Healthier Halloween Candy Guidejump to recipe
In this article, we're talking about healthier candy options for Halloween! We'll break down which brands are allergen-friendly, share our favorite organic candy brands, and give you a few strategies for how to handle Halloween night.
Here at Fed and Fit, we've always loved Halloween. In fact, we get really excited about celebrating all of the “fringe” holidays like Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day. Halloween is especially fun though with the season of scary movies and haunted houses, the opportunity to dress up in a fun costume, carve jack-o-lanterns, and, of course, eat candy!
As a group of nutritionists who must also be gluten-free, we pay a little bit more attention to the candy we eat now than we did when we were kids hauling in pillowcases full of the stuff. Now, don't get us wrong, we are totally pro “eat the candy” (because honestly, sometimes when you want a Reese's, only a Reese's will do) but whether you or your kids need to avoid certain allergens, or if you just want to offer healthier candy options, we wanted to provide a guide to make it a little easier to navigate the candy aisle this season. Below you'll find our favorite healthier candy options, as well as a list of popular candies with notes on which are gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and dye-free.
The Teal Pumpkin Project
The Teal Pumpkin Project was started to benefit children with food allergies and dietary restrictions due to medical conditions. For these kids, Halloween can be tough to navigate – leaving them with the choice of either missing out on trick-or-treating or collecting a bunch of candy that they can't eat. You can participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project by putting out a teal pumpkin on your doorstep, or printing a sign from the FARE website, and offering some non-food options for trick-or-treaters.
A few ideas for non-candy treats are glow sticks, crayons, bubbles, stickers, mini slinkies, rubber bouncy balls, playing cards, and spider rings or other Halloween-themed items. All of these can be easily found for good prices at your local dollar store!
Healthier Candy Brands
The brands listed below are our go-to's for healthier candy. Of course, no candy can truly be healthy, but these are better-for-you than conventional candy. The brands below pay special attention to organic ingredients, allergen-friendly options, and aim for minimal artificial ingredients in their candy.
- Black Forest – Black forest makes organic gummies, sour heads, fruit chews, and lollipops. These individually wrapped gummy bears are perfect for Halloween! They are all dye-free, made with real fruit juice and cane sugar, and gluten-free. While the ingredients are Top-8 allergen-free, some are processed in a factory where these ingredients are handled, so make sure you read the packaging before purchasing.
- Chocolate – Chocolate can be a great option for Halloween candy as it is typically made without dye, is gluten-free, and contains minimal ingredients. Our favorite allergen-friendly brand is Enjoy Life. They currently have Halloween Chocolate Minis that include dark chocolate and rice milk varieties.
- Cocomels – Cocomels are dairy-free caramels made with coconut milk, and they recently released a variety made with coconut sugar instead of cane sugar as well. Their products are all gluten-free, plant-based, and organic, but are manufactured on equipment used to process Dairy, Peanut, Tree Nuts and Soy Protein.
- Enjoy Life Chocolate Bars – They have just three ingredients – unsweetened chocolate, can sugar, and cocoa butter. Enjoy Life Chocolate Bars are gluten, dairy, nut, and soy-free.
- Justin's Nut Butter Cups – Justin's nut butter cups are a great alternative to traditional peanut butter cups! For kiddos who can tolerate nuts, they have peanut, cashew, and almond butter cups with dark, milk, and white chocolate. All of their products are organic and made with real cane sugar.
- OCHO Organic Candy – Ocho makes organic candy bars with real ingredients. They are certified gluten-free, fair trade, and non-GMO, and they offer two vegan/dairy-free bars. They are currently offering a Variety Pack with their peanut butter, caramel, and coconut bars!
- Smart Sweets – If you or your kids need to avoid sugar, Smart Sweets is a great alternative! Their products are free from sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, added sugars, non-GMO, and free of artificial ingredients. They make peach rings, gummies, sweet fish, sour watermelon bites, sweet chews, and sour kids. This variety pack is perfect for Halloween!
