It's that time of year again! The leaves are changing, the mornings are getting chillier and Halloween is right around the corner. While the start of Fall can be exciting for some, it leaves others feeling fearful of the potential treats that lay ahead. We know this first hand as a team of dietitians who often get asked by loving parents "should I allow my kids to eat Halloween candy?"
We know that this question comes from a well-meaning place. As parents (the moms on our team can attest) you only want what is best for your little ones. And, since we live in diet culture we have been so condition to believe that eliminating sugar-containing foods (like Halloween candy) *is* what's best for overall health and well-being.
Although we, as dietitians, are all about health promotion - we have a slightly different view on giving your kids (and yourself) permission to enjoy Halloween candy this year. Let's dive in below!
how restricting halloween candy could impact kids
Restricting certain food items or labeling them as "good" and "bad" can have a negative impact on your kid's relationship with food as a whole. More on cultivating a positive relationship with food here.
While some may think that restricting foods will reduce their child's likelihood of consumption and therefore increase their overall health, it really is not that simple. Restricting, rationing, hiding your child’s candy, and communicating these restrictions to your child can create a sense of shame and guilt when consuming these foods. A kiddo who is never exposed to any fun food will have a tough time eating them without shame and often this shame around food can contribute to overall increase in anxiety, depression and worsened mental health that can continue into adulthood. It may also lead to your child hiding foods that are labeled as "bad" or restricted and then engaging in secretive eating or binge eating behaviors as there is a feeling of deprivation around these items.
Providing your child with the support and structure to understand their own hunger, fullness and satisfaction signals without restriction can help them develop a positive relationship with food. Halloween is the perfect holiday to practice this BUT how do we do that? Here are some strategies to help cultivate a more positive experience with Halloween candy this year.
how to navigate halloween candy with your kids this year
keep halloween candy (and food in general) neutral
As we mentioned above, controlling your child’s intake can lead to secretive eating, overeating, sense of urgency with intake and can create black and white thinking around these certain treats as being “bad” or needing to be controlled or managed.
The more you, as the parent, make a big deal of it, the more the child is going to feel that there is something wrong or shameful about it. And shame around food never helps a child become a healthy eater.
By remaining neutral, the children will figure out what they want to eat and how frequently they want to consume it. They may decide to count every piece of candy they’ve made out within their haul and be more excited about the sheer abundance of their loot and less about the actual candy itself. They may want to trade with their friends/siblings or decide to donate it. If you don’t make a big deal over it, they are less likely to do the same.
When it comes to Intuitive Eating, we know that the more “no’s” you attach to foods, the more enticing they become and the more apt we are to overindulge. By removing that label and allowing you and your children to enjoy these treats, the less likely the entire bag will disappear before the holiday week is over.
help them choose halloween candy they truly enjoy
Help to prompt your child about what their all-time favorite candy is. What do they like about it? What flavors do they enjoy? What does the candy look like? What textures are they loving?
As the parent or caregiver, contribute to the conversation! Talk about the kind of candy you enjoy, why you enjoy it and positive memories you have associated with it.
Being able to be descriptive about the food itself can make it a much more positive experience and allow for them to slow down and truly taste/savor the flavors.
talk about what hunger and signs of fullness feel like
Try asking everyone how their stomach is feeling before and after their meals. Taking the time to focus on fullness will allow everyone to enjoy the food that they love without getting overstuffed. This will help them regulate how much and how often they reach for the Halloween candy. Help them to connect to the food that they are eating!
keep the halloween candy in the open
Keep Halloween candy in an open, easily accessible space even after Halloween is over. We tend to most want the foods that we restrict ourselves from, but allowing ourselves that treat as desired helps to naturally take in what we need, rather than getting as much as possible before it disappears.
Try including your kid's favorite Halloween candy in with other meals and snacks. This can help to normalize the experience and also incorporate more nutrients with the candy to support increased satisfaction.
No need to wait until Halloween to start practicing. Intuitive Eating skills can be talked about and explored anytime food is involved. Pick a meal that you are all together and start the intuitive eating conversation.
make sure your child is well fueled throughout the day
Your child or loved one may feel more out of control around Halloween candy if they have not eaten enough throughout the day. When our bodies are starving they crave simple carbohydrates that will easily be digested and absorbed for energy (i.e candy)! Ensuring that your loved one has had balanced meals and snacks throughout the day will allow them to be more in touch with their hunger and fullness and less likely to feel chaotic with candy.
how NourishRX can support you this halloween
Let this Halloween be a guilt and stress-free time for you and your family. Teaching your kids to recognize their body’s natural signals, giving them permission to honor those signals, and adopting an “all foods fit” philosophy will allow not only the holidays but also everyday meals and snacks to be more enjoyable for everybody and will nurture a healthy relationship between your family and food.
Take the time to focus on preparing costumes and optimizing your spooky Halloween display for trick or treaters and less time figuring out the best hiding spot for the candy bags. Those moments count so much more than how much candy is on the counter.
If you feel that you are struggling with cultivating a positive relationship with food for yourself or a loved one - drop us a line. Our team offers personalized 1:1 nutrition counseling as well as self-paced courses appropriate for anyone and everyone with a busy schedule.
Happy Halloween from the team here at NourishRX! We wish you a safe and delicious holiday 🙂