7 Tricks & Tips For a Healthier Halloween
Yes, Halloween involves treats, and usually, lots of it. So, as a dietitian, I used to get anxious about this time of year, in particular Halloween. Why? Seeing all that candy on the shelves at stores, going to school festivals and holiday parties with junk food being served, and the mountain of unhealthy treats coming into the house all made me cringe. Then, I took a step back and realized that it's just one day of the year, kids and adults love to dress up and have fun AND the best part is, my daughter went about two weeks asking for her treats and was DONE, and we still have a good amount left in her Halloween bucket (yes, I am going to dispose it and she can refill it again on Halloween)! So I must be doing something right. You too can take a breath and let yourself and your kids enjoy the trick-or-treating frenzy. Take advantage of this fun holiday by using it as a teaching tool for your kids, show them how to manage their treat intake on their own (now and in the future) and not feel the need to sneak, hide or gorge on treats. Below are some tips and tricks to manage before and after Halloween so it doesn’t spiral into candy craziness.
Don’t Buy Halloween Candy Too Early!
Instead of buying candy as soon as it hits the shelf, I buy much closer to the actual day. I typically end up getting snack size granola bites or popcorn from Costco. If I am lucky, I am able to get my hands on some mini 70% dark chocolate squares. They may not have Halloween colors or designs on the them, but it prevents you from having any treats around that could be tempting to eat. Another option is to buy the candy that you don’t mind giving away. I’m not saying buy the impossible-to-unwrap-Halloween-tootsie rolls, because...who likes those? I would recommend buying the candy that is not your personal favorite. In our house, that might be Nerds or Skittles. They will definitely sit there and be happily given away.
Prepare For Trick-or-Treating With a Nutritious Dinner!
Plan to fuel up on a nutritious meal on Halloween day. It doesn’t have to be some extravagant meal, just something quick, easy, and healthy. Think lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. This will help make sure that you and your family are full and satisfied with nutrient-dense foods and are less likely (fingers crossed) to devour their Halloween candy immediately upon returning home.
So far this all sounds easy, right? The next 3 three tips are by far the most difficult! I get it, I do. Let’s just say that Halloween presents a fantastic opportunity to grow your child’s long-term relationship with food! Read on…
Keep your commentary positive when it comes to talking about candy in front of your kids. Trust me, this is challenging, but extremely important. Labeling food as good or bad, commenting on quantity and quality that they’re eating or saying “we don’t eat that in our household” are all negative comments that can steer kids toward an unhealthy food relationship. And by labeling food as “bad,” kids may feel “bad” for consuming it. The goal is to create an optimistic food environment so that kids grow up to have a happy and healthy relationship with food. Take this time to talk to kids in a positive way about why having caloric-dense foods/high-sugar foods, like candy, in moderation is a healthier choice. Of course for little ones, that conversation might be more about talking about how candy might make their tummy hurt or teeth ache.
Don’t Be the Candy Police.
If you take charge of the candy stash and police when and how much candy can be consumed, you’re sending the message that your kids cannot be trusted with it. In other words, this doesn’t teach them how to moderate their intake of treats. Now yes, as the adult, we need to think about what age our kids are. Under 2, they really shouldn’t be having many sweets to begin with (birthday cake is the exception), 2 – 4 year olds are still a little too young to manage the candy stash, but deciding together what a reasonable portion is (usually a fun-size bar or two small pieces of candy) seems fair. For kids ages four and up, they are likely ready to manage and store their own stash with the expectation that they will adhere to some of the rules put in place (ex. daily amount of candy eaten, designated areas or even, time). Again, keep the guidelines a little flexible: lunchbox, after school, after dinner or even before or WITH dinner. Remember, it’s their responsibility to determine “how much” to consume, which often becomes a handy life lesson: eating too many sweets can lead to a tummy ache or feeling gross. It is important to talk to your kids about self-regulation and encourage them to listen to their stomachs.
Encourage Exploration, Values and Independent Thinking
Let them explore their hard-earned haul. Let them sort through it, play with it and trade with family members, siblings, or friends! Try making a rainbow of colors using the candy packaging, or let them line their candy up from least favorite to most favorite. Playing with it might help them slow down on the consumption part! And by all means, let them eat it! Allow them to eat as much as they want on Halloween night. Did you know that several dentists also recommend this? So, yes, you read that right–as much candy as they want. Also remember tip #4. Your child might surprise you by having only a couple of pieces (saving the rest for later), or gorging on the treats until they feel sick. Either way, it ultimately teaches your child how to self-regulate their intake of treats down the road with trust. It also removes the “forbidden-fruit” factor. If kids have free rein to enjoy their candy (or even treat foods in general) in moderation, it decreases the chances of your kids sneaking candy or over-indulging when you’re not there. And I promise you, one night of devouring on treats will not affect his/her long-term nutritional status or weight, it will just make their stomach very upset.
Have the Switch Witch Pay a Visit
So, if tips #4 and 5 make you a little nervous, maybe have the Switch Witch pay a visit. I read about this idea from a fellow dietitian, Sally. I haven’t started this yet in my house (mainly because my daughter is only 4, but I love the idea and will most likely do this next year).
Sally says, “I play the Switch Witch. After my kids return home, they divide their trick-or-treat stash into piles: Keep Pile. Trade Pile. Switch Witch Pile. While they’re sleeping, the Switch Witch arrives to take the candy in the Switch Witch Pile and replace it with a toy, game or money. They love waking up the next morning to see what she’s brought.My kids aren’t forced to turn over their candy, and last year they kept a pretty sizable amount.”
I love this fun tradition of the Switch Witch, because she teaches them an important lesson: how to put a value on what you really like and not to waste your time on the stuff you don’t.”Each family is different, and the Switch Witch may work differently or not at all. Remember the above about not being a “candy police” if your kids don’t want to give away some of their candy, don’t force the issue. It’s important to trust your kids and for kids to feel trusted.
Halloween doesn’t have to be a parent's, grandparent's or caretaker's worst nightmare. Use it as a learning experience, teaching children how to manage treats and how to practice mindfulness and self-regulation. Remember that the holiday does end, and the candy will disappear, or better yet, be forgotten. And come next Halloween, you may be pleasantly surprised to find you have half a bucket full of candy leftover from last year.
Have a Happy and Safe Halloween!
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– KARI MARTINEZ, MS, RD, LDN
Health Advisor | Email Kari