Halloween and trick-or-treating is coming right up…which means candy… lots of candy! So, how do you handle the abundance of candy with your toddler/preschooler? Do you give them a number of pieces that they’re allowed to pick and eat? Do you let them have a free for all? Should they even go trick or treating??
Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to fear or dread this holiday…or the candy! And no, I’m not going to tell you about “the switch witch” or selling candy or any other tactic to just remove the candy from our lives and pretend Halloween never happened. That doesn’t teach kids anything besides avoid the problem. The next time they encounter large amounts of candy again down the road, they’ll have no idea how to manage it.
It’s about teaching your child how to manage Halloween Candy
If you’ve read my previous post on how to raise a toddler to have a healthy relationship with sugar, or taken the in-depth lesson on managing sugar and treats in my Feeding Toddlers online course, you may know that I believe that we need to teach our children how to manage sugar and desserts in a healthy way, versus avoiding or fearing it altogether. Of course, we don’t want it to take over our child’s diet, but without allowing it to show up in their lives, and having the right attitude about it, candy and sugary foods can quickly become an obsession that was created out of restriction and shame.
The funny thing is… when Halloween is enjoyed completely as a child would want to enjoy it, it actually is providing the perfect opportunity to learn about how to manage sweets and how to have a healthy relationship with them.
5 steps to managing Halloween candy for your toddler or preschooler
I’m going to walk you through 5 steps to managing Halloween candy like a pro, be the cool parent, and actually walk away from season in awe how your little toddler, preschooler or school aged child can be totally cool around Halloween candy, without gorging on them anytime it’s in their possession.
1. Start the night with a filling supper
Aim to have a filling and nutrient dense supper with a good source of protein, fat, and fiber before heading out (follow my FFP rule!). Setting your child up to not be hungry before a night full of candy, means they will be more likely to enjoy them in moderation, versus gorge on the candy because of hunger (and have a crazy blood sugar high…and then crash). A combo with protein, healthy fat, and fiber will balance their blood sugar levels out, and help them stay in good spirits long enough to listen to their body and practice mindfulness (more about that coming up!).
2. Go out and collect your candy with only FUN being on the agenda
This is the time to purely enjoy the night and the childhood memories they’re forming! Avoid making comments about how much candy there is, how bad it is, how much sugar there is. etc. Just have fun! Plus, the less emphasis you put on candy, the more success you’ll see around reducing the obsession around it.
3. Sort the candy with your child by choosing favourites (and for once… encouraging pickiness)
After an initial sifting of the candy loot, to ensure safety and no choking hazards, go ahead and instruct your child to sort the rest of the candy into two piles – a pile for their favourite candy, and a pile for the candy they don’t care for much. If your toddler or preschooler is experienced with different types of candy, they may already know their favourites. Most have no issue with sorting it into two piles – they’re riding on the high from a night of trick-or-treating and now it’s time to collect the best of they’re loot! Show them how exciting it is to find a favourite, separate it from the rest, and choose it specifically.
This is step one to showing them how to eat what they actually love (rather than just because it’s there, or they feel they have to because…well…it’s candy). Pretty much the only time we’ll welcome pickiness :).
You can lead by example and say something like:
“Mars bars are my favourite. I’m going to keep all my Mars bars for sure. But I don’t really like the rockets. I think I’m going to put them in the other pile”.
If they seem to put almost everything in the “favourites” pile – that’s ok. Try not to comment. This means they’re still very excited, and treasure these foods, or they genuinely don’t know yet what their favourites are. Let them start learning what they really like and don’t – which may take a few days, a few weeks, or maybe over a year. And as they try and taste different candies for the first few times, they’ll learn what they love and don’t love, especially if you can talk about freely with them about it. Over this time (and when you do this in combination with the other strategies I teach about including desserts and sweets in your child’s diet), the novelty will wear off. Much better than you telling them they can’t/shouldn’t have it…which only leads the obsession to linger and grow!
4. Let them eat what they want (on night 1)
As long as you’ve deemed it appropriate for your toddler to have added sugar/sweets (I recommend around 2 years old), let your child eat whatever they feel like they want throughout the night.
Yes, as much as they want.
You don’t have to say this to them – but if they ask for candy, you can say yes!
I promise, one night of lots of candy will not ruin them, cause them to be obese, or give them cancer. If you start this, and the other strategies I outline in my toddler course, from day 1, you’ll see that the obsession with candy likely isn’t formed yet. They’re still very good at eating mindfully, slowly, and will stop when they’re full. Most toddlers and preschoolers may take one or two candies, maybe 3, and be done with it. They may even take a bite or two and then be distracted by something and never come back to it. The less you fear it, the more you’ll see that you don’t really have much to fear about it in the first place.
If you feel like they’ve already formed an obsession around candy and sweets, still do the same thing, but just look at the fact that they’re eating more candy than usual as a learning opportunity! An opportunity for them to learn what it’s like when they eat a lot of sweets. This is actually an important thing to teach them. Through the experience of them eating it, avoid commenting overly positive or overly negative things that make the think things like “This is special – I should want more!” or “This is bad – I should eat less”. Show your little one that candy is a food like any other food. Nothing special, nothing to get worked up over, put up on a pedestal or conversely, to be shamed for when eating. Remember – food (including candy) – can be eaten strictly for enjoyment! It doesn’t always have to be tied to nutrition.
