how to expertly handle halloween candy like a dietitian

Halloween is a scary holiday for most of us parents. Not because of the ghouls and goblins, but because of…well …you know…the never ending candy.

But I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to fear it! And no, I’m not going tell you about “the switch witch” or selling candy or any other tactic to just remove the candy and pretend Halloween never happened.

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 avoid or fear 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…I love that when Halloween is enjoyed completely as a child would want to enjoy it, it actually is providing the perfect opportunity to learn about having a healthy relationship with food and how to manage sugar! I’ll show you how with the tips below!

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. 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. 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 (see more about that in a few paragraphs).

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!

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 – you’re riding on the high from a night of trick-or-treating and now it’s time to collect the best of your loot! Show them how exciting it is to find a favourite, separate it from the rest and choosing 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 idolize these foods or they genuinely don’t know yet what their favourites are. Let them start learning what they really like and don’t, and let the novelty wear off over time vs. you telling them they can’t/shouldn’t have it and leaving the obsession to linger and grow. 

Let them eat what they want (on night 1)

As long as you have 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 – 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 will see that the obsession with candy likely isn’t formed yet. They are still very good at eating mindfully, slowly and will stop when they’re full. 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! Avoid commenting overly positive or overly negative things to avoid thoughts 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 toddler here.

Resume your regular sweets/treats strategy

After night one, 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, and always when you choose to offer it rather than anytime your child asks for it. Offering it alongside a meal or regular snack means again, you are treating it like any other food and it also means you can offer it amongst a variety of other nutritious food options. 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”. 
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 and 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.

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