Halloween is just around the corner and every year, parents embrace this time with mixed emotions. Candy and sweets are everywhere, and kids are eager to collect as much as possible. We stock-up on candy to prepare for trick-or-treating traffic but oftentimes, we end the night with ample to spare. And between the leftover candy coupled with what kids have brought home from their trick-or-treating, it feels nearly inevitable that we eat at least one (if not three or five) treat-sized candies every time we open the cupboard door.
So, how do we navigate October 31 differently this year?
Here are some of nutrition tips for a healthy and happy Halloween that will create new traditions for your family for years to come!
- Approach Halloween with balance. Along with candy, use the theme of Halloween to create festive and nutritious fruit and vegetable platters. For example, every year in our household we use felt pens to paint faces on mandarin oranges so they look like a jack o’lantern or carved pumpkin. They add a bright and festive look to our Halloween party table and make a great trick-or-treat option. You can also offer candy along with your child’s usual daily snacks as this helps normalize the candy experience rather than making it a “reward” food. If there is one take-away message here it is that we need to refrain from using food as a reward or punishment.
- Set up opportunities to practice sharing. Divide the candy into bags to share with others. For adults, this might look like bringing a bag of treats to the workplace or a social gathering (being mindful of allergies or existing rules around food sharing), or sharing with a local charitable organization (if permissible). Every year, my kids drop-off some of their candy at a neighbourhood location and they are so used to this now that they divide up their Halloween candy right away and organize a gift bag that is ready to donate. Kids enjoy trading candy or giving it away, so let them be creative about how to pay the generosity of others forward.
- Keep an open mind. Halloween is once a year and if kids eat more candy that usual around this time, it is ok. As parents, we need to make sure we trust our kids and offer them healthy foods as well as treats in a normalized way. If we start setting up food rules around candy, we begin to go down a slippery slope. Instead, ask your kids if they want to start a tradition where they have candy at a snack time, and let them decide how much to have. This will show your kids that you trust them and they will be less likely to overeat and just get to enjoy the experience of celebration, rather than feeling pressured or judged. Children are intuitive eaters and they know how to set their own limits around hunger and fullness. This being said, keeping regular meals and snack times consistent is important, and offering a variety of healthy foods to choose from along with the treats, helps to teach your child that all foods can fit.
- Know how to dispel myths. Candy does not cause hyperactivity or behavioural issues but it can lead to cavities. Again, instead of judgement, teach your kids that eating candy is fine – they just need to make sure to brush their teeth and floss afterward to get rid of the sugar bugs that like to feast on the candy, too!
Remember that nutrition habits are lifelong, and if your child learns how to achieve balance in what they are eating, healthy eating includes all foods, even candy!
By Dani Renouf, Registered Dietitian at St. Paul’s Hospital.