The Halloween Candy Conundrum - A Dietitian's Recommendations
Halloween is quickly approaching and that means witches, ghouls and a whole lot of candy. Kids everywhere look forward to dressing up and filling their treat bags with candy, chocolate, fizzy drinks and potato chips. This can cause stress for parents who worry about the amount of sugary treats their kids will be indulging in on Halloween and the days after.
Instead of worrying about the number of treats your children eat on Halloween, use this holiday as a learning opportunity to teach your children about balanced eating while practicing the Division of Responsibility. Let’s look at how the division of responsibility can work for Halloween treat stashes.
Division of Responsibility on Halloween:
Remember, as a parent it is your responsibility to offer balanced and nutritious foods at set meal and snack times, while it is your child’s responsibility to determine how much and whether or not to eat those items. Believe it or not, the same principle can be applied to Halloween candy.
When your kids come home after trick-or-treating, let them dump their candy out and eat what they want. I’ll repeat that, let your kids eat as much candy as they would like on Halloween! Your children will definitely eat more candy than they normally would, and that’s normal. They may get a belly ache, and that’s okay. Use these moments to discuss how different foods can make them feel and talk about how they want to feel. If your children know that eating too much of certain foods (such as candy) will result in tummy aches, they will naturally choose to limit those foods.
After Halloween, put the candy away, but allow your children to choose a few pieces of candy at selected meal and snack times. If your children can follow this rule, let them manage their candy stash. If not (or if they are too young), continue to let them choose a few pieces of candy at meal/snack times. The key to this strategy is to offer candy at scheduled meal and snack times (alongside other foods)! By doing this, you are in control of what, when and where candy is offered - and preventing candy from spoiling their appetite. By maintaining this structure, kids will learn:
Not to feel shame or guilt while eating candy or treats
That they can enjoy candy as part of a normal, healthy meal pattern
To listen to their appetite by choosing what and how much they want to eat when they are hungry
For this approach to work smoothly, it may be best to have a conversation with your children before Halloween so they can anticipate rules and expectations.
Reflecting back on my childhood, this is the same approach my parents took with me and my siblings. On Halloween night, they watched as we ripped open (many) packages of candy, usually going to bed complaining of a stomach ache. Our candy bags were then put in the pantry and we were allowed to choose a few items to take to school for snacks and with desserts. Eventually, we got bored of eating candy for every snack and dessert and our remaining candy was either frozen or given away.
Other Tips for Halloween:
Don’t buy candy too early - this can cause unwanted snacking from parents and children alike.
Consider providing non-food treats (such as glow sticks, bubbles or stickers) for children with food allergies or other conditions. Read more about the Teal Pumpkin Project for treat inclusivity here.
Begin the Halloween festivities by having a healthy and nutritious dinner. This can help ensure your children’s bellies are full of goodness before the night of treats begin. Try this simple Turkey Chili recipe with green salad for a quick and healthy meal.
Instead of using pillow cases or large grocery bags, use smaller treat bags to collect candy. This will naturally limit the amount of treats your children collect.
Take the emphasis off the candy by having games and activities prepared for your children after trick-or-treating (such as apple bobbing and the monster mash dance).
Halloween doesn’t just have to be about sweets. Offer nutritious Halloween snacks like Boo-nanans and Spooky Apple Bites (check out the FLIP instagram for some ghostly ideas) or better yet, have your kids help you make these haunted treats!
Encourage your children to explore and play with the treats they collect. Ask your children to sort their candy by colour or from biggest to smallest.
Encourage mindful eating as they enjoy their treats: ask your children to describe the treats they are enjoying them: are they sweet, salty, crunchy, soft?
After Halloween, ask your children to sort their candies into two piles: one pile of candies they really enjoy and the other pile with candies that they don’t love. The candy that your children don’t love can be given away or donated - this prevents eating less favoured/disliked candy “just because”.
Use leftover candy to make crafts and gingerbread houses.
As a parent, enjoy candy in moderation with your children.
Halloween is but one day out of the year. Instead of being the candy police, let your children enjoy their hard earned loot alongside scheduled meals and snacks. This strategy preserves the balance of power all while letting your children relish in the joys of Halloween.
Take a look at our Instagram (@FLIPProgram) for more tips and tricks for a healthy and safe Halloween!