Halloween is right around the corner and I am already fielding questions about what I will allow my kids to eat this holiday. Well the answer might surprise you – I let my kids fully embrace the holiday tradition…every sugar-coated, chocolate-filled aspect of it. Halloween was one of my favourite holidays when I was young and I don’t want to take that experience away from my kids. I often see ‘tips’ floating around this time of year on how to limit children’s intake of treats. And while I certainly don’t recommend routinely feeding candy, I do believe that one of our many jobs as parents is to promote eating competence – teaching children to fuel their bodies with nutrient-dense foods most often while enjoying pleasurable foods in moderation, without guilt. I don’t label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ The focus is instead on the function that food serves for our bodies. For example, in our home, we talk about how iron-rich foods help us run faster and that omega-3 foods help our brains grow. Studies show that the more restriction parents exert over their child’s eating, the more the child will eat even when they’re not hungry and the higher their weight will be. In fact, children who were allowed these pleasurable foods regularly, ended up eating them moderately, if at all. Here is a great blog post from a fellow dietitian on the effect of restrictive feeding practices.
So how exactly do I handle Halloween? I follow the principles of Ellyn Satter. I have seen these strategies work year after year for both clients and my own children.
Halloween night: Children are allowed to eat as much as they want of their candy. When you take the limits off of how much they eat, they are free to be choosy with what they eat. You may find they open candy, taste it, and then move on because they don’t like it. This is teaching them to eat what they enjoy, instead of just what’s available. On the other hand, if they know they can only eat a certain number of candies, you can be sure they will eat that amount, whether they like the taste of it or not!
Second day: Regular meals and snacks provided, while children are still allowed to eat as much of their candy as they want.
Third day: Children only eat candy with snacks. For example, along with their favourite veggies and dip or fruit.
Fourth day: Same. Although honestly we’ve never made it this far in our house. My kids’ interest starts to wane in the first 24-48 hrs. There are no battles, they go back to their normal, healthy way of eating and rarely ask for the candy.
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In addition, we make the holiday about more than the candy. We plan our costumes weeks, and even months, in advance. We make a point of sharing a filling meal with friends before heading out trick-or-treating, and often meet up with friends afterwards for a victory celebration. The night becomes less about the candy, and more about the fun times spent with friends.
So here’s to a fun-filled night spent with loved ones. Enjoy it without guilt!
Check out more of my thoughts on handling Halloween in a healthy way in this Today’s Parent article. If you are in Kelowna or the greater Okanagan and would like to get more individualized guidance from a dietitian and mom, contact me today!