As parents, it’s difficult to set limits on how much candy our children eat when they come home from trick-or-treating with literally a bucket full of chocolate, licorice and lollipops.
Yet we all know it’s important to manage our kids’ sugar consumption, both for their health and to avoid the meltdowns that follow when young children crash after a sugar rush.
However, parents can relax knowing that a night of eating Halloween candy by the handful won’t impact our kids’ overall wellness, says Nicole Tramp, a registered dietitian and Iowa State University dietitian internship instructor.
“It’s really not this one day that’s affecting their health. It’s what you do for the balance in their diet for the long run that’s what really affects their health,” says Tramp, who is a mom of a 3-year-old son and is expecting her second child later this fall.
Big food holidays like Halloween can provide an opportunity for parents to teach kids how to develop healthy eating habits for a lifetime, she says.
“Try not to make it a control issue, because that’s what is going to feed into their desire to eat more, if they know it’s forbidden,” Tramp says. “We want to help set them up for success as an adult too.”
Make sure kids eat a healthy meal or snack before, and possibly after, heading out to trick-or-treat, Tramp says. If their tummies are full, and they aren’t physically hungry, then kids might not want to eat as much candy, she explains.
If you are handing out treats, think about what you want leftover at your house. “It’s OK to run out of candy. Just turn off the lights when you are out,” Tramp says. “Because a lot of times, we feel like we need to buy four extra bags just to make sure. But if you are out (of candy), you are out. It helps eliminate the extra temptation for the entire family, not just the kids.”
If you are bringing treats to a Halloween party, look for ways to make healthy foods look spooky. You can find tons of ideas on Pinterest on how to make apples into bat shapes or grapes that look like eyeballs. But don’t feel like everything at the party needs to be healthy. “You can also have some treats too. That’s just a healthy Halloween party,” Tramp says.
Inspect the candy when kids get home from trick-or-treating to ensure they are safe. Also, avoid homemade treats, because you don’t know if they were made in a food-safe way, Tramp says.
When you get home, have your kids separate out their favorite treats and set aside the rest. “They might forget about the ones they didn’t really care for, and that can be a way to cut down on the total amount they eat over time ... Because if you’re not really enjoying it, then what’s the point,” Tramp says.
After Halloween is over, serve leftover Halloween candy alongside a healthy meal or snack. “If everybody is eating candy together, it’s not a big deal. It’s just part of the holiday,” Tramp says.
As for everyday eating, parents should aim to provide kids with a balanced diet, Tramp says. When serving a meal or snack, offer a high-protein food — such as meat, dairy, eggs or nuts — and not just carbs. So pair cheese with crackers and apples, hummus and cucumbers, or milk with a peanut butter sandwich.
“Protein, fat and fiber are what will help our children feel full and satisfied and keep their energy levels a bit more stable,” Tramp says. “And that goes for all of us, not just kids.”
Remember, every kid is different. One child might want to eat all the Halloween candy at once, and another might want to snack on a few now and then. Again, one day isn’t a big deal; it’s what you feed your kids every single day that makes the difference, Tramp says.
“A lot of parents struggle with all sorts of things, and we are all trying different strategies to see what works best for our child. But it’s hard,” she says.
“They will make mistakes, and we will make mistakes. But just on a regular daily basis, that’s where we have the most impact.”
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