by KATIE MAXEY, MS, RD, IBCLC
Most parents are excited for their children to experience and enjoy Halloween. Watching our children pick out unique costumes, attend trunk or treats, enjoy fall festivals, and trick or treat on Halloween night. But, then there’s the candy that comes along with all of this. There is so much candy! We find ourselves trying to stop our children from consuming too much sugar and may even feel mom guilt if we allow them to eat a lot. You can almost become too preoccupied with the sugar, whether it’s your children trying to get more or you trying to hide it or throw some away. Have you ever thought about how this affects our children long term?
The long term goal is for our children to grow to have a healthy relationship with food, including sugar. How do we get there around holidays such as Halloween when it’s everywhere we go? One way is to prepare your home in advance. As best as possible, keep structure in your family for meals and snacks. This will help you be more at ease when your child is given extra sweets at an event, because you can know that they are well fed during the day and throughout the week. They are also less likely to binge when they are fed on a structured schedule with foods that are filling. Make sure you’re offering three meals and one to two snacks throughout the day that include all food groups, especially protein, to help with satisfaction.
After you make sure to keep a schedule and structure with meals and snacks and include several food groups to help with satisfaction, the next step is to loosen up the control a little at events. Keep the joy in Halloween and avoid arguing over food and sugar. Do you need boundaries? Absolutely! But, keep in mind that it’s a holiday that comes once a year. The more we try to control the sweets and put focus on them, the more our children will gravitate towards them. You always want what you can’t have, right? For example, if there are baked goods at a trunk-or-treat, decide ahead of time with your child that they can pick what looks good at the moment. Then, they are able to eat one or two of those items that night, taking home the rest. It’s not an absolute no, but there are boundaries that were discussed with your child in advance, not in the moment, when they are arguing about wanting another cupcake.
On Halloween night, after trick-or-treating, I would challenge you to let go of control even more. On the night of Halloween, what if you allowed your children to eat as much Halloween candy as they would like? That is the only night there are no limits. Does that sound crazy? You might be surprised where they may stop themselves. Then, after the first night, you place boundaries on the leftover candy. You and your child can decide how many pieces they can have each day afterwards until it runs out. I do warn you, however, that if there are not healthy eating structures in place at home, they will have a more difficult time stopping. The structure of balanced, scheduled meals allows the loosening of control to go more smoothly. Feel confident about your meals at home? Great! Halloween can be a little more laid back for you. Are you not there with your structure at home? Then how can you start to get there? Ideas could be to create a schedule for meals and snacks or plan meals ahead of time, aiming to include three to four food groups in your meals. Having this in place will help you feel more at ease loosening the control and will also equip your child to handle excess amounts of sugar being available.
Remember, the long term goal is for our children to grow to have a healthy relationship with food. Meal structure is the foundation that helps our children achieve this, and then our job is to also teach them how to handle holidays, such as Halloween, in an appropriate way.