- Surf Sweets/Wholesome – Surf Sweets makes lollipops, gummy candy, and jelly beans with organic ingredients. They are dye-free, made with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, and free of the top 10 most common allergens.
- Unreal – Unreal's candy is non-GMO, fair-trade, organic, certified gluten-free, vegan, and free of artificial ingredients. They offer peanut and almond butter cups, coconut bars, and an alternative to M&Ms.
- YumEarth – YumEarth's products are top-8 allergen-free, organic, non-GMO, and free from artificial colors and ingredients. For Halloween, they are offering gummies, candy corn, hard candy, and lollipops.
What's the healthiest conventional candy?
Below you'll find an overview of all of the conventional candies you'll find during Halloween ranked from best to worst. Our rule of thumb is that chocolate-based candies are typically a better choice than candies like Skittles or Nerds. Why? They are less likely to contain artificial dyes, often contain a little less sugar, and are more likely to satiate you because they are made up of more than just sugar. In addition, we've ranked the candies based on their inclusion of ingredients like hydrogenated oils and corn syrup.
Hershey's Chocolate Bars
- Hershey's Chocolate – when it comes to gluten-free candy, this is a great option!
- Free from: Gluten, artificial dyes and hydrogenated oils. However, note that the company only labels Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar (1.55 oz only) and the Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar with Almonds (1.45 oz only) regular-size bars as being officially gluten-free. Also, the milk chocolate snack size bars are not made with gluten but, they are made in a facility where cross-contamination might be an issue.
- Contains: Dairy, while the almond variety contains nuts.
- Recommended Serving Size: We recommend sticking with 2 fun-sized bars.
- Additional Varieties: The cookies n' cream snack size is made with gluten and has high fructose corn syrup. Also, the sugar-free special dark chocolate option is sweetened with maltitol. All three snack-size varieties, milk chocolate, milk chocolate with almonds, and cookies n' cream, all have about the same sugar content.
- Kisses – who doesn't love a Hershey's kiss!
- Free from: Dark, milk, and caramel are just a few that are not only free of gluten but also, free of artificial dyes and hydrogenated oils. There are several (14 total) Hershey's kiss flavors that are considered gluten-free. Find the complete list here!
- Contains: Dairy, and some varieties, like caramel, contain high fructose corn syrup.
- Recommended Serving Size: We love how simple the milk chocolate and dark chocolate ingredients are. 7 of the milk or dark chocolate kisses have about 150 calories and about 18 grams of sugar – we recommend sticking with that size!
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
- Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are on the top of so many favorite lists!
- Free from: Gluten, artificial dyes, corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils.
- Contains: peanuts, milk, and soy.
- Recommended Serving Size: If they're a favorite and you don't expect to have a severe reaction, enjoy 1 or 2.
- Additional Varieties:
- Dark Chocolate Reese's are about the same as normal Reese's nutrition-wise, but do have about 1 gram less of sugar and also exclude the use of corn syrup.
- Reese's Sugar-Free Peanut Butter Cups contain about 4 grams less sugar and are sweetened with lactitol and maltitol; our take is to just enjoy the real thing (unless you are diabetic or need to be sugar-free) because we still wouldn't recommend more than a couple of these for anyone.
- Seasonal-Shaped Candies (Christmas trees, hearts, pumpkins, etc) are NOT gluten-free
- Snickers Minis are another Halloween favorite!
- Free from: Gluten, artificial dyes, and hydrogenated oils.
- Contains: Artificial flavors, corn syrup, peanuts, and dairy.
- Recommended Serving Size: If you are gluten-free, this is a great option, but I still only recommend only having a few of the minis- three of the mini sizes only contain about 14 grams of sugar.
- Additional Varieties: Snickers also has a dark chocolate version of this chocolaty favorite but unless you just prefer the taste, the sugar content is about the same and this version contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which we recommend avoiding.
