Halloween is a scary topic, especially when we as parents are trying to learn that balance of nurturing our kids while teaching them healthy habits and cultivating memories.
Whatever your thoughts and feelings are about this holiday, Halloween happens.
Candy comes out just as the monsters and ghouls start walking down the street.
You want your kids to participate in and enjoy this holiday, but you also find yourself (silently or very vocally) freaking out about all the sugar they are eating. You wonder, will an unhealthy relationship with food result by either allowing or not allowing them to participate in Halloween?
One thing I’ve learned as a mother is I can’t hide from Halloween … and truth be told, I don’t want to.
Halloween and all the tricks and treats that come with it are going to happen. Halloween will be a time you can create a lot of fun memories, explore creativity, and serve as an excellent teaching opportunity on how to handle candy and other “treats” that your child will be sure to face more than once in his or her life.
In no way do I think my approach is perfect, but as a registered dietitian and a mom, I’m going to share the way we approach Halloween and all of the candy that comes with it.
They eat a real meal before we head out trick-or-treating.
Our usual tradition is chili and a salad. It is a filling meal that I know they love, easy to make, and I can pack with extra fiber from beans.
We walk the streets, we trick-or-treat, we have fun, we enjoy time with our neighbors.
One thing I don’t say (still training the husband on this one) is “Do you know how much sugar is in that???” It’s Halloween. If you take your kids trick or treating, your kids are going to come home with a bag filled with sugar. By shaming kids with how much sugar is in their bag, you’re making them feel they have to sneak the food and setting them up to overeat. Being the food police ultimately causes more harm than letting them just enjoying the night.
When we get home, I let them eat what they want.
It’s one night. This one night is not going to cause chronic problems. What happens after Halloween night, and our approach (meaning us as parents) to candy overall, is what will set the tone for your kids’ relationship with food.
Keep what they love, toss what they don’t.
After they check out all their goodies, I then ask them to separate what they love and what they don’t like. This step right here helps them start identifying and honoring their food preferences. By giving them ownership in deciding what they like and what they don’t like, they are taking control instead of mom dictating what they can and cannot have.
What they don’t like will be given away or tossed it in the trash.
This is stuff that my kids have decided they don’t enjoy. This is where I work on teaching them that food should be pleasure and to really learn to identify and honor their personal preferences. I don’t want my girls to eat candy or treats they don’t like just because it’s been banned an “off limit food.” The truth is the more we set foods as “off limits,” the more they are going to want to eat, and most likely overeat, the food. If the candy is not adding pleasure and enjoyment to their life, then it should be tossed. It is okay to challenge your kids to identify their favorite and least favorite treats.
What they decide to keep, we put away.
After Halloween night they are not allowed free reign of the candy basket. They know this and understand it. They are okay with it. I put the leftover candy up high and out of sight in my pantry.
We keep an open, on going conversation about how foods make them feel.
We discuss if too much candy caused a stomach ache or made them cranky. If they complain about a stomach ache, we reflect on what they ate and how it might not be the best for them. I help my girls identify how they want to feel. They know they do not like the feeling of a tummy ache; therefore, they are intrinsically motivated to eat foods that make them feel good and avoid foods or eating too much of foods that make them feel bad. Reminding them that they are in charge of their body and my job is to teach and guide them, helps them feel empowered over the decisions they make.
My oldest daughter is now eleven and cannot tell you how many years we have had more than half the bucket of leftover candy six months after Halloween night. It’s not because they have this incredible self control or willpower. I believe it is because we have worked together cultivating an attitude of no shame or guilt associated with Halloween treats. And then, when it is put out of sight, they forget about it.
More Tips from Other Mom Dietitians on Handling Halloween:
“I often stock up on trinkets for the treat bowl, spider rings, tattoos, stickers, pencils. The kids like getting something different to add to their loot!” ~Kate Rountree, RDN, LDN; Acadiana Nutrition Group
“Through the the years, I’ve allowed my kids to have whatever candy they want on Halloween night. I’ve never had them go super crazy and eat an amount that I thought was excessive. They enjoy sorting and trading among themselves! Once they go to bed, I go through and throw away the candy that I know they don’t like. This just decreases the volume! That way, what’s left are items that they’ll truly enjoy, and not just eat for the sake of eating. In the days that follow, they’ll ask for something after their after-school snack, which I allow. Then after a few days, they forget about it and I toss most of what’s left. I may keep a few things that I know they really love for treats. For example, instead of buying at the ballpark, I’ll let my little girl pick something to bring. Again, I’ve never had them overindulge in what I keep. I don’t want them to associate enjoying a treat with something viewed as bad.” ~Jessica P. Eckert, MPH, RD, LDN; Dietetics Professor at University of Louisiana and GI Specialist
“I keep it simple. Let them choose their favorite 3- 4 candies from the pile the first night, then we start throwing or giving it away.” ~Brandi Boudreaux, RDN, LDN; Consultant Dietitian
“The way I approach Halloween is to fill the kids up with real food before heading out to trick or treat that way they are less likely to overdose on sugar. The next day they sort through and keep a small ziplock bag of favorites to have at snack time over the next week or so. If there is a lot left over then we will bring it to Quest Pediatric, Dr Troy Miller and Dr. Shilpa. They have a candy buy back to send candy to the troops. It helps for them to see the candy is going to someone else to enjoy while knowing they still have a stash of favorite at home.” ~Lauren Felder, RDN, LDN; Dietitian for City Club at River Ranch