Pediatric Nutrition

Navigating Halloween Candy: A Balanced Approach for Families

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Have you ever felt unsure of how to handle your child coming home with a big basket of candy? As a Registered Dietitian and mom, I understand the importance of fostering a healthy relationship with food from a young age. Halloween is a time of excitement and celebration for children, and as parents, it’s natural to want them to enjoy the treats while still maintaining a balanced approach to nutrition. In this blog post, I’ll share some strategies on how to handle Halloween candy in a way that promotes a positive food mindset without being overly restrictive. After all, Halloween can be a fun and nostalgic time for us grownups as well and we want to enjoy this with less stress!

Lead by Example

Children often mimic the behavior of their grown ups, so it is essential to demonstrate healthy behavior around food. Enjoy a treat yourself, but also prioritize nourishing meals and snacks throughout the day. Pairing the treat with a meal or snack can show that “all foods fit,” meaning that no foods are off limits or placed on a pedestal. By making foods completely off limits, we can unintentionally create an obsession around a food. If we say that you can’t have something, naturally we want exactly that thing. And sometimes we want that specific thing in excess when we know that we can not have it. Sit down with your child and enjoy a sweet treat together. Show that you picked out your favorite candy and that you are content with focusing on one or maybe even two pieces. By pairing our sweet treats with a meal or snack we are setting a positive example of balance and moderation. See the tips in the next paragraph for details on what foods we can pair with these sweet treats.

Include Nutrient Rich Foods Daily

Balance the treats with nutritious options such as protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into their meals and snacks. This provides essential nutrients and helps to create a well-rounded day of eating. Pairing sweets with protein and fiber is especially important for balancing blood sugars and preventing energy crashes later in the day. Try serving a piece of candy with foods containing protein such as nuts, a cheese stick or cheese cubes, or a glass of milk. Foods with fiber can also be helpful to create balance and provide necessary nutrients, fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A great snack that includes both protein and fiber is apple slices with a nut butter. This is a tasty snack that would pair well with a chocolate candy!

Plan Ahead

Before the trick-or-treating begins, establish a plan for how you’ll handle the influx of candy. We can have our kids pick out their favorite candies and then give away the rest. This can also be a fun way to teach kids the gift of giving. Maybe they donate the extra candy to a neighbor, family member, or their teacher. Let your child pick out which candies they would like you to bring to work with you to share with your co-workers. Let them be in charge of picking which pieces of candy they would like to have at their snack or meal time. This can teach them independence and put the decision in their own hands. Oftentimes out of sight, out of mind can also be a helpful strategy. Instead of leaving the candy bowl on the counter, try placing it in a cabinet or in your pantry.

Consider Non-Food Goodies

Rather than focusing solely on candy, explore non-food rewards for Halloween. This could include stickers, small toys or trinkets, puzzles, Halloween themed plastic rings, glow sticks or special activities that they enjoy. This helps shift the focus away from only candy and food related treats. Last year we gave away glow sticks alongside candy options and over half of the kids chose a glow stick instead! I had a neighbor who gave away dollar store sheets of stickers as well. This also is a great option to include kiddos that have multiple allergies and are limited in their options for food or candy related treats.

Promote Mindful Eating

Encourage your children to savor and appreciate their treats. Discuss the different flavors, textures, smells, and colors they notice in the treat. This not only makes the experience more enjoyable but also fosters a mindful approach to eating by bringing awareness to all the senses, not just taste. Choose a time to eat the treat when you aren’t crunched for time, zipping around town in your car, or watching a screen. By limiting distractions we allow our kids the opportunity to pay attention to their hunger and fullness cues and also allow time to truly pay attention to the taste! Have time for reflection. Ask questions such as what was your favorite candy and why do you think it is your favorite? Do you like sour candies or chocolate candies better? If you were to choose one candy to pass out next year, which one do you think you would choose to share with your friends?

Educate About Nutrition

Involve your children in discussions about nutrition and the importance of balanced eating. Teach them about the different food groups and how each contributes to their overall health and well-being. Use examples, such as saying that protein helps build strong bones and muscles. Talk about how vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables help give us strong eye sight and can help us stay healthy and feel better when we are sick. It can be helpful to describe candy as a fun food that can provide us with an exciting boost to our taste buds but doesn’t necessarily contribute to anything specific in terms or helping our body grow and stay strong, so it is a food that we eat sometimes but don’t need with every single meal or snack.

Emphasize Fun and Creativity

Encourage your children to find creative ways to enjoy their candy. They could use it for arts and crafts, experiment with new recipes, or even share with friends and neighbors who are visiting. Using candies such as skittles and Smarties can be easily glued onto paper or cardboard to create an art shape. Remember those old school candy necklaces? So fun! Have them write a short letter or draw a cute Halloween picture and tape a few pieces of candy to it to hand out to a loved one. Sharing is caring after

It’s OK to Say ‘No’ to Treats:

As parents, it’s our responsibility to choose when and what our kids eat. If your kid is constantly asking for candy you can tell them no and that is ok!

Here are so good ways to say no:

  • “Sorry honey, I know you want [candy] now but it’s not on the menu for now.
  • Empathize that they want it and then say we already had it today, maybe we can have more tomorrow.”
  • “I know you wish we could have more candy, that would be fun huh?! We cannot have more now.”

As a parent, if you have a boundary about food- please hold it. If you are ok with your kid having more candy try not to hold the boundary since the kid WILL want more and it’s beneficial to give them more candy (especially if you don’t really care) than engage in a food fight.

You’ve got this!

Handling Halloween candy and holiday treats doesn’t have to be a source of stress. By approaching it with a balanced mindset and providing guidance to your little one, you can help your children develop a healthy relationship with food while still enjoying the holiday festivities. Remember, showing confidence in your plan can make a huge difference in reducing stress over food. Remind yourself that this can be a great time to practice moderation and mindful eating. An unconventional approach and reshaping the way we have handled the holiday in the past can go a long way. Keep in mind that if your plan goes askew and your child eats more candy than you expected that there is always an opportunity to try again in the future or test out a different approach! No one single food will ruin an overall balanced eating pattern. Happy Halloween and we hope that you and your family enjoy the festivities!

This article is written by Amy McMahon MS, RD, LDN who is a mom herself and passionate about helping families optimize their nutrition in a non-stressful and no-judgement way.

Did you know you can likely work with Amy and it would be covered in full by your health insurance? Call us today at 802-222-6907!