By Beth Wallace
Pirate costume? Check. Fairy princess? Check. Scary-faux-bloody-monster-man? Got it. King-size pillow case filled to the top with mini candy treats? Uh oh…
It’s that fun time of year again when kids young and old head out into the night to show off their well-crafted Halloween best and have fun with their friends. But after all of the parties and trick-or-treating is done, what’s a parent to do with all that candy?
No parent or health professional would want a child to miss out on the excitement of celebrating Halloween night. But allowing kids to have a candy-eating free-for-all isn’t responsible either. Like most things healthy-eating related, the same commonsense rules apply to Halloween as they do every other day in the year. My recommendation? Let them eat candy -- in moderation.
How much should you allow your kids to have? A general rule of thumb would be to allow your child to have no more candy than the size of their palm. This usually equates to 1 small piece for young children and a few pieces for school age kids. Because many parents have children of different ages, this can be an easy way for both younger and older children to practice autonomy within reason and without going overboard!
Make it a lesson about fitting treats into healthy eating. Now, that might be easier said than done when your child has 70 pieces of chocolate goodness staring back at them from the kitchen table, but use this as a chance to teach kids the healthy principle of self-control. Simply telling kids that they have to throw the candy away or hiding it turns a sweet treat into “forbidden fruit” -- and encourages children to sneak treats instead of understanding that eating small amounts on occasion is acceptable.
Instead, let them choose their treat, using the rule above. And by providing healthy eats at meals, you’re filling in the nutritionally-sound foods that balance it out.
Make sure candy isn’t replacing healthy calories throughout the day. Filling their bodies with good meals, especially breakfast, will help prevent cravings and overeating when the sun goes down. In the days surrounding Halloween when candy consumption is higher, consider making some adjustments in their meals and snacks to cut out any of the extra sugar and fat. Skip the juice box at lunch, don’t buy chips at the grocery store, and keep plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in the front of the refrigerator.
Another option: Look into candy donations. Halloweencandybuyback.com organizes a program with local dentists who “buy” candy from trick-or-treaters with cash, coupons, and creative exchanges. They then send the candy to deployed U.S. military personnel through Operation Gratitude and other military support groups.
Hand out something else at your door. Perhaps at your house, you can decide not to add empty calories to those Halloween bags, plastic pumpkins and pillowcases this year. Think about providing non-candy alternatives like spider-rings, stickers, temporary tattoos, or another fun item. Let your kids help pick it out. Their friends will enjoy something different, their parents will thank you and you can store the leftovers for next year -- or let your kids play with them, worry-free.
Beth Wallace, a registered dietitian at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, has more than six years of experience in providing nutrition care for children and adolescents.