Halloween is fast approaching, and I’m already cringing at the thought of the candy that’s going to rain down from my kids’ trick-or-treat bags and onto my living room floor.
It’s hard to find that balance between letting our kids indulge on special occasions, while coaching them to practice a modicum of self-control. Do we let them go nuts, or put a limit on their consumption?
We reached out to three dietitians—who are also moms—to find out how they handle the sugary loot after a night of trick-or-treating.
17 healthy packaged snacks for kids
1. Cara Rosenbloom, registered dietitian at Words to Eat By in Toronto, and mom of two kids, ages six and 10.
“My kids love good food, and understand the idea of the 80/20 rule,” says Rosenbloom. “They eat well 80 percent of the time, and leave room for 20 percent indulgence. Halloween is much the same.”
Rosenbloom says her kids have a few pieces of candy on Halloween night, then separate the rest of their stash into two piles: Keep and Don’t Keep. Her husband brings the Don’t Keep pile to his office.
“From the Keep pile, a chocolate bar or chips is added to their lunch or recess snack each day for the week following Halloween, and then the fun fizzles out,” says Rosenbloom. “They tend to forget about the candy once the excitement of Halloween is over. It also helps to keep the candy out of their sight line—makes it easier to forget about it.”
Rosenbloom says it’s important to remember that Halloween is only one day, so it’s okay to let your kids indulge more than usual. “It’s more important to fix what kids eat the other 364 days,” she says. “Providing your children with education about a balanced approach to food will help them learn not to overdo it at Halloween, or on any other day. With a healthy, real, whole food-based diet, a little chocolate won’t hurt.”
2. Tristaca Curley, registered dietitian at Fueling with Food in Kelowna, BC, and mom of kids ages three and five.
“I let my kids fully embrace Halloween—every sugar-coated, chocolate-filled aspect of it,” she says. “Halloween was one of my favourite holidays when I was young and I don’t want to take that experience away from my kids.”
On Halloween night and the following day, Curley lets her kids eat as much as they want of their candy—no limits. On the third and fourth days, her kids only eat candy along with their otherwise healthy snacks. And by then, she says, they’ve usually lost interest in the candy. “We make the holiday about more than the candy,” she says. “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.”
“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—that is, teaching children to fuel their bodies with nutrient-dense foods most often, while enjoying pleasurable foods in moderation, without guilt.”
3. Sarah Remmer, registered dietitian and child and feeding expert in Calgary. Her children are 22 months, four and six.
Remmer strongly advises parents to resist the urge to act as the “treat police,” because it doesn’t help kids learn to moderate their intake of treats.
Instead, Remmer suggests letting kids older than four years old have as much as they want on Halloween night, even if it means they might go overboard. That’s what she does with her six year old. “Kids learn by making mistakes, and however upsetting it is for us parents to see our kids gorge on treats, ultimately, this will teach our kids to moderate their intake of them.” If your kids feel ill after overindulging, Remmer suggests asking them why they think they feel like, what they might do next time to avoid feeling that way again.
For little trick-or-treaters—those between two and four years old—Remmer suggest that parents come up with a fair, daily amount of candy, since young children aren’t yet old enough to manage their stash on their own. This is what Remmer does with her four year old.
But when it comes to when her kids eat the treats, she sets designated eating times. “Grazing all day on snacks is a recipe for mindless eating and mealtime battles,” she says.
If you want to limit the amount of candy your kids come home with, Remmer suggests sending them out with smaller buckets, or setting a time limit for trick-or-treating. Parents might also ask their children if they’d like to trade any of their candy for a homemade dessert, a small toy or a trip to a movie or indoor play space.
“Don’t dread Halloween because of the candy overload,” says Remmer. “Think of it as a great opportunity to teach your kids about moderation, balance, and healthful indulging.”