a yard is the ultimate bonus playground for Halloween fun. Spider webs are the obvious go-to decoration, and they are moderately priced at stores. And so on. You get the picture. Redesign the Halloween tradition to emphasize creativity and family togetherness, and maybe by the time the actual holiday rolls around, candy will be the last thing on your kids’ minds. It’s worth a try!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by DaPuglet/CC BY-ND 2.0

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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