Halloween and all the festivities are right around the corner. Kids love it. Parents dread it. But as I wrote about in my managing sweets series, teaching kids how to handle sweet foods is important. And what better time to test this out than during Halloween.
Last year was the first year my daughter went trick-or-treating. I admit I was a little nervous when she came home with a bag of candy. But it went pretty well because I had a (sort of) plan.
Knowing what you are going to do ahead of time can help you deal with a child who is either new to this Halloween gig or a veteran.
1. Consider their age
A reader wrote in asking the appropriate time to introduce kids to sweets. In general, age 2 is when parents can start offering kids sweets. Kids under 2 have small stomachs and are still in that rapid growth/critical nutrition period so the majority of their food should come from nutrient-dense choices. They also are not as aware and so usually aren’t even asking for sweets.
It’s up to parents to decide when their children can start trick-or-treating. By age three, my daughter had a better understanding of Halloween and was excited to try it out.
2. Pick out candy that is a choking risk
Last year you better believe I sifted through my daughter’s stash to pick out the hard, round candies. Heck, I don’t even like to eat them.
But on a more serious note, any candy that is the shape of a hot dog should be removed or watched closely. That’s because it’s the same size as a young child’s airway, making it an easy plug that is also difficult to dislodge.
High-risk children include those 4 years and younger, kids with chewing or swallowing disorders and any child eating while running, walking, laughing and talking.
3. Don’t over healthify
I remember getting raisins while trick-or-treating as a kid. I didn’t like it. And it didn’t make me want to eat raisins.
Halloween is a once-a-year event that is tied to eating candy — not other, healthy everyday foods. I believe that pushing healthier items during Halloween makes candy even more desirable and nutritious food not-so-desirable. Of course, this is my humble opinion and it doesn’t count for kids who are on restricted diets due to allergies or intolerances.
4. Let them eat as much as they want the first day (or two)
Last year my daughter had candy during the Halloween festivities but still wanted more when we got home.
Her: Can I have more candy?
Husband: (glared at me)
Her: (after she finished a small candy bar) Can I have more?
Husband: (glared at me — again!)
Her: (after one more bite) I’m done!
I follow the advice by feeding expert Ellyn Satter who says let children eat as much candy (from their stash) as they want for the first couple of days. Since my child is young I wanted her to have one night of telling me she had had enough.
5. Let kids handle their stash
Satter says that older kids with leftover candy can learn a lot from managing their stash. That means that after eating what they want for a day or two, they get to decide what candy they’ll have as part of a meal or for snack time each day.
I think next year when my daughter is 5, I’ll let her handle her stash but for now, I’m in charge. I’ll include her candy for some snack times and after dinner for dessert. She usually forgets about the candy after a few days so if there’s extra my husband and I will take it to work.
I do the same thing for myself — eat a bunch of candy on Halloween and then have some for snack time the days following. I’m usually over it by post-Halloween day 3 or 4.
There are many different ways to handle candy and kids before, during and after Halloween. What do you typically do at your home?
Want more strategies on helping teach kids moderation? check out Maryann’s book How to Raise a Mindful Eater: 8 Powerful Principles for Transforming your Child’s Relationship with Food
I think this is the first year that I am just going to let my kids do whatever they want with their candy. My kids are 8 and 11. In the past, I let them eat what they wanted on Halloween and then I just gave them a little at a time. My son is pretty picky, so by the time he weeds out everything he doesn’t like, he never has that much left. We donate the rest. We will see how that goes.
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
Sometimes the best plan is to let kids take the lead ; )
Julie Duffy Dillon says
Maryann, thank you for reposting this! Love it and wholeheartedly agree. Have passed it on via my blog for others to learn from.
Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD says
As the mom of 3 teens, I’ve been through many Halloweens. I never pressured them to limit their candy intake on that night; they seemed to like to sort it and quantify it as much as eat it! I found the real challenge was the week or two after Halloween when the candy lingered. I set a limit of two small pieces a day and it seemed to work. You have to do what’s right for your family!
I found this information very helpful. It is nice to have a plan in mind before the holiday, and yours is in agreement with my food philosophies.
Love this, and it’s basically what we did with my 3 year old. Including, candy for breakfast the first few days. But then, she forgot about it and so I’m letting it be.
But, I have a friend who is OCD about any sugar (claiming dental concerns) and generally GREATLY restricts her kids sugar intake, including that in granola bars at play groups. Her solution to Halloween? Go trick or treating early. Let the kids each eat a couple of pieces. Then, hand out the rest to the kids that come to their door later. I was just horrified at that idea. And yes, her kids are frequently caught by the other moms in our group gorging on sweet stuff behind the couch when she’s not looking. And no, not one of us says anything. And yes, I’ve sent her to your site. I’ve tried to explain your philosophy to her and get no where so…
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
I know it’s hard when you see parents going over board. I recently emailed with a lady whose dad was a dentist and they could not eat ANY sugar. It took her years to eat normally again but now she does. Hopefully your friend will get it after a while.
Here’s my condundrum: my stepkids are 3 and 5. They spend 50% of their week at their mom’s house, where they eat lots of processed junk and sweets. When they come to our house, they typically only get sugar in the form of fruit or the occasional batch of cookies we make together. I don’t criminalize sugar; I simply don’t provide much of it, and they typically don’t ask for it.
Additionally, I’m a health coach, and I know what actually happens to the human body during a sugar rush – it’s not just about tooth decay. So I don’t have candy or sweet treats sitting around, typically. I am also mindful of processed food and simple carbs, and I provide balanced meals with foods they enjoy.
However, as much as I think Satter’s advice is sound, our three-year-old is a sugar junkie from when she’s at her mom’s house. When I put a plate of cookies on the table, she’ll eat them all if I let her. So now, as much as I’m sure Satter would disapprove, if I offer cookies, I ask both kids to take what they want (they’ll grab a few or a handful) and that’s it.
When it comes to Halloween, I’m a little nervous. I don’t mind letting them gorge the night of, but I’m not willing to let them keep gorging and filling up on sugar night after night, because they will. What am I supposed to do?
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
Erika — thanks for your thoughtful comment! I think you are doing a good job balancing their food intake. If they are getting a lot of sugar at their mom’s, than it makes sense for you not to give it to them. You are showing them another way without retricting or making a big deal about it. There aren’t hard and fast rules about offering sweets so every family needs to find what works for them. As for Halloween, maybe allowing the kids to eat a good amount on the actual night but then offering the rest at a couple snacktimes would work. I know my kids usually forget afater a few days of having it for a snack. Again, find what works for you while balancing what they will be eating at their moms.
We have the switch witch come to our house and tell the kids they can choose 20 pieces of candy and then leave the rest out for the switch witch to get. We tell them they don’t have to but if they do she will leave a special treasure behind. So far all 5 of my kids have switched. They are already talking about leaving the candy for her, and hoping she will leave them certain toys. Last year the witch took the candy and used a Food Saver to store it for this year to be rehanded out. She hasn’t checked it to make sure it’s still good, but that’s what we are hoping for. This has worked well for my family. Is there anything I should do differently? I’ve also heard of people freezing the candy bars and using them as stocking stuffers.