Second, kids need to feel what it’s like to eat too much candy (if they do go there). My biggest suggestion is not to come from an “I told you so” perspective, but rather helping them observe what they feel and why. You can say something like “Oh I’m sorry your tummy is hurting. I think maybe having that much candy made it hurt. Let’s practice listening to our body next time and stop before it hurts”. You can read more about teaching mindful eating to your toddler here (which can be practiced all year round, with all types of food)
5. Use this as an opportunity to learn to eat mindfully!
It’s a great time to begin showing your toddler or preschooler how to be mindful when eating! Instead of teaching kids to obsess over it and eat in a hurry or eat when they’re full (because it’s candy…it’s there..and we HAVE to eat it duh). ⠀
Let’s instead choose to teach them to consciously choose the candy they are actually going to ENJOY the most and show them HOW to enjoy it fully! Who’s with me?⠀⠀
Raise your hand if you want to avoid this:⠀⠀
Your child: “Ooh candy!”⠀⠀
…*Takes whatever they see, proceeds to stuff as much as in can as they can*⠀⠀
…*Realizes the experience is over too quickly and that the candy is already gone*⠀⠀
…*Feels unsatisfied and wanting more*⠀⠀
Your child: “Ooh candy!”⠀⠀
You: “Which does your body feel like the most today?”⠀⠀
Your child: “A Reece’s pb cup!”⠀⠀
You: “Great! Take a slow bite and tell me how it feels in your mouth” “You can close your eyes if you want!”⠀
“Now tell me what you like about this one? Why did you choose it?”⠀⠀
Your child: “Mmm… mine smells like the peanut butter we put on toast in the morning”⠀⠀
….”My belly is starting to feel full”⠀⠀
You: “You can stop when you’re full and we can have more tomorrow with snack”⠀⠀
…*Leaves feeling satisfied and can move on with their day*⠀⠀
Keep the experience positive, slow the body down and help your toddler be in tune with their body!⠀
TBH…this should be how we approach all foods! But especially when parents’ fears around the extreme sugar rush and obsession with candy at Halloween time is so strong, it’s easier to be motivated to make this your first go at teaching mindfulness to your child!⠀
6. Resume your regular sweets/treats strategy every day after halloween
After night one, put the candy out of sight, maybe in a cupboard somewhere, and go back to practicing the strategies I outline in my Feeding Toddlers course, and focus on serving the candy, as you see fit, within your overall desserts/sweets strategy. Always offer it alongside a meal or snack (so that way it’s treated like any other food, it’s a small portion on the plate and it’s offered amongst a variety of other nutritious food options), and always let it be you who chooses when to offer it rather than giving it anytime your child asks for it. This is following in line with the feeding strategy I’m always preaching about – the DOR.
A tip when they ask for it outside of your planned meal/snack is to say something like:
“We’ll be having a candy with supper today! Right now we’re having x,y,z”.
Making sure to let them know that it WILL be coming around and that it is planned on your menu, shows them that it’s not forbidden and it’s not going to disappear forever after Halloween night. They don’t have to feel that it’s scarce and never going to show up again. That’s only going to feed into the obsession around getting as much candy as they can when they DO get an opportunity to have it again – cause they’ll think mom or dad will never bring it around so I’ve got to get in as much as I can now. Maybe even sneak it. If they feel confident that you’re ok with offering it once a week, a few times a week, or maybe even once a day, again, based on your own individual sweets strategy you have in your own home, then they can relax about it all and trust that it will come around.
If the idea of having so much candy in the house stresses you out…think of it this way. Since you are in control of what and when to serve candy (as with any other type of food), it’s never going to be a “free-for-all” with candy after that first night. So you could have the biggest stash in the world up in a cupboard, but you’re still only pulling it out strategically once a day, every couple days or however often you decided works best within your sweets and dessert strategy. In between, it’s out of sight! The novelty will eventually wear off, but by not treating it as a restricted food that never comes out, it removes the idea that the candy is forbidden. It also decreases the chances that they will try to sneak candy in when you’re not around, or get in as much as they can when they do have access to it.
To sum up how to handle Halloween candy for toddlers
- Let Halloween be what it is – a fun night to dress up, be silly, and enjoy time together! Don’t stress about the candy – enjoy some, if you like it, and move on. There aren’t many Halloweens in your child’s life – they’ll be too old to want to trick-or-treat before long – so don’t let your fear of sweets take over the night, and just enjoy it!
- Use Halloween candy as an opportunity to teach mindfulness when eating and encourage your child to be picky when choosing what Halloween candy to keep and enjoy.
- Teach your child to eat their candy mindfully so they can enjoy the experience and stop when they’re full and satisfied.
- Resume your boundaries around choosing what is served and when it’s served – that includes candy. Incorporate it with your meals or snacks a few times per week (or more as you see fit) and keep it out of sight the rest of the time.
If you want to learn my in-depth teachings on how to healthily feed toddlers and preschoolers while preventing/managing picky eating, enroll in my Feeding Toddlers online course now! Feel confident that you’re setting your toddler up to have a healthy relationship with food. Get started now!