Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Let's Have a Healthy Halloween

Originally written for and posted on Grandparenting Plus Blog.  In the interest of full disclosure the authors of this blog are my mother and grandmother.   (Yeah they blog too...who doesn't these days?)

No other holiday tests our parenting skills more than the issue of how we handle candy on Halloween.  But as with many of our current holiday traditions, Halloween and candy haven't always been linked together like they are now.  Halloween was originally a Celtic harvest holiday and was brought to the United States with the 19th Century Irish immigrants.  As the holiday evolved, kids began to trick-or-treat and until the 1950's trick-or-treat'ers were more likely to get non-food related booty, like coins, pencils and other trinkets rather than candy.  It was not until candy manufacturers started to market candy as a way to boost revenues that sweets became synonymous with Halloween.   To illustrate just how much emphasis candy companies put on Halloween I took my 5 year old son along to check out two very different stores: Whole Foods Market and Rite-Aid Drug Store.  It's pretty shocking to see the stark difference between them.
The Halloween candy section at  Whole Foods in Tarzana, CA
The Halloween aisles at Rite-Aid in West Hills, CA
When we think of all the candy that kids might get for Halloween, the first thing we think about is all the sugar that our kids are going to eat.  Unfortunately, the sugar is the least of our worries.  Sadly, it's the artificial food colorings and trans-fat that is pervasive in many of these foods that we should be concerned with.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published a great report on the risks of artificial colorings in 2010 called, "A Rainbow of Risks".  You should definitely read it and you might reconsider buying M&M's.

Despite all the horrible things in candy, for me as a parent and as a dietitian the biggest issue during Halloween is how I approach and handle my kids' candy intake.  If you follow my blog ( you know that I believe in a non-diet approach to eating.  I am a believer in Intuitive Eating and I apply these principles to my clients and also to my family.  The other philosophy that fits nicely with Intuitive Eating are some of the theories on feeding children from Ellyn Satter.  When I decided to talk about eating and Halloween, Satter was the resource that I knew I had to include and thankfully she addressed the topic both in her book and in her website:
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. When he comes home from trick or treating, let him lay out his booty, gloat over it, sort it and eat as much of it as he wants. Let him do the same the next day. Then have him put it away and relegate it to meal- and snack-time: a couple of small pieces at meals for dessert and as much as he wants for snack time. (From The Sticky Topic of Halloween Candy, Family Meals Focus #30 on 10/22/08)  
I know you are reading this and saying, "Are you serious?", or maybe, "Oh hell no, I am not going to let my child dive head first into a full bucket of a candy."  But hear me (and Satter for that matter) out.  By allowing your child to have the freedom to learn to manage their own candy instead of you controlling it will allow him or her to develop a sense of trust around food.  If your child breaks this trust, you can take the candy away until they demonstrate that they can handle it.  The goal is to let your child build confidence and self-reliance around listening to their internal cues of hunger and fullness.  If this method still seems too extreme for you, try to modify it, but the key is for you not to interfere with what they choose or how much of it they eat.  The hope is that the relationship your child develops with food and sweets is based on their own internal cues and not on restriction.

One important thing to remember is that the best way we teach our children is though modeling our behaviors. If we call food "junk," "bad" or "garbage," our kids will pick up on that.  Conversely, if our children see us having a healthy relationship with candy, the chances are that they will develop the same attitude.  Be aware of how you handle candy because that will affect you child's behaviors.  These are just some of the concepts that are discussed at length in the new edition of Intuitive Eating in which the authors devote a whole chapter on raising Intuitive Eaters.  I highly recommend you read it.

Don't think of Halloween as a power struggle between you and your children.  If they are old enough explain to them what your plan is.  If they are too young to understand, try explaining your rules for Halloween so they know what to expect.

Halloween is just one day but feeding a child and raising an Intuitive Eater is the foundation for healthy eating for a lifetime. Here are some simple things you can do:

1) Don’t restrict dessert. Make it a part of regular meals and try serving it with all the other things during dinner time.

2) Try to refer to food in non-judgmental terms. Take out the “good” vs. “bad” so that kids don’t feel guilty for eating “junk.”  Try using terms like "play food" vs. "growing food."

3) Divide responsibility. It’s your job as a parent to provide balanced, nutritious meals with a variety of play foods. It’s your child’s job to eat.

4) Don’t be a short-order cook.

5) Trust in your child’s innate abilities. Children know how much food they need so allow them the freedom to choose how much to eat. Overall, they will choose foods that help them grow and most of all they’ll develop a healthy relationship with food.

As always, I look forward to reading your comments.

1 comment:

  1. A little candy may be fine for most children, but at Halloween there is just SO MUCH sugar! How do we get the kids to turn in the candy or choose something healthier.