Kit Kat Bars
- Kit Kat Bars – Break me off a piece!
- Free from: Artificial dyes, hydrogenated oils, and corn syrup.
- Contains: Gluten, dairy, and artificial flavoring. The labeling on Kit Kats does warn consumers that they are made in a facility with peanuts so they cannot officially be labeled “peanut-free.”
- Recommended Serving Size: I would say to limit yourself to 1 or 2 of the miniature kit kat bars, any flavor.
- Additional Varieties: There doesn't seem to be a significant different nutritionally between the milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white creme varieties, but the dark chocolate and white creme have a tad less sugar than the original milk chocolate.
- Butterfingers – it's hard to beat the yummy taste of a Butterfinger!
- Free from: gluten, grains, and artificial dyes.
- Contains: corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Also, if you are sensitive to dairy or have a peanut allergy, please note that Butterfingers contain both of these as well.
- Recommended Serving Size: We like that Butterfingers are lower in sugar (8.5 grams per fun-sized bar) and recommend sticking with 1-2 fun-sized bars.
- Additional Varieties: One thing to be mindful of in regards to gluten, all other types of Butterfingers, besides the originals- such as their crisp bar, do contain gluten.
- M&M's– it really is hard to say no to that soft candy shell!
- Free from: gluten and hydrogenated oils. Regular M&M's may contain peanuts. Side note- this candy does not have gluten in the ingredients, but cannot be officially labeled “gluten-free” because of the possibility of cross-contamination.
- Contains: milk, soy, corn syrup, and artificial dyes.
- Recommended Serving Size: One small individually wrapped package is the perfect amount – having 8 grams of sugar.
- Additional Varieties: The peanut and peanut butter M&M's may contain tree nuts, not just peanuts. These two versions have almost the exact amount of sugar as regular M&M's so one individual bag is recommended as well!
- 3 Musketeers – are a rich treat where texture and flavor are perfectly combined!
- Free from: gluten and artificial dyes.
- Contains: milk, soy, corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and artificial flavors. The packaging also warns that the product may contain peanuts.
- Recommended Serving Size: With ingredients like corn syrup and hydrogenation oils, we recommend only having 1 of the fun-size bars. Each fun-size bar has 10 grams of sugar.
- Milky Way is another chocolaty favorite!
- Free from: artificial dyes, nuts, and peanuts
- Contains: corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, dairy, and gluten in the form of malted barley.
- Recommended Serving Size: At 12 grams of sugar per fun-size bar and 80 calories, I recommend having 1-2 fun-sized bars.
- Additional Varieties: The Midnight and Caramel Milky Way varieties do not contain malted barley and might be a good option if you are gluten-free.
- Payday – yes, please!
- Free from: gluten, artificial flavors and dyes, and hydrogenated oils. A note about gluten- The Hershey's company does list Payday as one of their gluten-free options, but their packaging doesn't advertise it as a gluten-free candy.
- Contains: peanuts, corn syrup, milk, soy.
- Recommended Serving Size: We recommend 1-2 fun-sized bars. They contain 4 grams of sugar per fun-sized par and two of the bars have 5 grams of protein.
- Tootsie Pops – how many licks does it really take? Tootsie pops will always be fun!
- Free from: gluten, peanuts, and hydrogenated oils.
- Contains: artificial colors and flavors, corn syrup, milk, and soy.
- Recommended Serving Size: With 11 grams of sugar per tootsie pop, we recommend sticking with 1-2! One of the benefits of this candy is that it takes longer to eat, so you're more likely to be satisfied by less!
- Smarties – are an awesome gluten-free choice!
- Free from: gluten, soy, peanuts, milk, treenuts, eggs, and soy. The Smarties website points out that everything they manufacture is safe for anyone with Celiac or other gluten sensitivities. As long as the UPC number on the packaging begins with “0 11206” then the product is officially peanut and gluten-free!
