The costumes are ready, and the children’s energy is rising! It’s almost time for trick-or-treating! It’s a time to be imaginative and to let go and have fun.
Does the thought of managing your children’s candy make you feel uncomfortable? You may be a parent who takes care to feed your children nutritious food, so Halloween may seem like an undoing of all your good intentions.
AT OUR HOUSE
I’d like to share with you what we do in our home. Please note that I am a nutritionist, and so yes, I do know the importance of healthy eating! But at this time of year, I take a step back, relax, and let the children have fun. Why? Because Halloween is exciting and I want them to live it fully. I also keep the bigger picture in mind: the long term lessons I want my children to learn.
In our home, the children have always been allowed to eat as much candy as they want on Halloween. Because they have the power to decide how much of their candy to eat on Halloween night, there is no power struggle. They are excited to come home and dump out their load. They categorize it, and count it. They actually take out the types they don’t like (mom and dad are happy to get donations too!). Then they sit down and we let them eat as much as they want! The leftovers get put into a bowl (one bowl for each child) and over the next week or so, they are allowed to choose a small portion as an option for their dessert.
WHAT ARE WE TEACHING?
What are we teaching them by doing it this way? We are saying to them:
We trust you to listen to your body. Candy is a special treat, but it is not something to be coveted, or hidden and snuck, and there is no need to feel guilty about eating it. We eat it because it tastes good and its fun, but not because it helps us grow and be healthy, therefore we don’t eat it often all year round.
Here are some points to consider:
- First, Halloween comes once a year. Your kids won’t become overweight from eating too much candy for a few days, or even a week.
- Second, you may be surprised, but your kids may well eat less than you expected once the power to choose is handed to them.
- Third, you can set some guidelines as to how to handle the “leftovers” once Halloween is officially over.
Having candy on hand does not mean they eat as much as they like whenever they like. For example, for us, what works well is to let the children choose a reasonable portion as an option for dessert. In my experience, the thrill of eating candy usually wears out before the leftover bowls are empty. We do not allow candy to go to school in the lunchbox, the rationale being that they do not brush their teeth at school.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Let’s also put this in the context of the bigger picture. As parents, our job is to decide when, where and what our kids eat. In other words, we set a schedule, choose where the food is served, and plan the menu. This is the basic premise of the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, developed by Ellyn Satter.
Once a parent’s job is done however, the children own the job of deciding how much and even whether they eat. If you choose to allow Halloween candy to be on the menu, then following the principles of letting your child decide how much to eat would naturally go along with that.
Halloween candy is part of the less nutritious choices of foods that are available. They are occasional choices in your household, ideally, whereas more nutritious foods make up most of the menu so that your children get all the nutrients they need to grow and be healthy. Less nutritious foods are not necessarily inherently bad for one’s health, but they offer little or nothing in the way of nutrition. But for these foods, including Halloween candy, it’s not about the vitamins and minerals; it’s about taste and pleasure and fun!
Learning to be able to handle these foods, and make choices, is all part of being a healthy eater. In the long run, that is what we would like for our children to have: a healthy relationship to food.
SOME TIPS FOR MANAGING HALLOWEEN
- Serve a complete meal before going out trick-or-treating. At least you know they will have some nutritious foods in their bellies (if nothing else, this will probably make you feel better).
- Tell them in advance what the approach will be with their candy.
- Tell them they have the power to choose how much of which candy they eat.
- Let them know that they are responsible for how they feel after eating their candy.
Help them learn to listen to their body. As they eat their candy, ask them if they feel full. Let them know they will have a chance to eat some more tomorrow and the next day. There are also natural consequences from eating too much candy—stomach aches, difficulty sleeping, perhaps not feeling so great the next day. If your kids experience any of these, acknowledge them, “I see you have a tummy ache,” and help them to see the link “you ate a lot of candy, and sometimes that gives people a belly ache”.
Make sure they brush their teeth well before going to sleep!
Katja Leccisi, MS, RDN, author of How to Feed Your Kids: Four Steps to Raising Healthy Eaters is a registered dietitian-nutritionist in both Canada and the United States. She has spent her entire career working with families and educators in community, clinical and workshop settings in both countries as a nutritionist, and for ten years as a La Leche League Leader and Certified Lactation Consultant. Visit her website and join the conversation on Facebook