Updated: Oct 19
Are you trying to implement less sugar in your home, and then some celebration or holiday comes along bestowing plentiful sweets which cry, "Hey, look at how sweet and delicious we are! You wanted to eat less sugar? Why? Why would you do that? We're undeniably delicious and you MUST EAT US! EAT US ALL!!!" And then after the deed is done, they laugh an evil laugh as you sit there frustrated in your defeat.
With Halloween right around the corner, the threat of sugar in your home is, perhaps, an undertaking you fear - and not just for yourself, but for your children as well! I've reached out to several dietitians and health professionals who have shared their tips with handling the Halloween Candy Haul.
If you have little pirates, princesses, or monsters...
1. Relax and Enjoy.
Although you may fear the surplus of sugar that is about to enter your home, you couldn't possibly imagine telling your little one that trick-or-treating is not allowed. And that's a good thing! Did you know that restricting a food actually leads to your child wanting more (1)!?
It's in your best interest to play it cool around sweets - and any food for that matter. Registered Dietitian, Laura Gill says, "I want my kids to have healthy relationships with food and love it as much as I do. We try not to put candy up on a high pedestal, and we incorporate it here and there. At parties, and when it comes to trick-or-treating, we try not to harp on them and it works."
2. Set an unannounced limit.
Setting a limit can seem like restriction if not handled strategically. However, know that "moderation is key here," says Alisa Bloom, MPH, RDN, LDN, registered dietitian and owner of Live Your Best 365. She defines an excess of candy resembling "more than 2-4 miniature candies or 1 bar per day until the holidays." If you have an excess of candy, see #4.
Here's my professional strategy with setting a limit, ideal for immediately post Trick-or-Treating:
Keep a pre-determined limit to yourself. Hold off on announcing a number right from the get-go. Announcing the limit upon returning home with the spoils may add some pressure, causing your child to think:
Okay, I can only eat 5 pieces! They NEED to be the best!
And chances are your child loves way more than five different candies. The pressure added around this pleasurable experience is more likely to lead to unhealthy habits around sweets down the road. As your child gets older and more independent, sticking to the number limit will be one he or she desires breaking. And it comes with the consequences of guilt, as internally, he or she understands they are doing something wrong by breaking the rules. (Any of that feel familiar to you?)
Instead I say, give your little one some untethered freedom to enjoy the sweet experience. But here's the key: stay present and engaged with them, keeping a casual monitor. Have a conversation with them about the candy. Ask them what their favorite is. Share with them what your favorites are. Enjoy your favorite with them! Have fun! And when you see your child getting near your pre-determined limit, then give them the heads up. Weave in some appreciation and reflection of the night's fun. Here's an example:
"Okay, let's put the candy away after the next piece. We got to enjoy some really great candies, didn't we?! How fun was trick-or-treating!! What were some of your favorite costumes that you saw tonight?"
3. Talk about health.
Discuss with your kids the impact of eating too much sugar, not just around Halloween and the Holidays, but regularly. Anna Lorenzi, MPH, CPH, CHES, a health program planner at Children's Health in Dallas, TX explains that "when children eat too much sugar, it can lead to unhealthy weight gain." Unhealthy weight gain "can lead to heart disease, liver problems and type 2 diabetes over time." She indicates that tooth decay, such as damaged enamel and cavities is also an effect of too much sugar.
The younger your kids are, the simpler your advice should be. For example, you may explain to them that while sugar is yummy, too much might hurt their bellies or give them a toothache. It also will not help them to get smarter, stronger, or taller.
And you know what? You can always let them gain a first-hand experience (after all, you probably know from experience yourself, right?). Laura Gill MS, RD, CDN says, "There have been times when [my kids] ate too many sweets. But guess what? They had a bellyache and while they were complaining of not feeling so good we used it as a way to teach them that, 'Hey, maybe next time let's not gorge on candy (or sweets) and enjoy it every once in a while.'"
Anna Lorenzi, MPH, CPH, CHES, June Knoerzer, RDN, and Alisa Bloom, MPH, RDN, LDN all agree that donating a portion of the goods to a variety of locations, such as the food pantry, local fire departments, or houses of worship is a great way to minimize the quantity of sugar in your home as well as cultivate connection with our communities.
5. Enjoy as part of a healthy meal or snack.
June Knoerzer, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist for the Child Care Council suggests incorporating the treat with a healthy snack: "Ask the child to help put the treat on one side of a snack bag, with tomatoes or carrots on the other side. Pinch the middle with a decorated clothes pin." And there you have a Butterfly Snack Clip! To get inspired, check out all sorts of Butterfly Snack Clips on Pinterest.
Anna Lorenzi, MPH, CPH, CHES suggests serving "a healthy meal before Trick-or-Treating or snacking on Halloween candy. Protein and fiber rich meals will satisfy appetites and reduce the desire to eat too many sweets."
Alisa Bloom, MPH, RDN, LDN asks, "Is your child having a birthday party, or are you doing any other entertaining anytime soon? You can get creative with entertaining by using leftover candy as part of dessert, in gift baskets, or even table decorations."
7. Learn about the history of Halloween.
You could reduce the focus on candy and costumes by "visiting the library and learning more about the history and traditions of Halloween," Anna Lorenzi, MPH, CPH, CHES says. She indicates that "there is more to this fun holiday than just candy!"
If your home is kid-free or you have a bustling neighborhood of Trick-or-Treaters:
Just because you don't have kids in the house doesn't mean you can't include some of the same healthy methods for yourself! After you've passed out treats, you could donate the rest, have friends over and share, or incorporate a piece with a healthy meal.
Here's one way to avoid the excess candy in your home...the trick-or-treaters might not appreciate it, but I bet you will!... Pass out non-food treats, like stickers or money. This method helps everyone involved, and Anna Lorenzi agrees. She mentions that "Halloween doesn’t have to be all about the sweets. Kids love stickers, temporary tattoos and small toys. These items also last longer than candy!"
Hone in on your defined healthy goals. Can you trust yourself with all the excess in your home? Do they have a place in your desired eating patterns, or do they not belong? This advice may be harsh and some may disagree, but know that you can throw them away. I agree, it's nice to share, but sometimes, sharing [excess sugar] isn't caring. You make the call!
I can't not have fun with this subject. Look, it is TRICK-or-Treating, after all! Let's take the silly-and-maybe-a-little-thoughtless approach! You could always skip buying the treats, and instead dress up in your scariest costume to scare your Trick-or-Treaters!
Ultimately, if you're a parent, you know that it's not easy to raise a child, and it's also not easy to make healthy choices all day every day.
No matter what your current life scenario is, at end of the day all you can do is give your best. Part of giving your best involves taking a few steps back. Maybe even leaving a little space for mistakes. We all like to indulge! It's a part of life. We have taste buds that tell us something tastes good and we experience feel-good sensations from that. It's one of life's many pleasures, and it's okay to revel in it, whether you're 5 or 105. Keep in mind that it's frequent indulgences over time that are most linked with poor health.
Alyssa Cometto, MS, RDN, CDN
1. Rollins, B. Y., Loken, E., Savage, J. S., & Birch, L. L. (2014). Effects of restriction on children’s intake differ by child temperament, food reinforcement, and parent’s chronic use of restriction. Appetite, 73, 31–39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2013.10.005