What NOT to Hand Out on Halloween


I am that neighbor who turns off her lights and closes the curtains, hoping the kids won't hear the movie I'm watching blaring inside. It's not that I'm a stingy person, or that I'm some crank who hates holidays focused on kids. Who doesn't find it absolutely adorable when a three-year-old in a tutu shows up at the door holding out a plastic pumpkin?

I just feel guilty about handing out loads of processed junk food to my neighbors' kids. Although I am not a parent, and I don't have to deal with the sugar high at bedtime, I do like my neighbors. In the past I've tried to come up with some amazing healthy alternative to bite-sized candy bars that won't result in egg stains on my house or a smashed jack-o-lantern the morning after. (See also: 10 Things to Do With Leftover Candy)

But It pained me to see the disappointment in their tiny faces when I throw in that box of raisins or snack-sized bags of pretzels or nuts (before peanut allergies became so prominent). One year, I thought I'd compromise and buy organic lollipops flavored with fruit juice, and a kid dressed as Spider Man unabashedly said, "Awww, these suck!"

This year, I thought I'd take a different approach. I searched the Internet and asked some of the parents I know about some popular substitutes for the standard Halloween treats. What I found wasn't much different from the same alternatives to processed sugar that I have tried in the past. I did learn some new suggestions, but I can tell you from my experience with kids what doesn't work for them or their parents, and why.

Here's a list of treats that I would NOT suggest handing out on Halloween, keeping in mind that the commentary is all in good fun but also practical.

1. Homemade Items

This one should be a no-brainer, right? But you would be surprised at the number of people who still hand out homemade cookies and popcorn balls to today's kids. There's enough hysteria surrounding tampered Halloween candy, not to mention food allergies, that your hard work will most likely go into the trash once it gets home. Don't waste your time making treats at home.

2. Money

Kids earn more allowance than most adults earn at a minimum wage job. They will not be impressed with a nickel or quarter, and if you're handing out a dollar or more to each trick-or-treater, you're going to end up spending a lot more than you would've on a bag or two of candy. Hand out money to homeless people instead (seriously). (See also: 6 Teachable Money Moments to Share With Your Kids)

3. Jokes

I thought it was a joke when someone told me that one of her neighbors handed out slips of paper with individual jokes on them. Half the kids showing up at your door can't read, and the ones who can will only appreciate it if it's wrapped around a piece of Laffy Taffy.

4. Toothpaste

While parents will appreciate the battle against all the cavities their children may get after polishing off their loot, the kids will not appreciate it in the least. Expect toothpaste smeared on your mailbox the next morning if you try this one.

5. Mini Pumpkins

It's October 31st, and kids have had an entire month of decorating pumpkins and gourds and any other winter vegetable teachers can get their hands on. Plus, they are expensive and will only add dead weight to the loaded bags of candy.

6. Soon-to-Be-Trash Trinkets

I think some trinkets won't immediately end up in the trash, but not many. Stickers, pencils, and sidewalk chalk are a few examples; however, it really depends on the age and how much you are willing to spend. As a rule, don't give them anything that they would get as birthday party favors. Leave that to the hosting parents to haggle over what qualifies as junk (below are a few more specific examples). (See also: 5 Free Toys Kids Will Love)

7. Whistles

Mom and Dad may be the ones to egg your house if you hand out whistles or noisemakers. For the sake of the neighborhood, do NOT hand out anything that makes noise.

8. Stamps

I cannot name a single child I know (and I do have a lot of friends with children) who collect stamps or have any need for them, since their parents are the ones who stamp and address all the Thank You cards to the Grandparents.

9. Unfinished Wood Items

I couldn't believe it when I saw this alternative treat listed on an anonymous blog, with a hyperlink to an online craft store that sells wooden cutouts for adults! Most kids don't keep acrylic paints lying around, nor do their parents want to buy paint just for one small art project. This one can be filed under soon-to-be-trash trinkets.

10. Cartoon Band-Aids

This is only impressive if you hand out an entire box. One bandage will get you a, "What's this for?" response from every kid on the block.

11. Jewelry

Unless you are hip to the latest craze in kid bling (and believe me, it changes weekly), don't waste your money.

12. Confetti

Aside from the expense of buying individual packages of confetti, this novelty item is sure to end its short life inside a vacuum cleaner.

13. Soap

Like the toothpaste, expect to see the remnants of this handout on the windows of your car in the morning.

14. Rocks and Minerals

The only way you're getting away with this one is if you're an elementary school Science teacher, and even then, I don't think I need to inform you about the post-Halloween looks you'll get in class.

15. Seed Packets

Most kids are not into gardening, and if they are, they would probably rather have the candy.

