I give my dietitian opinion on Halloween candy and how to navigate it’s consumption with your kids. We can use Halloween as an opportunity to explore mindful, intuitive eating and promote positive relationships with food.
It’s that time of year! Halloween is almost here, so kids are getting their costumes and trick or treat bags ready. I know for some parents it can be a stressful day – or week – of the year.
There are often concerns like: How much candy is too much? What if they overdo it or only want to eat candy all week? What if they make themselves sick?
These very well-intentioned concerns may lead parents to restrict or “police” Halloween treats. However, this isn’t the best strategy when it comes to raising healthy, intuitive eaters and good relationships with food. I recently shared my dietitian opinion with Global Morning Halifax, but I wanted to elaborate more here.
A Dietitian Opinion on Halloween Candy – The Issue with Restriction
Research has shown that food restriction tends to do the opposite of what we want. When we restrict/limit Halloween candy, kids are likely to eat MORE of it than if it was offered regularly. Worse than that, they may even try to sneak it or binge eat the candy when no ones watching.
This happens because when we tell a child that they can’t have something, that something immediately becomes more intriguing, more desirable, and something to fixate on. We all have a little rebel inside of us that “wants what we can’t have” as this is exactly what happens when we police or limit candy (or any palatable food) from our kids.
There are some strategies we can use to prevent us from the vilification of candy while using Halloween as an opportunity to teach moderation, listening to our bodies, and the idea that all foods can fit in a healthy lifestyle and a healthy relationship with food.
How to Address Halloween Candy in the Home:
Don’t Restrict It!
I know this might sound a bit surprising coming from a registered dietitian, but research shows us that restricting any food we like actually does the opposite of what we want it to. Food restriction leads to fixation on the restricted food, and actually lead us (and our children) to eat MORE of the food when we do get access to it than we would if it were regularly available.
Instead, use Halloween as an opportunity to let your children tune into their innate ability to regulate food intake and listen to their hunger and fullness cues. They may eat more than what you perceive to be acceptable (and they may not), but by allowing food freedom we’re beginning to take the allure and desirability away from candy, making it more difficult to overeat in the long run.
Sure, some kids may still eat so much that they get a tummy ache (who doesn’t do this sometimes?) but this is also an opportunity to encourage them to be mindful, and recognize that eating past fullness may lead to physical discomfort. Thus, they are less likely to repeat the same thing again.
Encourage Structure and Mindful Eating.
After Halloween night, continue to provide your kids with regular, balanced meals and snacks that include Halloween candy! When packing lunches, allow your kids to choose a couple candies to take with them to school. Same goes for dinner time, let them choose a couple treats to eat after, or even alongside dinner. By doing this, we’re demonstrating some consistency and showing our kids that candy will be available tomorrow and the next day and after that. This continues to take the appeal off of candy, and prevents kids from feeling like they need to eat it all at once or even sneak it because it is going to be offered again later.
It also promotes an “all foods fit” mentality, removing food rules and fear and the idea that candy is “bad” and other foods are “good”. It also continues to encourage intuitive eating and listening to their bodies, rather than having to stuff down candy after being forced to finish their meal before dessert. Another way we can encourage mindful eating is by asking our children about the candy when they’re eating it. “Which one is your favourite?” “What does it taste like” or “Why do you like it?” encourages kids to slow down, think about what they’re eating, and savour it – which are all great mindful eating practices.
Work on Your Own Food Issues.
You’d be surprised what kids pick up on. If as a parent, you have your own restrictive attitude or inability to regulate your intake of certain foods, how can you improve this? Kids pick up on our words and our behaviours, so our own relationships with food can affect theirs as they continue to grow and develop. Let’s encourage – and practice! – moderation, elimination of food rules/food fear, and make Halloween a fun, positive experience!
The Bottom Line:
Halloween candy (and sugar in general) should be allowed and normalized in the home in order to promote moderation and good relationships with food while preventing the development of food rules and the idea that certain foods are “bad” while others are “good”. The research shows that restricting foods increases desire and consumption of the exact foods you’re trying to restrict.
Let’s enjoy Halloween! It’s an opportunity for your children to have fun, dress up and express their imagination and creativity. Let’s not put a damper on that by fighting over food and instilling food rules or food fear in our young ones. Trust that your kid will eat when hungry and stop when full – and set them up to do so.
All foods can fit in a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Even candy, sugar, chips, etc. Not just for our kids, but for us, too.
Thanks for reading my Dietitian Opinion on Halloween Candy. What are your thoughts? Do you have strategies or tips that you use to address Halloween candy with your children? I’d love to hear!