Heather Bray, RD
Help! I don’t want my kids eating too much sugar and candy this Halloween!
The influx of sweets from Halloween and the holidays to come over the next few months can make some parents feel anxious.
Parents want their kids to participate in all the halloween fun, carving pumpkins and dressing up but get nervous about the amount of candy that will be entering their home. This is such a valid concern!
Over the last year it seems that we’ve been seeing more and more articles, top doctors and other people in the media talking about how sugar is “so bad”. Certainly, too much of something can be harmful, but to expect ourselves and our kids to totally abstain from all added sugars is completely unrealistic.
We can avoid over-consumption and sugar becoming a “problem” by forming our own healthy relationships with food and modelling these behaviours to children.
When parents ask me questions about Halloween candy or even express concerns about their child eating too much of a certain food, I always turn to the Division of Responsibility. Created by Ellyn Satter, the Division of Responsibility provides parents with guidelines on how to feed their children from birth to adolescence (the Ellyn Satter Institute also has a post on this same topic, feel free to check it out here).
The goal of these guidelines is to raise kids who are able to eat intuitively, in a way that is aligned with their body so that they can make decisions about how much they want to eat. Not only does this foster healthy eating practices but it breeds a healthy relationship with food, skills that kids will use for the rest of their lives.
Having food rules forced upon children by parents and caregivers can disturb natural hunger and fullness cues. Restrictions around certain foods often cause a rebound effect in kids.
Think about in your own life, when you’ve been told you can’t have something, more often than not it will make you want it more. Let’s use the pandemic as an example. When the pandemic first started, people were so worried that they wouldn’t have access to toilet paper, so they started buying lots of it, loading up just in case they can’t access it again. This is called a scarcity complex and this is exactly what happens when we over-control and restrict kids’ intake of certain foods.
Most often kids who have been restricted of the foods that they desire will sneak them and if they can’t, they may grow up to one day eat large amounts of these foods when they are able to purchase it themselves. I see adults who struggle with this issue for this exact same reason every day.
To summarize, The Division of Responsibility states that:
Parents are responsible for:
What’s on the menu
Meals and snacks at regular times
Making mealtimes pleasant (take negative food language out of the conversation: avoid using words like bad for you, unhealthy, junk)
Kids are responsible for:
How much they eat
Learning about new foods
Learning about how to behave at meal times
The best thing that you can do as a parent is to help nurture a healthy relationship with food in your kids. Some parents who have adopted this method will offer Halloween candy with meals and/or with snacks throughout the entire month of October and into November.
Having a little bit each day takes the novelty out of these foods and more often than not results in their kids having just a couple on Halloween night. It may come as a surprise but most of the kids with the least food rules, often don’t even eat all of the candy from their Halloween haul.
Instead of staring in horror at the massive amount of candy that is suddenly in your home - take the focus off the candy. Ask about the costumes they saw other kids wearing, what their favourite house was to visit, who had the best homemade costume, did they run into any friends?
If the kids are focussed on the candy and seem very excited, don't try to divert their attention incessantly, get inquisitive here too: have you ever seen this candy before? Which one will you try first? Which one is your favourite? This one is my favourite! A healthy conversation can go a long way too.
At the end of the day, your kids see the candy they’ve collected as a prize for their awesome costumes and the work they put in running from house to house. Let’s take the focus off the candy and back on the other parts of Halloween that are just as [and maybe even more] exciting than the candy.
Your kids see the candy they’ve collected as a prize for their awesome costumes and the work they put in running from house to house. Let’s take the focus off the candy and back on the other parts of Halloween
If Halloween candy has been an issue with you and your kids in the past or this is your first year taking the kids out trick-or-treating and you’re nervous, give the above method a try.
If you have more questions or concerns, feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email!