- Contains: artificial flavor and coloring
- Recommended Serving Size: At just 25 calories and 6 grams of sugar, we recommend having 1-2 rolls!
- Jolly Ranchers are a long-time favorite treat that come in a variety of flavors.
- Free from: gluten, dairy, hydrogenated oils, nuts, and soy.
- Contains: corn syrup and red 40
- Recommended Serving Size: We love that Jolly Ranchers are allergen-friendly, but they do still contain artificial dyes and a lot of sugar. However, since they are hard candy it is easier to feel satisfied with just a few of these! We recommend having just 2-3 pieces of this fruity treat. 3 Jolly Ranchers contains 11 grams of sugar.
- Additional Varieties: The Sugar-Free option for Jolly Ranchers is sweetened with a blend of different sugar alcohols, such as maltitol, instead of using regular sugar. If you are looking for a sugar-free candy option this might be a good pick but overall, the quality of this type of sugar substitute is not the best and can be difficult to digest.
- Nerds are another classic that are a favorite with kids!
- Free From: dairy, grains, nuts, and hydrogenated oils.
- Contains: Nerds are not made with gluten but they are made in a factory that uses gluten so they cannot officially be labeled “gluten-free”. Despite not having several of the most common allergy ingredients, Nerds do have corn syrup, as well as artificial dyes.
- Recommended Serving Size: If this is an all-time favorite candy for you, we recommend sticking with one to two mini-sized boxes, each one contains 11 grams of sugar.
Haribo Gummy Bears
- Gummy Bears are one of the candies that both adults and kids seem to enjoy.
- Free from: dairy, nuts, and hydrogenated oils.
- Contains: Corn syrup, artificial dyes, and may contain gluten.
- Recommended Serving Size: If this is one of your favorite candies, three bags of the small, individually wrapped bags only have 120 calories and 17 grams of sugar. Due to its high amount of artificial dye though, we recommend sticking with one of the small, mini packets.
- Our overall take: Just like Nerds and Jolly Ranchers, these are mostly made up of sugar and food coloring.
Sour Patch Kids
- Sour Patch Kids – it doesn't get better than a candy that's both sour and sweet!
- Free from: gluten, hydrogenated oils, and peanuts.
- Contains: corn syrup, artificial flavoring, and dyes.
- Recommended Serving Size: Once again, this shouldn't be a candy you regularly are consuming due to the corn syrup and artificial dyes. If it's hard to say no to, we recommend having one small, individually wrapped package. 7 pieces contain 25 grams of sugar.
- Skittles are a chewy classic!
- Free from: gluten, grains, nuts, and dairy.
- Contains: corn syrup, artificial dyes, and hydrogenated oils.
- Recommended Serving Size: With 12 grams of sugar per fun size bag, we recommend sticking to just one!
- Candy Corn – there is probably no other candy that screams Halloween like candy corn!
- Free from: milk and peanuts
- Contains: artificial flavoring and coloring, corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, and soy.
- Recommended Serving Size: Stick to one small, individually wrapped bag or a small handful.
- Additional Varieties: Side note- the Brach's brand does warn consumers that their candy corn is made around other products that have milk, eggs, almonds, coconut and peanuts in them. Like other candies, the Brach's brand doesn't officially label its product as gluten-free but they do offer a natural and gluten-free version. This version is officially labeled gluten-free AND is made without artificial coloring! Unfortunately, this version also has corn syrup, so we recommend only having a small handful (5-10 pieces). 10 pieces have about 15 grams of sugar.
- Starbursts – seem to always be a favorite for everyone!
- Free from: gluten, dairy, nuts, peanuts
- Contains: artificial dyes and flavors, corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils.
- Recommended Serving Size: Because of the amount of food dye in this candy, we recommend sticking to 4-5 Starbursts per serving. There are about 3 grams of sugar per Starburst.
