As soon as it's dark, children are eager to troll the neighbourhood. It's best to send them off with something satisfying and nutritious in their stomachs so they're not as inclined to fill up with candy. But with many parents working, this can create a time crunch on weeknights.
"I think a lot of people will rely on pizza, but there's lots of quick and easy things you can have" that aren't takeout or processed, says Carol Harrison, a registered dietitian in Toronto.
"Certainly you want them to have a satisfying meal even if it's a quick one so that they're not famished by the time they come home after running around going trick-or-treating because, let's face it, that's quite active, going up and down the streets and in and out of houses."
With three children aged 15, 13 and 10, Harrison knows what parents are up against. Though two of her offspring are beyond the trick-or-treating stage, the youngest is still up for the fun.
"I remember the days when I had to get all three of them out," she says with a laugh. "Costumes, can't find this or my wing keeps bending in a weird way. The last-minute duct tape kind of craziness helping the kids have a terrific time because it's such a fun time of year."
The key is to prepare something fun to eat that isn't complicated or time consuming.
"Breakfast for dinner makes a lot of sense on Halloween night because it's quick, you often have eggs in the fridge anyway even if you're low on groceries, and kids like them and they're easy to prepare and there's so many different things you can do with them."
A big pan of cheesy scrambled eggs can go on toast, in a burrito, in a wrap with salsa, open-faced on an English muffin or piled into a hotdog bun.
Make up a pan of french toast you can bake while helping children get ready. Or bake it ahead, cut it into fingers and pop them in the toaster. A version with peanut butter and banana adds more protein and another food group.
In keeping with the creepy Halloween theme, make a variation on devilled eggs, another great finger food. The eggs can be hard-cooked ahead — they'll keep for a week in the fridge, Harrison says — then add avocado to the mashed yolks to turn them green. Top with a slice of black olive or piece of diced red pepper. Have the kids come up with a fun name, like Green Monster Eyes.
"If the child had three or four of those that's an excellent source of protein that's going to help them feel full throughout the night so they're not going to be so tempted to dig into that candy quite as much," says Harrison, who consults about nutrition issues for her company Citrus.
Team devilled eggs with leftovers, or serve with chunks of cheese, wedges of pita bread and some hummus.
"It's kind of a mix-and-match, make your own plate, but it's all good healthy food but nothing you've had to spend a lot of time preparing. You're just getting it out on the table and assembling."
A slow cooker can be your sous chef, or a casserole can be made ahead and slid into the oven. Make mini quiches in muffin tins, which bake quickly.
Round out the meal with some raw vegetables or use frozen, which don't have to be chopped and can be zapped in the microwave. Provide some sliced fruit and yogurt for dessert.
Since kids will want to dig into their treats right away, parents might want to establish some guidelines for snacking.
First, limit the amount of candy they bring home by putting a boundary on the number of streets they visit.
"Certainly the longer they're out, the more candy they're going to collect. They're going to need to get to bed too" as Halloween is on a school night this year.
Offer other activities to make the evening fun and shorten the quest for sweets. Invite a few neighbours and their children over to roast pumpkin seeds or assemble in the backyard for a fire and hot apple cider.
Have a discussion with kids about their ideas. Often they'll come up with suggestions like saving treats for after meals and brushing teeth afterward. Talk about how many treats the kids think is reasonable to have at a time or to tote in a lunch bag if they're peanut free.
"Involving the kids gives them a little bit of power but doesn't mean you can't negotiate and say, 'Well, five is probably too many. How about three?' Compromise and get them thinking about what's reasonable and not all being imposed by their parents."
Remind them it's OK to have a few treats but healthy foods are needed too.
"Talk about being healthy and feeling good and if you eat a lot of candy you're not going to have enough energy from whole foods to really make you feel good and enjoy your day," Harrison says.
After the first week post-Halloween, siphon off some of the stash from the candy bowl.
"If it's out of sight, it's out of mind and that works for adults too when your kids' candy starts calling your name at 10 o'clock at night," she says.
The odd treat the week or so after Halloween is not going to make or break a healthy food plan.
"I think it's important to keep in mind it's what the kids do all those other weeks around Halloween that really matter and let the kids have some fun. Give them a little bit of flexibility and fun around Halloween and let them enjoy the candy with those common-sense rules in place....
"Even as a dietitian I feel it's just important to not be overly restrictive because I think it just makes the kids want to have it even more."