5 Ways to Help Kids Eat Smart This Halloween

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on October 21, 2010

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Halloween and all the festivities are right around the corner.  Kids love it.  Parents dread it.  But as we’ve been talking about in our 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 mentally 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 daughters 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 healthy 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 and 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?

Me: okay.

Husband: (glared at me)

Her: (after she finished a small candy bar) Can I have more?

Me: okay

Husband: (glared at me — again!)

Her: (after one more bite) I’m done!

Husband: (smiles)

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 an 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.  Sally, a dietitian who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition has a creative idea that involves a Switch Witch. 

What do you typically do at your home?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Meal Plan Mom (Brenda) October 21, 2010 at 9:35 am

All great tips! Now that my kids are in elementary school, they look as much forward to the trading of their candy with friends after trick-or-treating as they do the actual collecting. It is a commodity as much as a “food”. And last year I tried the “eat as much as you want” theory and it worked ok! I was much like your husband at first and very hesitant but when I let them indulge a little more than usual, they pretty much lost interest by the following week. Good luck this year to you!

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD October 21, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Thanks Brenda. I can only imagine how this holiday changes as kids get older. Thanks for the insight!

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goodfountain October 21, 2010 at 11:43 am

Last year I let them eat as much as they wanted on Halloween night, and then it disappeared the next day. I don’t think I could get away with it disappearing this year. That Switch Witch sounds kinda good. They are always clamoring for the latest and greatest Barbie (eyeroll).

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD October 21, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Yeah, it will be interesting to see if my daughter forgets about it like she did last year. I know a year can make a big difference!

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Kate October 26, 2010 at 9:57 am

My mom was super controlling regarding my food and never let me eat my Halloween candy so I’d eat it while I trick or treated and almost alway end up feeling really sick. Then as soon as we got home, we put the candy out for the Candy Witch. While I like the concept of the Candy Witch, I she could have handled the controlling thing a lot better. Maybe divided up half the candy for the Witch and get to keep half.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD October 26, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Kate, I understand what you are saying. I think the witch idea works well when kids are young. But when they are older and more aware I think it’s better to let them handle their stash with guidance from parents.

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Emily October 31, 2010 at 7:28 am

What works for us is that my son takes his Halloween stash into his room to hide it from me. He can have 2 pieces of candy each day and he can decide himself when he wants to eat them. He is very happy with this arrangement and soon forgets that the candy is there (the hiding helps both of us forget about it and avoid overeating) and I “disappear” it. I love that we have ended the battle over each piece and the all-day begging. He is six now but we have been doing this for at least two years.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD November 1, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Emily — I think that’s a smart strategy. Thanks for sharing!

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Mama K October 31, 2010 at 1:51 pm

My strategy has always been to limit how much comes into the house. Well, my son is only 4 but wants to trick or treat this year. So we will do the loop around the block. I really try to keep him away from food dyes for various reasons. So I told him when we get back I will trade all the dye containing candies for some of MY candy (Yummy Earth lolly pops and Annie’s gummie bunnies). Then I plan on letting him eat as much as he’d like tonight and if there are any leftovers I’ll ration them out this week. We also try to make Halloween a fun family night. We put a blanket on the floor and watch Halloween cartoons together while waiting for trick or treaters. We make a special treat together. Last year we did caramel apples but I think it’s popcorn balls this year.

I could see how the “let them eat as much as they like” thing could backfire. My little brother once ate his entire stash that night and spent a long time sick and barfing. Ick.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD November 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Thanks for sharing Mama K. I think it’s important to watch how you handle letting them eat as much as they want. YOu don’t want to say “this is the only night you can eat all you want” but rather let them take the lead on the how much part while guiding. Last night my daughter was eating candy at home before bed. I kept asking if she wanted more but reminded her to follow her fullness/satisfication while letting her know she would have more candy the next day. She stopped shortly after that saying “I can have more tomorrow.”

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