The Halloween question for kids may be ”What’s your costume?” But for parents it’s : ”What to do with all the candy?” For this week’s Expert Advice I spoke with Karen Schachter, a D.C.-based certified health counselor and psychology of eating expert. She runs Dishing with Your Daughter, a nutrition program for mothers and daughters.
“If we make all Halloween candy ‘forbidden fruit,’ and we try to over-control, we not only make the candy more desirable, but we convey the message that we don’t trust them to make good decisions for themselves,” she said. “That said, candy is compelling and sugar can be addictive.”
Below, Schachter offers age-specific tips for the night the bag of candy comes home and what to do with the leftovers. Overall, she suggests that parents keep in mind the goal of encouraging kids to “learn to listen and trust their bodies, take ownership of their choices, and make decisions based on a sense of honoring themselves and what they need.”
For instance, she does not “recommend telling kids they should have as much as they want that night because you’re getting rid of it tomorrow. ... This sets up an all or nothing, binge now-restrict later, attitude that doesn’t help children learn and internalize self-regulation.”
There are better ways, Schachter said:
Karen Schachter’s tips for different age groups:
• For the very youngest (under 3), have fun with dressing up, painting or carving pumpkins and delivering goodies to trick-or-treaters. Fill their Halloween bag with some healthy goodies and little toys.
Children at this age can easily do without candy and not feel they’re missing anything.
• By the time they’re in preschool, children have likely been inundated in the “I want candy” culture. Consider having fun with all of the other Halloween activities and keeping trick or treating to a few neighborhood houses. Help them choose one or two pieces of candy to eat that night and save the rest for later.
• For elementary school and older, keep in mind that although they may love the candy, a huge part of the fun is dressing up, seeing friends, wearing costumes, being spooked, and collecting and sorting through their loot. Invite them beforehand to consider how much candy their body might want or need that evening.
Although they might not stick to that number, the act of asking them and discussing it in advance sends the message that you trust that they will make thoughtful choices. It also helps them make a connection to their bodies and what they put in it.
Allow them to choose a few of their favorites to enjoy that night. Discuss with them how they’d like to handle the rest.
Schachter’s ideas for excess candy:
• Consider inviting your children to trade their candy for money or another “treat,” such as a toy. “I offer to buy my children’s candy from them, letting them know that I’d rather them have the money to spend on something they love than fill their bellies and bodies with something that is not great for them and won’t last long,” she says. “They love sorting it out and then selling it to me.”
• Keep leftover candy out of sight. It shouldn’t necessarily be hidden, but it does help to not have the visual reminder day-in and day-out. Generally, the stash gets forgotten after a week or two.
• Role model a positive attitude and nourishing, healthy behavior with food, on Halloween and beyond. Children will learn much from watching parents nourish their bodies and treat them well.