how halloween treats help your child’s overall relationship with food
INSTEAD OF STRESSING ABOUT THE CANDY OVERLOAD, USE IT AS A TEACHING TOOL FOR HEALTHY AND BALANCED EATING
Halloween can often feel like a daunting holiday to many parents. From the last-minute costume changes to the sugar highs and lows, parenting around Halloween can feel exhausting. Although I can’t help with the costumes, I can help with the stress of the candy overload. As much as you might feel the need to play “treat police” this Halloween, try not to. It’s no fun for you, and it takes the joy out of Halloween for your kids. Instead, take advantage of this holiday by using it as a teaching tool for healthy and balanced eating habits—an excuse to actually improve your child’s long-term relationship with food.
Parents often struggle with how to manage Halloween treats. Some go-to Halloween Candy strategies are:
1) No Limits to Candy Consumption: Kids are allowed to “go for it” on Halloween night without interference or policing from parents over the amount or type of candy consumed.
2) Candy Trade-In: Kids choose a few of their favourite candies and then trade them in for a non-food toy or game. This can be an agreement between parent and child, or be left to the “Switch Witch” who will take away the chosen candy and replace it with the desired non-food gift.
3) Limit Kids to Only One Treat A Day: This often leads to sneaking and overindulging when parents aren’t around.
Every family is different, and what works for one might not work for the next, but what I encourage parents to do–regardless of their Halloween strategy is this:
Make Halloween less about managing your child’s short-term sugar intake and more about teaching them how to manage their indulgences long-term. The latter is much more important.
MAKE A PLAN:
It’s much easier to manage treats before they are in your house, so make sure to wait until the day before (or day of) to buy Halloween candy, so that you don’t have to deal with the “see-food syndrome.” Also, send your kids out with smaller bags or buckets and limit the time that they are out or the number of houses your kids visit so that their stash is smaller to begin with. Before your kids go trick-or-treating, try to also make sure they are offered a healthy, balanced meal to fill their tummies and give them energy beforehand.
Here are 4 life-long eating lessons you can teach your kids on Halloween:
PICK HIGH QUALITY TREATS:
I often encourage parents to “spoil their child’s treat palate” with higher quality sweets and to really enjoy them (after all, that’s what treats are for—to bring joy). I often ask my kids to tell me their favourite part of their treat-eating experience (“do you like the cream cheese icing the best, or the pumpkin cake part?”), and get them to help me prepare it. This gives kids a better appreciation for real food made with real ingredients, and how delicious treats can really taste (and that they don’t need a lot to feel satisfied). Halloween often teaches kids to eat what they’ve collected, not what they actually want.
When your child returns 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). 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.
TRY SOMETHING NEW:
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).
LET THEM TAKE THE LEAD:
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 candy. In other words, this doesn’t teach them how to moderate their intake of treats. Up until the age of about 4, together with your child, choose a daily amount of candy that seems fair to have (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 4 (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.
LET THEM MAKE MISTAKES:
Kids learn by making mistakes and however upsetting it is for us parents to see our kids gorge on treats (and even get sick), ultimately, this will teach our kids to moderate their intake of them. Instead of getting angry and punishing kids for eating too many candies, 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 the difference between “everyday foods” (healthful foods) and “fun foods” (treats) and how the fun is taken out when too much is consumed. You can say something like, “Our bodies don’t like too many fun foods at once because it doesn’t leave enough room for everyday foods, so they fight back by feeling sick.” Or something like that. Instead of feeling embarrassed and ashamed, your child will learn from her mistake and think twice before doing it again.
Instead of dreading Halloween, think of it as a great opportunity to teach your kids about moderation, balance, and healthful indulging.
Written by Sarah Remmer, Original Version on sarahremmer.com