Halloween can be a tricky dilemma for families, especially now when sugar and carbs are vilified by diet and wellness culture. Some believe we’re teaching our children to binge eat and that Halloween is unhealthy. At the same time, others believe that it is a childhood rite of passage.
Can you create healthy eating patterns for your children and participate in Halloween? I’ve heard of a few different strategies.
• Let your kids go collecting and limit how much they eat each day.
• Not restrict. Just let them have at it.
• Let them experience collecting candy but not let them eat it. Allow them to trade it for toys or cash.
• Not let them go. Take them to a movie instead.
My experience with Halloween was troubling as a child. I loved it! Up until we had to hand over our candy, and it was doled out in rations. It was stressful picking the one or two pieces I was allowed each day.
The best way to add value to anything is to restrict it. This is true in all areas of life. If everyone and anyone can get something, it’s not valued. If it’s rare, it’s revered, and its value increases. We want what we can’t have. And we know now from research that food restriction leads to disordered eating and secret eating. That is precisely what happened to me.
We are teaching our kids that candy is so special and rare. For some kids like me, this turns into a habit of secret eating and food hoarding. These children feel ashamed because they know they “shouldn’t,” but they can’t help themselves. They will ‘steal’ food and scarf it back as fast as they can before anyone catches them. This often leads to intrusive and obsessive food thoughts.
Perhaps it would be easier if you did not allow your kids to go trick-or-treating. Could that be a solution? Then there would be no candy to worry about. Unfortunately, being left out is hard on a kid’s self-esteem. Halloween is discussed on TV shows, at school, and with friends. It’s a big conversation – What will you go out dressed up as? What candy did you get? So as a parent, this wasn’t a solution for our household.
We’ve allowed my son to go out and get his loot. Of course, we go through it to ensure it’s safe to eat. Then when he is going to eat his candy, he eats with attention paid to the candy itself. At first, he wasn’t allowed to eat the candy mindlessly while watching TV or playing video games. He could eat at the table or sit on the floor with his candy spread out. Now, we don’t enforce the mindful bit as much. He’s learned to eat until he’s done.
What’s happened in my house using this approach is that candy is never gone. Every year there is always leftover candy getting tossed out the following September. Only the candy that is tasty and satisfying gets eaten. Over the years, there has only been one big tummy ache from overeating candy. That stomach-ache wasn’t enjoyable, so he hasn’t done it again.
If this is too scary, consider putting some candy out at a few different snacks and mealtimes throughout the weeks. Put it out with the rest of the foods that you’re serving. Let them decide what order they will eat their food in. If they know it’s regularly coming and can eat it without judgement, it’s much easier for them to listen to their bodies.
Remember, they’re going to be exposed to sugar in life. I see our job as parents to help them feel confident and competent in managing whatever food is in front of them. Trust is built through experience, so I believe that they need to experience a lot of different foods in different ways to see what feels good for them.