children in Halloween costumes trick or treating

You don’t want to be part of the problem of childhood obesity in America or child slavery on cacao plantations around the world, not to mention contributing to all the plastic candy wrappers that will make their way to the ocean. But you don’t want your house TP’ed for being that killjoy who hands out oranges on Halloween. Are there other options to Halloween candy?

The Problem

Complex corporate structures make it hard to know what candy companies are really up to.

CSRHub ranks Mars, the largest confectioner in the world, in the 62nd percentile among food companies across corporate social responsibility, environment, social, and governance metrics. They note Nestlé’s involvement in Sudan and use of genetically modified ingredients. But Nestlé still ranks impressively in the 95th percentile across all areas of its business. Meanwhile, Nestlé Malaysia earns the 80th percentile. There’s not even enough data about Nestlé Côte d’Ivoire to provide a ranking.

But the U.S. Department of Labor reports that children in Côte d’Ivoire engage in the worst forms of child labor, including in the harvesting of cocoa and coffee, sometimes as a result of human trafficking. The scariest thing about Halloween could be the treats you offer at your front door.


Not all commercially produced treats are horrifying. Some healthier snacks still feel like treats to kids and come individually wrapped for easy distribution. CLIF makes certified organic, GMO-free snack bars and fruit leather. MySuperSnack granola bites are made with organic ingredients and are free of peanuts and tree nuts.

Parents might be tempted to steal kids’ Justin’s peanut butter cups, which are certified organic and use cacao from Rainforest Alliance Certified Farms. Endangered Species Bug Bites aren’t actually shaped like bugs, but they are made from ethically traded and sustainably grown cacao and come with insect trading cards.

Homemade Treats

Nowadays, the FDA advises parents not to let children eat any candy that isn’t commercially wrapped, and even to inspect store-bought candy for tampering. Whether the FDA has succumbed to paranoia or lobbying from the candy industry is a mystery, but one thing is certain: The only documented case of anyone handing out poisoned or drugged Halloween candy involved a California dentist distributing laxatives in 1959. This urban legend has been repeatedly debunked, but it lingers on.

Homemade treats can be healthier than commercial products. They also help put the community back into a commercialized holiday.

Wrap homemade snacks to keep them safe and clean inside trick-or-treaters’ bags. Use tiny furoshiki to avoid plastic wrap. And since homemade treats are so uncommon now, it’s a good idea to include a note with the candy. Including an ingredient list as well as your contact information will make parents feel safer about letting kids eat what you’ve made. Maybe add a link to the evidence that poisoned candy is a myth. And of course, if you’re making treats at home, be sure to follow food safety standards. You don’t want to feed the fear over homemade treats.

Nonfood Goodies

Candy is strongly established as the only acceptable “treat” to avoid a Halloween “trick.” But it’s not a very old tradition. Trick-or-treating is a 20th-century invention. As late as the 1950s, kids were as likely to receive coins as candy when they went door-to-door extorting their neighbors. Today, the truth is that many kids get more candy on Halloween than they can possibly eat. Coins may not be worth quite as much to modern kids as they were in the old days, but suitably interesting prizes may be valued more than yet another KitKat.

Nonfood items like pencils and crayons will always get some use. Seed packets are an unusual and especially green choice — choose indoor plants, since few things are likely to sprout outdoors after Halloween. Glow sticks do generate waste, and they are slightly toxic. But there are phthalate-free versions, and they do make kids visible while trick-or-treating. That helps keep them safe from the biggest danger kids face on Halloween — getting hit by a car. Make things more fun by letting kids dig around in a treasure box to pick their own prizes. Just try to avoid cheap plastic toys that are destined for the landfill.

We originally published this article on October 23, 2018, and updated some of the links in October 2021.

By Gemma Alexander

Gemma Alexander has an M.S. in urban horticulture and a backyard filled with native plants. After working in a genetics laboratory and at a landfill, she now writes about the environment, the arts and family. See more of her writing here.