- Airheads – chewy goodness in so many great flavors.
- Free from: gluten and nuts. A note about gluten- this is one of those candies where the recipe contains no gluten but it is made in a facility that uses wheat. Also, please note that the Airhead Extreme flavors are not classified as gluten-free.
- Contains: corn syrup, artificial flavors and dyes, and hydrogenated oils.
- Recommended Serving Size: 1 of the mini Airhead bars is a great option if this is your favorite treat! Each mini bar has about 6 grams of sugar.
If you'd prefer to hand out non-candy treats or swap some of your kids' candy for some, the options below are fun alternatives that kids will actually enjoy!
- Annie's Organic Bunnies & Bats
- Made Good Granola Minis
- Gluten-Free Pretzel Minis
- Boom Chicka Pop or Skinny Pop Popcorn
- Pirate's Booty
- Apple Chips
- Fruit Leather
Homemade Halloween Treat Options
Another way to steer clear of candy overload is by offering your kids some homemade alternatives – this way you're in control of the ingredients and sugar. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Homemade Almond Joys – these homemade Almond Joys are a perfect replacement for the classic candy bar.
- Witches' Finger Cookies – these grain-free cookies are naturally colored with matcha and so fun to make with kids.
- Rice Krispie Ghost Bars – these ghost bars are a super fun Halloween treat!
- Dirt Worm Pudding – we've taken this classic treat and made it gluten- and dairy-free, your kids will love this one.
- Gluten-Free Cutout Cookies – Cut these into Halloween shapes and let your kids decorate for a fun (and tasty) activity.
- Salted Chocolate Freezer Bark – add your favorite toppings and make it your own.
- Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies – You can never go wrong with chocolate chip cookies!
How to Handle Candy on Halloween Night
Now that you have the lay of the land in terms of healthier candy options for Halloween, you may be wondering how to handle Halloween night. Have you ever seen the Jimmy Kimmel Halloween Prank video where he has parents tell kids that they ate all of their Halloween candy? Even if you haven't you probably won't be surprised to hear that these kids were NOT happy when they found out all their candy was gone! After all, as a kid, your Halloween candy haul is one of those things you look forward to all year long.
That's why we lean toward the approach of letting your kids indulge in at least some of their Halloween candy, as long as there aren't food allergies or other medical conditions at play. Since it only comes once per year, we like the approach of setting a reasonable candy limit for the night and allowing your kids to enjoy the candy of their choice on Halloween night. This keeps kids from feeling left out and teaches them the value of moderation. In addition, making candy a “forbidden food” can actually increase children's' desire for it and backfire later in life. That being said, here are a few strategies for handling all that Halloween Candy!
- Feed them a full meal first. One of the easiest ways to prevent over-indulging on candy? Make sure your kids (and you, too!) eat a full, nutritious meal first. This also applies in the coming days – instead of having a candy free-for-all, try offering a piece or two to be enjoyed after a full meal.
- Set a candy limit. Growing up, we always had a Halloween candy limit in place, usually more generous on the first night and 1-2 pieces on the following night. This is a great way to teach your kids about how foods like candy fit into their daily nutrition!
- Swap for healthier candy options. With this strategy, you can either allow your kids to choose a specific number of pieces from their candy stash or enjoy it for the first night, then swap it out for some of the organic candy brands listed above, or even homemade brands. If your child has food allergies, keeping a stash of allergen-friendly candy at home for them to trade out is a great way to make them feel included.
- Swap for a toy. If you'd like to get rid of the sugar altogether, a fun way to do this is to swap the candy haul for a toy instead. It doesn't have to be expensive, but if it's something your child has been wanting for a while, they will be much more likely to be ok with giving up that candy!
Whether you choose to indulge in your favorite classic candies, incorporate some of the newer organic versions, or even make your own, we hope you and your kids have a fantastic Halloween and find this guide to healthier candy helpful!