As a dietitian, I’ve been known to say Halloween is the beginning of a six-month “candy season” in America! It’s just unfortunate that Halloween usually takes most of the blame with bad press about candy.
But I still love Halloween! Even though I believe Americans eat too much sugar on average, I am excited to hand out candy (the good stuff: chocolate) this Halloween since we are living on a military base again. It’s good, old-fashioned fun!
If we’re fair to Halloween, there’s also a commercial push to eat autumn-colored pumpkin treats, quickly followed by red and green Santas and snowmen. Then, just after a brief wash-out period in January come the heart-shaped edible Valentines, with candy Easter eggs and bunnies closing out America’s season of traditional sweets.
So, that’s six months! Those who say, “Halloween is one day”–like it’s an excuse not to worry at all about the candy–are not entirely correct.
How you handle candy matters. Because it’s clearly not about just one day.
How to Handle Candy
However, the healthy way to handle candy is to let kids eat it! What?! I realize this is counter-intuitive. But research suggests the more we consider foods forbidden and restricted, the more we desire them and tend to overeat them.
It may surprise you that I don’t give out non-candy treats to trick or treaters (although I do have some on hand to give out for kids with allergies…check out this cute book about having a teal pumpkin on display, Macy’s Teal Pumpkin.)
I also don’t restrict how much candy my kids eat on Halloween. And I definitely don’t bother with the “switch witch” or other creative ways of trading in candy for a toy. (Besides, that just adds to the problem of excess toys and plastic…but that’s not even the main reason we don’t do it!)
Instead of taking away candy, I believe we need to be focused on teaching children (and ourselves) how to have a healthy relationship with all foods–365 days of the year.
Because we live in a world of abundant choices and it’s easier to change our own actions than to change the actions of the many suppliers of these convenient and often unhealthy foods. And because when we completely deny ourselves foods we like, we tend to overeat them. It’s better to enjoy some treats, sometimes. This is possible when principles of Intuitive Eating are in practice.
Yes–a healthy relationship means sometimes eating more candy than you usually do. Take it from me, it can be hard to watch your children eat more than you think they should! But if you are also modeling and teaching your children that real foods are the basis of your eating habits, then odds are good your efforts will have a positive effect on your child’s healthy lifestyle over time.
Tips for Halloween
- Provide your kids a real-food meal or snack before they begin to trick or treat. Here are several of my favorite festive ideas for Halloween easy, real foods.
- The younger your kids are, the more you may control where they trick or treat and how much candy they collect. No matter their ages, you can control how many Halloween events they go to that involve collecting candy.
- But beyond that, let them eat their candy, trade it and save it.
- After Halloween night, let them eat a piece or two here and there as they like, preferably after having a real-food snack or meal.
- Encourage them to donate some candy to troops or another organization if your school has a program to do so, but don’t force it.
Like most worthwhile things in life, establishing a healthy eating pattern is a journey, not a destination. Don’t beat yourself up or give candy power over your life or your children’s lives. Enjoy it on Halloween and on other holidays, but keep your efforts positive by focusing on easy, real food 365 days of the year.