How to Talk to Kids About Halloween Candy in A Healthful Way
Ah, Halloween. The holiday kids love and most parents love to hate. If it’s not the last minute costume changes or figuring out how to keep them warm while trick or treating in a leotard, it’s managing the candy. All. The. Candy. We have no tips on costume issues (but we’ll gladly take yours!) but we do have some tips and thoughts on how to manage candy in a healthful way that provides boundaries while still promoting a healthy relationship with food.
It’s inevitable that your kids will encounter Halloween candy once they start school, if not earlier. This isn’t a bad thing — candy is fun and delicious! It can be challenging for parents and caregivers to manage kids’ expectations while keeping overall added sugar intake at a healthy level, but there are ways to strike a balance.
Keep small bellies filled with mostly nutritious foods.
- Before your kids head out for a night of trick or treating, make sure they’ve eaten a healthful meal. This way they’ll be able to avoid being given a bucket of candy on an empty, hungry stomach.
Set clear boundaries about when and what gets offered.
- You may decide to allow your child to regulate themselves within a certain time period on the day of Halloween (using tip #1 as a means to help them better self-regulate without going overboard). Some experts believe that it’s helpful to occasionally allow a child unlimited amounts of their favorites to help prevent the food from feeling off limits. However, this is a decision you should make considering your child and what you feel comfortable with. Once Halloween is over, and candy remains, we recommend setting up an agreed time when remaining Halloween candy gets eaten and an agreed amount. For instance, one piece with lunch or snack and one after dinner.
Put candy in one designated place.
- Find one spot where the candy will live until the time comes to eat it. Make this out of sight if you can. This helps prevent kids from seeing and being reminded of it in various places. When it’s easily accessible, older children might graze multiple times a day on candy, which can spoil their appetite for other healthful foods. Putting candy away helps encourage children to be mindful about their candy consumption.
Make candy talk neutral both for kids and parents.
- If a child hears a parent say they feel guilty for indulging in a piece of candy, it can make it seem bad or off-limits. Avoid making kids feel bad for wanting candy. If they ask why they can only have a certain amount, a good neutral reply is that in order to be healthy, one needs to leave room in his/her belly for other foods, too.
Shift the focus.
- Instead of focusing on what kids can’t have (all day candy!), think of other fun Halloween / fall activities to grab their attention, like painting mini pumpkins or going on a leaf scavenger hunt.
Don’t let it linger (…or do!).
- Some research shows that when a desired food item is in the house, there’s more of a preoccupation for kids to want it and ask for it. Keep this in mind when you are deciding on how much and what gets brought in. We often recommend keeping in the house what you feel comfortable with your kids eating most of the time. Since you don’t have much control over the types of candy your kids bring home in their trick or treat bags (or have at birthday parties, friends’ houses, school, etc.), you may consider having kids pick their favorite types of candy and donating the rest. Some dental offices will trade kids a toy for a portion of their candy in the days after Halloween. This gives your child a chance to decide what candy they actually enjoy and which can go (and gives you a chance to inspect candy for safety/age appropriateness, and limit the ingredients that you’re not crazy about them having on a regular basis.)
Are there any other techniques you like to use to help make the candy holiday a happy and healthy one?