Kids and Halloween Candy

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Ahhhh. The fresh smell of plastic and chocolate after ripping open that way too expensive bag of Halloween candy to pass out to trick-or-treaters...or maybe I’ll just save this bag for me…

While doing research and writing this article, I talked to many parents and reflected on my own Halloween candy experiences. Looking back, I remember being so excited about all the candy I collected on Halloween. My little sister and I would spill it all out, sort through the “good” ones, like the Reese’s peanut butter cups (duh), would swap and trade, and then proceed to eat our favorites. I do specifically remember wanting my candy to last a long time, so I would only eat a small amount the night of, and save the rest for the following weeks in my lunch box. Good job mom. Whatever you did worked. I never felt deprived, I didn’t sneak candy, and didn’t obsess over it. Halloween candy was a treat to be enjoyed and really wasn’t a big deal like what I’m running into today talking with parents, and myself, when wondering “what to do” about candy.

SO, here are some tips and words of wisdom from myself and other experts to help you choose what to do with your candy.

  1. Don’t villainize the candy. Candy is not wrong or bad. How YOU react to candy and sugar is how THEY’LL react to candy and sugar. Don’t make comments about how unhealthy or bad it is for you.  Halloween is a great holiday to send the message that there are no good and bad foods. Please who develops eating challenges typically have that all or nothing mentality. They developed strict rules.  We don’t want that for our kids. They are naturally intuitive eaters and how they become not intuitive eaters is by their parents. Kids who are allowed candy are less likely to overeat it - research says.  Let your kids eat as much as they want! If you feel like you're saving them from something, like a tummy ache, it usually doesn't work.

    When I was researching more, I came across Emily Fonnesbeck, a registered dietitian and mom who writes often about kids’ nutrition on her blog. Shockingly, Fonnesbeck said she lets her kids eat as much candy as they want, sort of. “It’s tempting for a parent to believe that if they tell their kids what to do with their candy, their kids will do it and be healthier,” she says. But apparently that doesn't work. Kids won't learn to listen to their own hunger cues if you're constantly telling them what and when to eat, she explained. "They either restrict or they have all of it.”

    So Fonnesbeck uses a system called the Division of Responsibility in Feeding created by Ellyn Satter, a renowned nutritionist and family therapist. “It’s a system that teaches kids how to trust themselves instead of micromanaging them,” Fonnesbeck said. Parents are in charge of meal times and what the food options are, and kids decide what and how much they eat. If kids want candy, she says, that should be one of their options for a snack, no matter what time of year.

    But what if they want ALL the candy ALL the time? Maybe some science will put you at ease. “We know from food habituation studies that the more often someone actually eats a food, if they’re allowed to eat it every day, overall calorie consumption from that food decreases, as opposed to if they eat it once a week as a ‘cheat meal,’” Fonnesbeck said. And despite about 5,000 years of anecdotal evidence, no studies have proven a link between sugar and hyperactivity in kids. Sugar is linked to obesity and metabolic diseases like diabetes, but micromanaging your kids’ candy consumption may actually make them crave it more.

    Get this other crazy case study...Imagine a bunch of kids in a room and researchers told them they CAN’T eat the red M&M’s, but they can have all the yellow ones they want. Which ones do you think they ate? Exactly. The red ones.  We want what we cant have!

  2. Don’t trick or treat on an empty stomach.  Eat a balanced dinner before trick or treating.  Also, tips for parents, don’t “save your calories” for the candy you’re probably going to ear yourself, you will probably end up overeating and feeling sick. Feeling deprived and restricted usually leads to a feeling out of control with food.

  3. Let your kids celebrate the holiday!  Yes there's candy and treats, but it shouldn't be shamed!

  4. Find a normal sized container for candy - not a  HUGE pillow case. That way they aren’t left feeling like they don’t have “enough”.

  5. Use Halloween as an opportunity to teach your kids how to self regulate. “How much can I eat without getting a tummy ache?”   Remember sorting the candy you liked? Let your kids choose the candy at an appropriate time as a snack or dessert. If you just let it go, they will tend to “forget” about it.

  6. Teach your kid how to listen to their own body signals.  Tell them to trust their body, if they get a tummy ache from eating too much, ask them what they can do next?

  7. What if they want candy all the time? Remember,  Habituation. The more often someone eats that food, the overall calories consumed from that starts to reduce.

Finally, we need to trust our kids to trust themselves in how to handle their candy, within a certain structure. They will likely eat more than usual or necessary on Halloween, because that’s totally normal. In the days and weeks to follow, they can include some candy along with meals and snacks (within the meal and snack times you decide), preventing the need to have it all right now before the candy gets donated or sold or hidden or thrown away.

So, go out and ENJOY Halloween and relax a little! Maybe eat some chocolate yourself.

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