Halloween -- How A Dietitian Handles The Treats

Halloween - How a Dietitian Handles the Treats

Halloween – a day devoted to costumes, tricks, and treats. And with those treats comes a lot of sugar, artificial color and flavor, and ingredients my family doesn't normally eat. But this doesn’t mean kids can’t or shouldn’t eat candy on Halloween.

As a registered dietitian, my approach to Halloween candy may be a bit different than you would expect from someone who embraces healthy eating. Of course, excess sugar in the diet is less than ideal, but as with most things parenting-related, it’s all about balance and seeing the big picture.

We want our kids to have some exposure to sweets and treats so they don't binge on them in the future. When we restrict our children's access to sweets they tend to overeat when they're not hungry. Feelings of deprivation can also lead to sneaking candy. The take-home message is, depriving kids of foods they enjoy can increase the chance of bingeing or overeating and this can lead to an unhealthy cycle. 

So, what's a health-conscious mama (or daddy-o) to do? Do we just let our kids have unlimited access to candy? Not quite. Follow these guidelines to make Halloween a wonderful exploration of food and sweets.

1. Offer A Filling, High-Protein Dinner and Plenty of Water Before Trick-or-Treating

Hangry kiddos will have a tough time listening to their bodies around candy. Before you head out to trick-or-treat, offer a whole grain pasta dish with ground turkey and veggies, Chili (vegan, if desired), or veggie pizza. These sweet and spicy toasted pumpkin seeds make a special after school snack on Halloween day.

Consider taking a water bottle when you're out trick-or-treating. All that walking, or in my boys' case – running, works up a thirst. It's easy to confuse hunger with thirst, which may result in more candy consumed. 

2. Incorporate Color

It’s about balance throughout the day, so starting with breakfast and continuing to dinner, offer plenty of fruits and veggies. This will ensure your kiddos get some vitamins and minerals in their system. Your child’s pre-trick-or-treating meal might be the last chance to get nutrients into their body.

3. Decide If Your Kiddo Is Old Enough For Candy 

Most babies aren't ready for many types of candy because it's difficult to chew, plus babies don't quite understand what they're missing. One- and two-year-olds may be very aware they're receiving candy and may want to try it. As the parent, it's your choice whether or not to start exploring candy with your young toddler. (In our home we allow our kids to try Halloween candy once they're one year of age, but this is a decision you'll have to make.) If your child is going trick-or-treating, it may be difficult for them to understand why they can't eat the candy.

4. Once You Get Back Home, Sort It! 

Remove any choking hazards or candies that may be difficult to chew like taffy, gum, or hard candy for kids under 4. (Use this opportunity to put together a Mom or Dad stash of your favorites! You know, for safety and all... :) 

5. Allow Your Child To Sort, Explore, and Eat As Much Candy As He Wants When You Get Home. 

Refrain from commenting on how much he is eating or pressuring him to stop. Also, avoid overexcitement about candy – remember, we want our kids to see all food as food, not "something special." Let him feel his own fullness and decide when to stop. If you haven't been doing this with your kiddos, they may test you and overeat - which may lead to a stomach ache. Try not to take the "see, I told you so" route with them; rather, gently discuss what happened and explain that sometimes if we eat more than our belly is hungry for, it hurts. If you start this approach young, you will likely be very surprised by how little candy your kiddo actually eats!

6. Consider Giving the Candy Away.

In my house, my boys separate their candy into two piles: “really like” and “can part with.” For the candy in the "part with" pile, the boys give it to the “Switch Witch” who swoops in on Halloween night and takes their candy in exchange for a toy or money. This reduces the total amount of candy in your house, and everyone’s happy. 

The candy can also be donated to our military men and women overseas, or check out a "Buy Back" program in your area where kids can sell their candy to local businesses, mostly dentist offices, for $1 a pound. 

7. You Provide, Child Decides. 

You provide and child decides. You decide how often you want to serve Halloween candy again for the next few weeks. This doesn't mean your child gets candy whenever they ask for it.

Important caveat: this does not mean we offer candy with every meal and snack or whenever our kiddos ask for it. Remember, you provide food of your choice at regular meals and they decide how much to eat.

When you do serve candy, let your child decide how much to eat and avoid tying it to behaviors ("You must finish your vegetables to get candy" or "No candy if you don't clean up your toys"). Rather, serve it with or after meals without making a fuss about it. You can do it once, five times, with every meal, or never again – this is up to you. If you remain neutral about it, oftentimes children lose interest and even forget about their candy stash.

8. Keep the Candy Out of Sight Until You Decide to Serve It Again. 

A child who sees the candy in plain view will ask for it often. Put it out of reach, and if your child asks to have some when you weren't planning to serve it, explain, "We aren't having candy right now. Maybe tomorrow." If your child is young enough, he may forget about it once the candy is out of sight.

Remember, it isn’t October 31st that makes kids unhealthy, rather continuously making poor food choices can lead to and instill in children a lifetime of poor eating habits. Enjoy the night!

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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