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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Chow Line: Use 'discretion' with Halloween treats (for 10/25/09)

October 19, 2009

Halloween is coming up and my children love to go trick or treating. Afterwards, I want to help them figure out a reasonable amount of candy to enjoy on a daily basis. Where do I start?

Candy is one of those easily classified foods in the Food Guide Pyramid -- it's in the "discretionary calories" category, and the first thing to figure out is how many discretionary calories your children can consume on a daily basis.

Discretionary calories are the "extras" in your diet. The bulk of your calorie intake should be designed to get you the nutrients your body needs -- healthful foods such as lean protein, low-fat dairy foods, healthful oils, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Discretionary calories are the extras -- the added sugars, fats or alcohol that don't add many (or any) nutrients but do add calories.

Discretionary calorie allowances are generally very small, and they depend on age, sex and level of physical activity. For children between the ages of 9-13, the allowance ranges from 130 to 410 calories a day (go to and search for "discretionary calories" for details.)

Luckily, most Halloween candy comes in miniature-sized bars, which helps with portion control. For example, while a regular size Snickers bar has 270 calories, a "fun" size Snickers has just 70. Check specific calorie counts by looking at the Nutrition Facts labels. Some snack-sized candy bars contain just 50 calories; some have up to 90 calories.

Once you have a good idea of how many discretionary calories your children should be consuming and have estimated the calories in their candy, it's just a matter of doing some math to determine how much to allow them to eat per day -- for most children, it will be two to three pieces a day. Here are some other things to keep in mind:

  • Discuss in advance about how much candy your children can eat at a time, and when they can eat it.
  • Talk with your children about donating at least some of their candy to senior centers or organizations serving the needy.
  • Store the candy out of sight so it's not a constant temptation.
  • If you think your children will be eating too many discretionary calories during the time, plan meals to compensate. Center meals on leaner options, such as baked fish, chicken or turkey breast, or broth-based soups, and load plates with salads and vegetables that your children enjoy. Refrain from fast food, fried foods, and other meals that tend to be higher in calories.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Julie Shertzer, registered dietitian and program specialist for Ohio State University Extension in the Department of Human Nutrition, in the College of Education and Human Ecology.


Martha Filipic
Julie Shertzer