Halloween can come with many opportunities for candy and other fun foods. Apple cider donuts and slushies at the pumpkin patch, treats from school parties, and of course, a stash of candy after trick or treating. It may be surprising to hear from a dietitian, but when asked how to deal with Halloween candy, my answer is “don’t”.
Our goal for children is to be able to regulate all foods, even candy and sweets, based on what their body wants. When children have regular access to candy and other fun foods, they eat these foods moderately and are able to stop when they are full. When children are deprived or restricted of fun foods, they often eat past the point of fullness. The more attention we give a food, the more likely children are to internalize guilt associated with the food, as well as develop problematic behaviors like sneaking and hiding foods.
First, it is helpful to talk about candy in a neutral way. Instead of saying, “candy has too much sugar”, we can educate children by saying, “candy is a quick-energy food”. We can extend the energy by offering milk with candy or serving candy with a meal or snack that has a combination of foods like protein, fat, or fiber. Eating simple carbohydrates like candy with protein, fiber, or fat helps slow digestion and therefore extends the energy in candy over a longer period of time.
Child feeding expert Ellyn Satter recommends as parents, we keep our intrusions minimal when it comes to candy. On Halloween, let your children spread out their candy and enjoy what they want. Do the same the next day. After a few days of unlimited access, advise your child that candy can be offered at meal or snack times. Children learn to manage sweets and keep them in a reasonable quantity if we include them in family meals or snacks. You will find that children tire of large amounts of candy after a week or so. However, the effects of restriction can last much longer.
After Halloween, it can be helpful to come up with a flexible dessert policy based on what works for your household. Maybe this means dessert is offered with dinner 4-5 nights a week, or cookies are offered as a snack with fruit daily. In order to maintain a good relationship with food and desserts, it is essential that desserts not be offered as a reward or bribe.
If your household needs to revamp its attitudes toward sugar and sweets, it is never too late to start! Try letting your child manage their Halloween candy this year and act as a quiet observer. It might surprise you how quickly children learn to manage their candy intake when given the opportunity.