As a Mom of three, I too struggle with how to manage candy on Halloween, but as a pediatric dietitian and feeding expert, I also know that this holiday can serve as a very valuable teaching tool for our kids’ long term eating habits and relationship with food.
Here are 4 life-long eating lessons you can teach your kids on Halloween:
TEACH THEM TO BE PICKY (ABOUT TREATS):
When your kids return from trick-or-treating, get them to sort through their candy and choose the "can't-live-without" treats (a number that you have negotiated with your child and that seems fair to both of you), and put the "just ok" treats in another pile. Then, ask your child if they would like to trade their mediocre candy in for some homemade chocolate chip cookies (that you make together the next day) or something sweet that they love even more (let's say an ice cream cone from their favourite ice cream shop), or even a non-food-focused experience like going to the zoo or an indoor playground. This teaches kids to be choosy with their treats and eat what they love (and enjoy it) instead of eating what's in front of them just because it's there.
TEACH THEM TO BE BRAVE:
We often encourage our kids to try new foods at mealtimes. Instead of policing treat foods, do something that your kids don't expect and encourage them to try a new candy or chocolate treat that they've never had before. For example, if they always go for gummy-type candies, encourage them to try a mini chocolate bar with nuts in it for a change to see if they like the taste. This will not only put treats on a more level playing field with other foods (which will decrease the desirability of them), but will also encourage them to be more adventurous with all foods (including healthier ones at mealtimes).
TEACH THEM TO BE RESPONSIBLE:
If you take charge of the candy stash and police when and how much candy can be consumed, you're sending the message that your kids cannot be trusted with it. In other words, this doesn't teach them how to moderate their intake of treats. Up until the age of about four, together with your child, choose a daily amount of candy that seems fair (maybe it's one, two, or four) and allow your child to decide when they are going to have it (it could be for dessert after lunch, as part of a snack in the afternoon, or even WITH a meal). After the age of four (this varies depending on the child), they are likely ready to manage and store their own stash with the expectation that they will adhere to the daily amounts that were negotiated and eat their candy in a designated area (usually the kitchen table where there's few distractions). Giving kids the opportunity to manage their candy stash will take some of the power away from the candy and give them the confidence to manage their treats in a healthy way.
TEACH THEM TO LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES:
Kids learn by making mistakes and however upsetting it is for us parents to see our kids gorge on treats, ultimately this will teach them to regulate their intake of them. Instead of getting angry and punishing kids for eating too many treats, approach the situation calmly and get your child to talk about it. Ask her why she thinks she feels sick and what she might do next time to avoid the same feeling again. Explain that it’s important to eat all different types of food everyday, and if we fill up on only one type, it doesn’t leave any room for other types. Instead of feeling embarrassed and ashamed, your child will learn from her mistake and think twice before doing it again.
One thing that I always suggest to parents is to serve a balanced meal with some “staying power foods” like protein-rich meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils or dairy along with fibre-rich foods like whole grains, fruits and veggies, so that everyone heads out trick-or-treating satisfied and not overly hungry. Treats are fun to eat and can be included in moderation, but they shouldn’t replace other nutritious foods or fill hunger gaps. Make sure that there’s at least one food that every child enjoys– I call these foods “courteous foods”—as It eliminates the need to make special meals (because everyone has something that they will eat!) and takes the pressure off everyone.
This, along with keeping these four eating lessons in mind will decrease your Halloween stress and create opportunity to teach your kids about moderation, balance, mindful indulging.