A Dietitian’s Halloween Survival Guide for Parents
Guest post by Sarah Remmer, RD
Halloween is fast approaching. Or is it? It feels like it’s just around the corner because Halloween costumes, spooky books, and mega-sized boxes of treats are available to purchase! The only thing that I suggest purchasing this far in advance would be a fun new trick-or-treating book (or maybe a costume) to get the kids excited. Let’s be honest, those big boxes of Halloween treats will get opened, scarfed and you’ll have to re-purchase right before Halloween. Am I right? To survive Halloween, I thought I would share my top 5 Halloween survival tips to get you through the “terrifying” season. Because kids and sugar and full moons… you get the picture.
1. Don’t Buy Too Early and Don’t Buy Too Much!
I’m talking to the parent who was sent to the grocery store with a small list of essentials and the parents who are just trying to be prepared. Put the candy back! I know you think you won’t open the box, but let’s be honest, you will. We ALL open the box when purchased too early. The teeny-tiny packages are too alluring. But when you line up three small chocolate bars guess what you get? A full-sized chocolate bar! When you DO eventually purchase candy for trick-or-treaters, purchase the candy that is not your personal favourite. This way you’re less likely to go crazy on it. And speaking of leftovers... It’s hard to determine how many trick-or-treaters you may be expecting in your neighbourhood. I live in one of those kid-filled suburban communities that has hundreds of kids walking the streets Halloween night, while some quieter more mature communities might only receive a few dozen. Wherever you live, buy accordingly, but not too much. Less really is more! Parents don’t want to see you dumping handfuls of candy into their kids’ Halloween bags. Plan for about 2-3 pieces per kid, max. And if you run out – turn off the lights!
2. Rethink the Treats and Be Inclusive
Growing up we had a dentist living on the street. And can you guess what we got for Halloween from his house? Toothbrushes. As boring as that sounds to a kid, guess what, I used that toothbrush! Kids will get A LOT of candy, so why not mix up your offerings to include some non-candy and allergy-friendly options. This works great for younger siblings who are tagging along as well (it’s not really recommended that kids under two consume added sugar).
Last year when trick-or-treating with my littles they were given the option at one house to take either candy or something from the toy bowl. And guess what? They chose Play-Doh! Other great candy-alternatives include stickers, pencils, glow sticks, and the classic spider ring! For allergy-friendly food options try fruit and veggie squeeze pouches, boxes of raisins, or peanut-free granola bars.
3. To Be (Or Not to Be) the Candy Police
This is often the big debate at Halloween time. My answer is mostly no, but a little yes. You need to wear your “candy police” badge only when inspecting their initial candy haul. Check that candy has not been altered and that it is safely packaged. It’s also important to read the labels. With cannabis-infused candy making its way mainstream, it will be even more important this Halloween season to make sure what your kids receive is safe and appropriate to eat (it sounds crazy, but this is the world we live in now!). Once you’ve done your safety check, ditch the police badge and let your kids go to town. You heard me—let them enjoy their candy freely. Remember, not every night is Halloween night! Let them decide how much candy they’d like to eat and relax.
Placing restrictions on their candy consumption will only fuel their desire to consume more. This is true in both kids AND adults. Kids who have regular access to sweets and other forbidden foods eat them moderately. When kids are allowed regular access to candy or other sweet foods, they are more likely to consume them moderately and to self-regulate based on their hunger. Children who have restricted access to treats often over-consume when given the opportunity (the “get it while they can” mentality), regardless of hunger. According to childhood feeding expert Ellyn Satter, when it comes to Halloween treats, it’s best to allow your kids free access to their candy for the first couple of days, and then relegate it to meal and snack time. This allows parents to maintain structure when it comes to snacking and sweets.
Yes, as parents we need to minimize added sugar most of the time (the World Health Organization recommends kids consume less than 25 grams per day (or approximately 6 tsp), but allowing your kids to “have at ‘er” on Halloween (which happens once a year), teaches them moderation and allows for natural consequences. Which brings me to my next point.
4. Allow It to Be a Teaching Moment
Let’s face it, there are natural consequences to indulging in one too many packets of skittles. So, instead of telling your child to stop their candy consumption, remind them to “slow down” and “listen to your tummy”. By kindly reminding them of their own hunger and satiety cues you are allowing them to be in control of their own intake without interfering. If your child ends up with a tummy ache, so be it! Ask them why they think it happened and what they can do next time to avoid it. Avoid the “I told you so” glance because this can evoke feelings of shame. Let them experience the ache without judgment and let them figure out for themselves why they feel yucky.
5. Give Your Kids the Choice of Keeping It or Trading It In for Something Else
Each of your kids now has a pillowcase full of candy. Now what? Encourage them to explore and play with it. Get them to separate their stash into piles: the “can’t live without” pile, the “just okay” pile and the “no thanks” pile. Offer to exchange their “just okay” and “no thanks” piles for something else. Perhaps they’ve been eyeing a toy car or a new book. Or maybe they want to do something special like go to a movie! It doesn’t hurt to ask but allow them to have the final say and give them choice. One thing I love doing with my kids is suggesting we use smaller candy pieces like M&Ms for baking cookies! Because baking cookies is something we can do together as a family and they can be frozen in order to enjoy later!
In the week following Halloween allow your kids to decide when they would like their Halloween treats. I allow my kids to choose whether they would like them—with a meal or as part of a snack. Bottom line? Halloween is a great opportunity to talk to your kids about mindfulness and self-regulation. Enjoy!
About Sarah Remmer, RD
Sarah Remmer is a registered dietitian, author, writer/blogger, mom of 3, and founder of the Centre for Family Nutrition. She's passionate about teaching parents how to feed their families well (and stay nourished themselves!).