Halloween Candy Conundrum: How To Trust Not Trick Our Kids
When I was a kid I used to love the variety of treats and the fun of sorting and trading candy, but sometimes now I worry about those little teeth and all the sugar and food colouring! However, as an Intuitive Eating & Eating Disorder Dietitian who works with adults to help them heal their relationship with food I know that food policing or restricting my child's candy may cause harm to their own eating habits (Evidence here, here & here). So let's take a look at how to handle Halloween candy night 1 until the last bite is gone.
As a parent, I try my best to follow the Division of Responsibility in Feeding outlined by feeding expert and Registered Dietitian Ellyn Satter. This model emphasizes that both parent and child play a role in feeding. The parents' role is to decide when, where and what to eat – through structured mealtimes and satiating balanced meals. The child's role is to decide if they will eat and how much. Sounds simple right? Sort of. But let me explain – we are born with innate hunger and fullness cues. These cues tell us when to eat and when to stop eating. Just like our bodies tell us when we need to go to the bathroom, and when to go to sleep. If we can foster this awareness in our children and trust them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full then we will allow them to continue to be intuitive eaters.
Set a trick-or-treat time limit.
My 3-year-old is most excited about wearing his Batman costume so we will let him show it off and cap that at 45-60 minutes. If the excitement is about the costumes then focus on that! My seven-year-old, on the other hand, is quite different - the other day he stated: “I want to stay out ‘til 3 a.m. on Halloween so I can get so much candy!” So because this is a school night and we want to save time for all the sorting and enjoying the candy, he'll be out for 60-90minutes. This way there is less candy collected (but still an adequate amount) and still the freedom to enjoy what they collect.
Let them sort their candy without the nutrition commentary!
Besides reminding my kids to discard any packaging that might be open and help my oldest (with severe food allergies) read food labels to avoid his allergens I provide no further food comments. Food policing what is in what food or how bad a treat is for their health will take the fun away. Do you like people policing your food when you have a treat? Likely not, you want to enjoy it!
Let them eat as much as they want on the first night and the next day!
Yes – a dietitian said that - not just myself but Feeding Expert Ellyn Satter, RD as well! Before we go trick-or-treating I offer them a balanced meal and skip the dessert. When the loot comes in I let them trust their hunger and fullness cues and eat as many treats until bedtime – brushing and flossing mandatory! They are being curious, eating things they know they love and trying new things perhaps too as we would encourage with all foods. They might overeat – but it is Halloween, this is not an everyday affair.
Guide overeating with an attitude of curiosity.
If your child eats to the point of uncomfortable fullness and does not feel well, try not to be judgmental. You can ask, “Why do you think your belly feels like that?” or share a personal experience of what you notice about your body; eg. “When I eat lots of treats sometimes I need to go to the bathroom a lot, I don't like the way that feels so I just eat a few at a time.” This way you are allowing your child to notice what happens when they nourish themselves this way but not shaming them about their decision to indulge. This is pre-training for other special occasions, buffet dinners and all-you-can-eat events down the road.
Day 2 until the last bite of candy – offer Halloween candy for snack or dessert.
As the parent, let them pick a couple of treats for their snack and/or dessert. If we restrict and put too many limits on this, research tells us that this can lead to a higher desire to want these foods (Evidence here, & here & here).
Bonus Tip: Re-evaluate your own relationship with food.
Do you restrict Halloween candy or other foods from your life? I have many clients that have a love-hate relationship with food and their bodies. Some of them cringe at the thought of having so much candy in the house. Many have been on the diet rollercoaster for years, often in pursuit of changing their weight, while science demonstrates that dieting leads to future weight gain for most. If you feel you would like to get off this roller coaster then contact Suzanne. Dieting often involves tricking our bodies into telling it what it needs and doesn't, denying it's need for balance, variety, adequate quantity and pleasure foods. But we can't trick our bodies, they fight back through complex hormonal systems in order to protect and nourish themselves.
I have heard of parents attempts to reduce their children's candy intake by using the switch witch or offering a nickel for every candy. If children prefer toys or money then that makes sense, but if not, then what is the main motivation behind this offer? To me, this does not honour building the child's capacity to trust their hunger and fullness cues. As a parent, by role-modelling that I enjoy treats, as well as satiating balanced meals and snacks I demonstrate an “all foods fit attitude,” rather than a restrict and binge approach. Parents eating habits and attitudes, as well as dissatisfaction regarding body image, are greatly modelled by children (Evidence here, & here). So let your kids enjoy the costumes, candy, and all the spookiness that Halloween has to offer. This will help them grow into competent eaters who trust their body cues rather than trick them.