Halloween can be very stressful for parents’ wanting their children to eat healthy, which in turn makes it very stressful for the child.
My children are 23 and 20 years old now, but I can still remember trying to figure all of this out as a young parent. I was worried about them eating too much candy and then not being hungry enough for their meals. However, I was even more worried about being too restrictive! I knew that too many food rules and restrictions set a child up for not listening to their hunger and satiety cues they were born with; being too restrictive also increases the risk of candy hoarding, eating it in secret, and eating more of the candy than if they were allowed to control their stash of candy.
My first attempt at regulation without being too restrictive was to have them choose five pieces of candy each day AND they could eat it whenever they wanted. This seemed to “work” but I had this nagging feeling that maybe they would have been satisfied with three pieces but they ate all five because they knew they couldn’t have any more until the next day. So, I did what I had done, before… asked myself WWED (What Would Ellyn Do)? Ellyn Satter is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Family Therapist and internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding from infancy throughout adolescence. She emphasizes COMPETENCY rather than deficiency, PROVIDING rather than depriving, and TRUST rather than control. Satter’s recommendations on Halloween specifically are bolded below, and I added my commentary after each one: 1
The night of Trick or Treating, let your child eat as much of their treats as they choose without any comment or shameful looks from you.
The next day let them do the same thing. Keep in mind two days of eating too much sugar is not going to make anyone “unhealthy”.
The regulation for the following days is the child can eat their candy during meal and snack time only. This will prevent the constant graze of eating candy all day long. Also, this is very important: they can eat the candy at any time during the meal and do not have to save it for dessert. The reason for this is if they have to eat all their veggies first (or whatever else you decide) it makes the candy seem more desirable, and they will eat past fullness just to get to the candy. The more times these innate satiety cues are interrupted, the greater the risk of overeating on a regular basis. 2
Some of you reading this will think ”but my child will choose to eat all candy and not anything healthy”. Well, at first, you may be correct; if they are used to having their food and candy in particular regulated they may eat the candy first. Overtime, they are going to listen to their body and eat more of the meal and less of the candy knowing that they will have another opportunity to have more candy later. This is where you the parent have to trust the child will come to this on their own, and they will, unless restrictions and interference from others occurs. Also remember, the candy is going to run out at some point so candy eating is not going to be an every day ordeal! The evidence indicates that controlling children’s food intake doesn’t work in the long term. Unsupervised restricted children tend to eat past fullness when those foods are available. For example, never allowing your child “sugared” cereal sets them up to eat the entire box (or more than they normally would) when at a sleepover where this cereal may be available. Not giving children choices and being too restrictive leaves them ill equipped to cope with the broader food environment. 3
What we decided to do at our house is to let them eat as much as they wanted that night and the following day, and then bring the candy out three times a day with snack. I would also serve milk, fruit, and something else nutrient dense along with the candy. What actually happened is each year, my kids would eventually forget about the candy and next year, when we pulled out their buckets, they still had candy left, even after Mom and Dad had their share. However, when we did the “Only five pieces per day” routine, they made sure they had their five pieces each day until it was gone!
Satter says this, quoting from Your Child's Weight : "Halloween candy presents a learning opportunity. Work toward having your child be able to manage his own stash. For him to learn, you will have to keep your interference to a minimum." 4
If you are ever in doubt, ask WWED and check out her website and read her books! You will never be disappointed.
1. Satter, Ellyn. The sticky topic of Halloween candy. Ellyn Satter Institute ESI.
http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/fmf/fmf30english.php Accessed October 24 th , 2016.
2. Satter, Ellyn. Ellyn’s Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding. Ellyn Satter Institute ESI.
http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/dor/divisionofresponsibilityinfeeding.php Accessed October 24 th , 2016.
3. Satter, Ellyn. Managing high-calorie, low nutrient foods. Ellyn Satter Institute ESI.
http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/fmf/fmf92.php Accessed October 24 th , 2016.
4. Satter, Ellyn. Your child’s weight helping without harming. Ellyn Satter Institute ESI.
http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/store/index.phproute=product/product&product_id=51your-childs-weight-helping-without-harming-p 790.html Accessed October 24 th , 2016.
Blog Post provided by Alison St. Germain MS, RD, LD