A healthier Halloween for kids? Let them eat candy

Hi everyone! Happy October and happy (almost) Halloween! As a kid, I remember planning out the perfect costume a month prior, scouting out the best places (ie most candy) to Trick-or-Treat at, and making sure my basket was large enough to fit the most candy possible. It’s an exciting time to be a kid!

If you are a parent however, you might be thinking, aghhh – so much candy in the house! How can I possibly make sure my children make healthy decisions while still allowing them to enjoy this holiday?!

I hear you. And since I am not yet a parent myself, I reached out to fellow dietitians and parents to shed some light on this subject!

These tips might be a little different than the ones you may be used to hearing (swap out toys for candy, hand out apples whatever) but these are realistic, fun, and help promote a healthy relationship with food and body for your little ones. Plus, there is research to support these tips! So – here we go!

  1. Serve your children a balanced dinner before heading out the door.

Arielle “Dani” Lebovitz, MS, RDN, CSSD, CDE of Experience Delicious, encourages families to “eat a good meal before Trick-or-Treating, and to talk about what candy they are looking forward to eating, so there is a focus on the treat they tend to savor.”

Kacie Barnes, MCN, RD of Mama Knows Nutrition, agrees, and recommends to “serve (a solid dinner), but don’t force children to eat the healthy dinner before Trick-or-Treating. We want to avoid teaching the message that they have to “earn” their candy by eating something we deem healthy beforehand. A full belly probably won’t slow down their candy eating anyway!”

Bottom line: If you can (and want to), serve a dinner that includes a carbohydrate food, a protein food, and a fruit and/or veggie for dinner, and allow your child to choose how much they want to eat from what is offered.

  1. Avoid the good-food, bad-food mentality and negotiations with candy.

Martha Barnhouse, RD of MB Wellness, advises avoiding the idea that some foods are “good” and some are “bad”. Instead she recommends to “offer children a variety of foods regularly and teach them to make their own decisions about what foods, from the ones offered, to eat and how much. If sweets are offered regularly alongside other foods, children will learn to listen to their bodies and to make informed decisions about what they choose to eat.”

Crystal Karges, RD, of Crystal Karges Nutrition, also suggests avoiding negotiations around the candy. For example, avoid coercing a child to eat vegetables before having a sweet treat. She says, “If a child is allowed candy with a meal, they may choose to eat that first, but this does not mean they will not eat other parts of their meal according to what their body needs. Leaving out the negotiations helps make candy more neutral and less “forbidden”.”

Bottom line: The research has shown that if these methods are routinely practiced, left to make their own decisions, children will typically eat a variety of foods, treats and veggies alike.

  1. Practice mindful eating techniques.

Mindful eating can also be a great tool to implement during Halloween. Amy Henneke, RDN, LD, of Satisfy Nutrition recommends asking children questions about how eating candy (and all foods) makes them feel. Things like, “how does your tummy feel after eating candy?” and “does this fill you up the same way as a meal?” can help them identify feelings of hunger/fullness and tune in to how those foods make them feel.

This can also be a great tool for adults! Rebecca Clyde, MS, RDN, CD of Nourish Nutrition Co recommends sitting down and eating candy mindfully (i.e. without distraction, slowly, in a relaxed environment). “The intent in this (exercise),” she states, “is to really pay attention to how the candy tastes and your overall experience with eating it.” You may find there are candies you really enjoy, and others you actually don’t!

Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD of Kelly Jones Nutrition, goes one step further, and suggests buying your favorite kind of Halloween candy, and have your own mindful eating experience to kick off the night. She writes, “If you allow yourself to have the candy, and truly enjoy it, you’ll be less likely to snack on it quickly between Trick-or-Treaters and you’ll decrease the chances of binging on it and feeling guilty for it later.” Win-win!

Bottom line: Practice mindful eating techniques by eating slowly, without distraction, in a relaxed environment. Help your child pay attention to how the candy makes them feel by asking questions!

  1. Include candy into meal times for your child.

Lebovitz advocates for setting specific opportunities to eat the candy so that children know they will get to eat the goodies they worked so hard for. Karges agrees, and says, “Giving a child the opportunity to enjoy some of their candy or treats alongside their meals or for a snack reinforces the idea that “all foods fit” and helps assure them that these foods can always be part of their future. This prevents the feeling of “deprivation”, which in turn helps them learn to eat these foods moderately.”

Karges continues, “Concerned parents fear that their child will only ever choose to eat candy if given the opportunity, but this has not been observed in children who are allowed to respond to their intuitive hunger and fullness feeding cues.  Allowing your child to have candy with meals helps neutralize these treats and maintain a sense of structure with their feeding.”

Bottom line: Include treats into meal times, so that these foods are neutralized and children get the idea that all foods fit.

  1. As a parent, give yourself permission to be imperfect.

A common thread among parents is that everyone is trying to do their best. Your best will not be perfect, and that is ok. Give yourself some compassion and grace in the parenting journey. Remember Halloween is one day out of the year, and kids generally lose interest in their candy after a few days. And most importantly, have fun! Perhaps throwing on a costume yourself can help you channel your inner child.

Thoughts? Question? Feel free to reach out – I love hearing from you! Happy Halloween!


A healthier Halloween for kids_ Let them eat candy

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