16. Apples

Razor blades aside, apples are plentiful this time of year. Kids expect a "treat" on Halloween. If you don't want to see mopey faces, don't hand out another MacIntosh. (See also: 23 Great Uses for Apples)

17. Crayons

Again, think treats. Kids get plenty of crayon usage at school and at home. Markers apply to the same rule. Only decorative or glow-in-the-dark writing utensils are considered a treat.

18. Yarn Bracelets

I refer you to my earlier statement about kid bling.

19. Trail Mix

If it has chocolate in it, some trail mix is an acceptable alternative to a Snicker's bar. But you have to weigh that with the cost of individual packages, considering that you can't make your own because of the "no homemade treats" rule of thumb.

20. Organic and "Healthy" Treats

The treats sold in health food stores, such as organic chocolate and honey sticks*, are great to give to trick-or-treaters, but most kids won't know the difference. And they won't care. Even if your conscience is on the line, these treats are wildly expensive, especially if you live in a largely populated area. You will have to turn out the lights an hour into the festivities if you go with any of the treats you find at the health food store.

Let's face it, Halloween is the one time of year that kids are allowed to indulge. And it is up to the parents to decide how much sugar they will allow their kids to eat in one sitting. I say go buy the bag of candy and be done with it. But go while you have a few weeks left, before all the good junk food is sold out.

*Note that doctors do not recommend giving honey to children under two years old.

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Guest's picture

Now you need to put a complimentary post on good alternatives you can do.

Ones I've heard that might still not be extraordinary, but more appreciated than the above are books (some people go so far as to collect paperbacks over the whole year from garage sale and then hand them out accordingly by age of person) or what I got this year, mini play dohs cups. Also not candy, but still sugary enough that kids may enjoy them are fruit snack bags or fruit leather. Both can be bought in bulk which cuts down the cost.

Guest's picture

I agree with lots of points in this post. It does NOT cost a lot of money to go to Walmart or Target and get a giant bag of mixed candy, folks. Let's be honest - it's what the kids want. This is their one night a year to indulge, so for heaven's sake, let them indulge! Don't worry about all that sugar and junk they are getting - that's their parents job. I remember hating getting apples, stickers and other non-candy treats in my trick-or-treat bag as a kid - my siblings and friends hated it, too.

Guest's picture
Ron - Tulsa OK

One Halloween I offered them to pick from a tray with bags of chips, boxes of raisins, and Snicker bars. The chips won as favorite pick - especially Sun Chips. Surprising to me and opposite of this article, raisins came in second and even beat out chips with the pre-school tots (and they picked - not parents!) Just even giving the option and seeing how it went was fun for me. I wish the author of this article would try it some year.

Guest's picture

I don't know. I don't have a problem with HALF the items you disparage. And I'm a mom of two! Candy doesn't last, so why should we expect trinkets and jewelry to survive? I think those are wonderful alternatives, as are stamps and stickers and such. If the child is disappointed, so be it. But I'll guarantee you, a child will be disappointed at any one stop. They may not like chocolate. They may not like sour candy. They may not like nuts.

I'm sorry, but you are sounding a bit bitter about a wonderful child's holiday. But it's okay if you just want to close the lights and the door. Not everyone has to be excited about Halloween. That's fine!

Guest's picture

I actually think half of the things on this list are great and would love it if my daughter received more of them. My daughter likes candy but even she knows not to binge. I wish we could encourage moderation and thoughtful handouts INSTEAD of large bags of candy from Walmart. I encourage readers to remember to do what works for you and your family. If that includes handing out raisins instead of candy know that there are plenty of kids who DO love those too!

Guest's picture

I have to disagree with your comments about kiddie jewelry. I have given it, and other trinkets, numerous times, and lots of kids have been thrilled. I've had kids go running from my door yelling, "Look! I got a bracelet!"

This one may sound strange to readers not in the deep South, but sometimes Halloween can be hot here. I've bought boxes of Otter Pops (the no-stick popsicles in the little plastic tubes) on clearance at the end of summer, chucked them in the freezer a week before Halloween, then handed them out. Again, I've gotten lots of very excited responses from the kids, and parents often let their sweaty trick-or-treaters open them right away for a small cool-down. It doesn't really reduce the sugar load any, but it is something different.

Guest's picture

It's Halloween so hand out candy like you're supposed to and let the kids' parents decide how much they consume. Let's not get crazy here.

Guest's picture

A lot of these seem like people just trying to do the right thing.

Maybe you can try candy that's less bad for you? Figamajigs and York Peppermint Patties have less fat. Also, chewing gum -- except for the most sugary sweet ones -- are far from bad. Maybe go with that?