By Erin Gilbert, RDN, CSO, LDN
For children (& adults!), what’s not to love about Halloween? Dressing up like favorite characters, carving pumpkins, & of course…candy! Between class parties, trunk or treats & Halloween itself, it’s easy for a parent to feel a bit overwhelmed about all the treats piling up. We’re here to tell you there are ways you & your kiddos can enjoy all that the holiday has to offer, while still practicing intuitive eating skills.
Be a good role model— talk about candy neutrally!
Kids are very receptive to the messages you present around food (both out loud & through your actions). We encourage you to avoid any language about candy being “bad”, “junk” or “empty calories” as this can lead to children feeling confused or shameful about enjoying these yummy treats.
This also goes for sneaking candy out of treat bags once the kiddos are in bed. Rather than showing that eating halloween candy is something that should be done in secret, it is a great opportunity to enjoy candy with your children & show them that it’s no different than enjoying other snacks together.
Allow children to learn & explore from their candy experiences
When the holiday comes, it’s normal if your kids are a little “candy crazy”. Sometimes the best way to encourage intuitive eating in children is to allow them to explore it for themselves. This might look like allowing “unrestricted access” to the sweet treats for a period of time to encourage children to eat the amount they desire & get in touch with their body sensations. While this could potentially result in a tummy ache, this is something you can neutrally explore with your kiddo– that eating too much of any food can result in discomfort. On the other hand, you may be surprised at your children’s natural ability to eat intuitively without micromanagement!
Offer candy alongside other foods
Following a period of “unrestricted access”, a great way to normalize Halloween candy is by incorporating it as a part of your regular meals & snacks. This shows that candy is just another food on the same playing field as your other starches, proteins, fruits & veggies. While yes, candy is going to break down a bit differently & play a different role in the body than chicken, ultimately all of these food pieces provide us with energy.
By pairing candy with other foods (especially if they include protein or fiber) you & your child may also feel more satisfied. This will allow you to better listen to hunger/fullness cues & eat the amount of candy that feels good for your body. That said, it’s also okay if your child wants to enjoy the candy on it’s own & explore how long this keeps them energized & satisfied– remember, it’s all about the learning process!
Incorporate candy throughout the year
The foundation for neutralizing Halloween candy starts during the other months of the year. It’s normal for kids to be extra excited about candy if they feel like this is their only opportunity to eat the food. Instead, by using the above suggestions to offer candy in January, March & July, you can demonstrate that there is full permission to enjoy these sweet treats & avoid the scarcity mindset that can often lead to overeating.
If implementing these tips sounds challenging to you, meeting with one of our dietitians can help you break free from food rules so you can model intuitive eating principles to your kids. Check out our services here.
We hope these suggestions show that while Halloween is full of spooky things like ghosts, spiders & witches, a houseful of candy doesn’t have to be scary!