NUTRITION: Teach children to self-regulate Halloween treats
Halloween can be a difficult time for kids of all ages to adhere to a regimented diet. It is recommended that kids (and women) should not consume more than 25 grams of added sugars per day; adult men get 35 grams per day. One "fun size" Milky Way Bar contains 10 grams of sugar, and one "fun size" bag of Skittles contains 14 grams of sugar. And let's be honest; who eats just one fun size anything?
You might think this column is going to talk about ways to limit candy during Halloween. However, I'm here to tell you the opposite. It is a parent's job to make sure their children are provided with a healthy diet. However, studies show that the more strictly parents control certain foods, especially "treats" like candy, the more desirable those foods become to children. Children who are allowed to select their own candy are significantly less likely to overeat it. When parents hyper-focus on limiting candy, it gives candy the power to become an obsession for children. This obsession can give candy the power to be marred with guilt and shame. Do not give candy the power. Food should never feel guilty or shameful.
This means that parents need to be healthy role models throughout the year. There are many other food-centric holidays that occur that children should participate in. As children grow older, they will need to learn how to navigate these holidays and events, and eventually to self-regulate themselves. Talk about what it feels like to feel full and allow children to be perceptive about their own body signals.
There are some techniques that may help take the focus off the candy.
• Start Halloween day off right with breakfast; maybe a breakfast burrito with eggs and veggies or oatmeal with nuts and fruit. Then, also make sure to have a well-balanced meal before heading out for trick-or-treating. Heading out with a full tummy (for both kids and parents) can help limit excessive snacking.
• When out trick-or-treating, walk if able; don't drive. Seize the opportunity to get in some physical activity.
• Put the main focus on non-food related activities. I mean, Halloween is all about the costumes, right? Host a costume contest, paint or carve pumpkins, decorate your house, or host a monster mash dance party. In these events, candy could be part of the celebration but it is not the reason for the celebration.
• When out trick-or-treating, do not carry large containers such as pillow cases. Have kids carry a smaller container that will be filled up more quickly.
• You don't have to hand out candy on Halloween, but be sure to keep it fun. Some non-food items could be bubbles, glow sticks or temporary tattoos. By handing out a non-food item, you will face less temptation with potential candy leftovers in your own house.
Keep in mind that eating candy on one night, even to excess, does not make your child's diet unhealthy. A healthy diet and overall health is defined over time. What we want to instill in our children and ourselves are lifelong healthy habits regarding selecting healthy foods and having a positive emotional relationship with food.
Brenda Schwerdt, RDN, LD, CNSC, is a clinical dietitian at St. Luke's hospital. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.