Top 5 tips to enjoy a stress-free Halloween with your littles
Halloween can be daunting for parents who feel it’s their job to prevent candy overload and put on the “treat police” costume. Nobody likes that costume and it takes the fun out Halloween for your kids. Instead let’s remember our feeding relationship roles. Children decide if and how much they eat, while parents are in charge of where, when and what is served. Yes, navigating through the Halloween experience is different than regular day-to-day eating. This is what makes it a great opportunity to encourage your children to learn more about their bodies and continue to build a healthy relationship with food. Continue reading for easy tips on how to flip your Halloween from stressful and daunting to fun and haunting!
1) Call it what it is (by its name)-Calling candy, chocolate, cake, chips etc. “junk food”, “fun food”, “sometimes food” or even “treats” puts these foods on a pedestal above other foods. Labeling them can make them that much more special and alluring. Unfortunately, these labels can also disrupt your child’s relationship with food. They may feel they are inherently “bad” if they eat “junk food”, or there is something wrong with them if they want to eat a “sometimes food” all the time. Labeling foods ultimately attaches a moral value to it, which can disrupt your kiddos ability to listen to their natural signals to eat intuitively.
Eating Halloween candy provides your children with positive childhood memories of deliciousness, fun and excitement! It also offers quick energy in the form of carbohydrate, and sometimes even fat and protein, which help to keep our kids fuller longer. Are they super nutrient-rich? No–we all know this, but they do offer SOME nutrition, and a lot of taste and fun too. All valuable!
Remember, you are in charge of what is offered. You can give them the opportunity to enjoy vegetables, fruit, protein-rich foods, and whole grains alongside their Halloween candy. This puts Halloween candy on the same playing field as other foods. Food neutrality allows your child the chance to focus on the experience of how a certain food feels in their body, versus being distracted by the external labels placed on food!
2) Fuel up on Halloween- Serve nutritious balanced meals throughout the day, like you would any other day. Meals that include a combination of fibre (whole grains, fruits, veggies etc.), protein (meat, eggs, poultry, fish, cheese, yogurt, legumes, tofu etc.) and fat (nuts/seeds, avocado, oil, butter etc.) are satisfying and will give your kiddos the staying power that they need for their evening of trick or treating! A well-fed tummy throughout the day helps prevent uncomfortable “hangry” feelings later on. Everyone knows it’s much harder to eat mindfully when overly hungry, especially when a big bag of candy is involved. But even if your kiddo goes candy crazy, that’s ok! This is a perfect chance for them to learn about how different foods feel in their bodies (and what over-indulging feels like).
3) Don’t be a candy micro-manager – Let your kids manage their own! On Halloween night, allow your children to eat as much of their Halloween candy as they want. As scary as giving your child free reign on candy sounds, you might be surprised at how they manage it. They could very well enjoy a few of their favorites and save the rest for later. OR they could gorge on everything in sight and end up feeling sick. In both scenarios, the they are developing important tools of self-regulation that will come in handy down the road. Trusting your child with their own candy stash sends them the message that they CAN be trusted, and are in charge of their bodies. Micromanaging their candy and setting strict limits on how much they can eat will only send the message that they cannot be trusted around food and creates a sense urgency for them to “get it in while they can!” This can lead to your child sneaking candy or overindulging when you are not around.
The exception to this is with younger kids between the ages 2-4 years old. Young toddlers and babies aren’t ready for added sugar. Their nutrient needs are too high and tummies too small. Kids aged 2-4 are not yet old enough to manage their own candy stash and will benefit from the parent coming up with a daily candy amount that seems fair depending on how old your child is and what feels right for your family. Give them some autonomy by allowing them to decide what meal or snack they want to add their candy to. For example, if your child is allowed 3 candies a day, they may decide to add one to breakfast, afternoon snack and supper. OR they could decide to have all three at lunch. Either works! Regardless of your child’s age, it is important that candy is enjoyed at your designated eating times (meal and snack times) when the “kitchen is open”, which will help avoid all day grazing.
4) Encourage exploration and bravery – Eating Halloween candy can also be a chance for your kiddos to challenge their taste buds! Trying new unfamiliar candy is a way to explore different flavors and textures in a fun and inviting way. For example, if you notice your little one usually goes for squishy gummy candies, encourage them to try the crunchy and creamy chocolate bars for a change! Join in on their experimentation, making it a fun family experience with new food. Being brave with eating new candy not only helps strengthen the idea of food neutrality, it also reinforces the behavior that being adventurous with food is fun (including healthier food options at meal times)!
5) Let them learn about their bodies– As mentioned before, it is ok if your child decides to overindulge on Halloween candy. Kids learn from making mistakes. The sick feeling that they feel in their tummy from eating too much candy helps them learn about what their body likes and what it doesn’t like. Instead of getting upset or scolding your child, ask probing questions to help facilitate a reflection on how their body is feeling. Ask questions like “Why do you think you feel sick?” and “What do you think you might do next time to avoid this sick feeling?”. This way your child is empowered to learn from their situation rather than feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Next time they may eat their candy in moderation. Or they might not. But over time this freedom to learn will give them the tools to connect with their body, foster a positive relationship with food and ultimately let them eat intuitively unencumbered by damaging diet culture and external food rules.
1) Will my child become addicted to sugar if I let them eat as much as they want? Nope. Letting your child have autonomy over how much food they put in their body only fosters intuitive eating and attunement to their body. They will learn that eating too much candy makes their body feel yucky. You may be surprised that a candy free-for-all can actually have the opposite effect and make candy less exciting or lose its appeal all together for some kids.
2) What about the Switch Witch?This concept is to allow your kids to choose the candy they want to keep from their Halloween haul and then trade the rest in for a toy. They put the unwanted candy in a box and then overnight it is switched out by the “Switch Witch” for a new toy. The idea of the Switch Witch may help encourage kids to determine and keep the candies they truly enjoy eating, instead of eating it all just for the sake of it. Ultimately this does reduce the total amount of candy they consume with the reward of a new toy in its place. Where it gets a little tricky is that the Switch Witch doesn’t do a very good job of allowing kids the chance to self-manage candy overload in the long term. Some families find the Switch Witch concept fun and helpful with young kids (~2-4 years). As kids get older however, this concept might reinforce the idea that candy or treats are held on a pedestal over other “healthier” foods. As kids become more aware, they may feel that they are losing something if they are forced to switch candy for a toy. What if they want both? There is a chance that it becomes more transactional with candy being the currency to purchase a new toy, rather than anticipating an exciting surprise from the Switch Witch. In the end, our aim as parents is to put candy on the same playing field as all other foods. Taking the morality out of food. You know your family best! You will be able to decide when food neutrality is being challenged or when it is being reinforced in your household.