Trick or Treat! Dietitians and other health professionals share their tips for handling the Halloween haul.

Halloween is next Thursday!

Whether you have young ones at home who are excited to acquire a massive bag full of sugary treats, you get a lot of Trick-or-Treaters in your neighborhood, or the stock of Halloween candy throughout every store is calling your name, I’ve reached out to several dietitians and health professionals who share their tips with handling the Halloween Candy Haul!

If you have little pirates, princesses, or monsters…

1. Act Cool

Although you may fear the surplus of sugar that is about to enter your home, you couldn’t possibly imagine telling your little one that trick-or-treating is not allowed. And that’s a good thing! Did you know that restricting a food actually leads to your child wanting more!? Read about the effects of restriction on children’s intake here. It’s in your best interest to play it cool around sweets – and any food for that matter. Registered Dietitian, Laura Gill says, “I want my kids to have healthy relationships with food and love it as much as I do. We try not to put candy up on a high pedestal, and we incorporate it here and there. At parties and when it comes to trick-or-treating we try not to harp on them and it works.”

2. Set a limit

Setting a limit can seem like restriction if not handled strategically; however know that “moderation is key here,” says Alisa Bloom, MPH, RDN, LDN, registered dietitian and owner of Live Your Best 365. She defines an excess of candy resembling “more than 2-4 miniature candies or 1 bar per day until the holidays.” If you have an excess of candy, see #4. Here’s my professional strategy with setting a limit, which is more ideal for the immediate post Trick-or-Treating candy review, and not for every day use:

Keep a pre-determined limit to yourself. Hold off on announcing a number right from the top. Announcing the limit upon returning home with the spoils may add some pressure, causing your child to think:

Oh boy! I can only eat 5 pieces?! They need to be the best!

Instead I say, give your little one some untethered freedom to enjoy the sweet experience. But here’s the key: stay present and engaged with them, keeping a casual monitor. Talk with them about the candy:

What’s your favorite? My favorite is a Kit-Kat…oh, wait, no, a Snickers, oh, and a Milky Way! Yum! I like all of them!!

You know? Have fun! When you see your child getting near your pre-determined, unannounced limit, then give them the heads up:

Okay, we’re going to have to put the candy away after the next piece. We got to enjoy some really great candies, didn’t we! How fun was trick-or-treating!? What were some of your favorite costumes that you saw tonight?

Keep it cool… Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC says, “The more neutral these food items are approached, the more moderately a child will learn how to eat them.”  Read more about some tips she shares on how to “Deal with the Halloween Candy Problem.”

3. Talk about health

Discuss with your kids the impact of eating too much sugar, not just around Halloween and the Holidays, but regularly. Anna Lorenzi, MPH, CPH, CHES, a health program planner at Children’s Health in Dallas, TX explains that “when children eat too much sugar, it can lead to unhealthy weight gain.” Unhealthy weight gain “can lead to heart disease, liver problems and type 2 diabetes over time.” She indicates that tooth decay, such as damaged enamel and cavities is also an effect of too much sugar.

The younger your kids are, the simpler your advice should be. For example, you may explain to them that while sugar is yummy, too much might hurt their bellies or give them a toothache. It also will not help them to get smarter, stronger, or taller as well as vegetables and fruits can.

And you know what? You can always let them gain a first hand experience (after all, you probably know from experience yourself, right?). Laura Gill MS, RD, CDN says, “There have been times when [my kids] ate too many sweets. But guess what? They had a bellyache and while they were complaining of not feeling so good we used it as a way to teach them that, ‘Hey, maybe next time let’s not gorge on candy (or sweets) and enjoy it every once in a while.'”

4. Share

Anna Lorenzi, MPH, CPH, CHES, June Knoerzer, RDN, and Alisa Bloom, MPH, RDN, LDN all suggest donating a portion of the goods to a variety of locations, such as the food pantry, local fire departments, or houses of worship.

5. Enjoy as part of a healthy meal or snack

June Knoerzer, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist for the Child Care Council suggests incorporating the treat with a healthy snack: “Ask the child to help to put the treat on one side of a snack bag, with tomatoes or carrots on the other side. Pinch the middle with a decorated clothes pin.” A Butterfly Snack Clip! To get inspired, check out all sorts of Butterfly Snack Clips on Pinterest.

Anna Lorenzi, MPH, CPH, CHES suggests serving “a healthy meal before Trick-or-Treating or snacking on Halloween candy. Protein and fiber rich meals will satisfy appetites and reduce the desire to eat too many sweets.”

6. Repurpose!

Alisa Bloom, MPH, RDN, LDN asks, “Is your child having a birthday party, or are you doing any other entertaining anytime soon? You can get creative with entertaining by using leftover candy as part of dessert, in gift baskets, or even table decorations.”

7. Learn about the history of Halloween

You could reduce the focus on candy and costumes by “visiting the library and learning more about the history and traditions of Halloween,” Anna Lorenzi, MPH, CPH, CHES says. She indicates that “there is more to this fun holiday than just candy!”

Ultimately, you know that raising a child is no easy task, and it can be riddled with fear of: am I making the right decision? At the end of the day, all you can do is try your best, and part of trying your best involves taking a few steps back. Look, we all indulge! It’s a part of life. We have taste buds that tell us when something tastes good, and we gain feel-good sensations from that! It’s one of life’s many blessings – it’s okay to revel in it, whether you’re 5 or 105. Keep in mind that it’s frequent indulgences over time that are most linked with poor health.

I didn’t forget about you if your home is kid-free or you have a bustling neighborhood of Trick-or-Treaters:

  1. Just because you’re “old” doesn’t mean you can’t include some of the same healthy methods as for kids! After you’ve passed out treats, donate the rest, have friends over and share, or incorporate a piece or two with a healthy meal or snack.

  2. Here’s one way to avoid the excess candy in your home: the kids might not like it, but I bet the parents will! Pass out non-food treats, like stickers or money. This method helps everyone involved, and Anna Lorenzi agrees. She mentions that “Halloween doesn’t have to be all about the sweets. Kids love stickers, temporary tattoos and small toys. These items also last longer than candy!”

  3. Hone in on your defined healthy goals. Can you trust yourself with all the excess in your home? Do they have a place in your desired eating patterns, or do they not belong? This advice may be harsh and some may disagree, but know that you can throw them away. I agree, it’s nice to share, but sometimes, sharing [excess sugar] isn’t caring. You make the call!

  4. I can’t not have fun with this. Look, it IS TRICK-or-Treating, after all! Let’s take the silly and maybe a little thoughtless approach! You could always skip buying candy, and instead dress up in your scariest costume and just scare the Trick-or-Treaters (and my biased advice: NOT the little kids, please!).

Happy Halloween!

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