Halloween is just around the corner and we all know that it wouldn’t be Halloween without candy! At least for the majority of children, the very essence of Halloween spells C-A-N-D-Y.
Truth be told, small amounts of candy are acceptable in a balanced diet, and candy certainly provides energy. However, it doesn’t mean that sweets should be eaten at the expense of foods that offer more diverse benefits, like vitamins and minerals. And although candy certainly is the main culprit for cavities, any simple carbohydrate like pasta or crackers can have the same harmful effect.
But once a child has had his first taste of candy, there’s no turning back. Visions of sugar and chocolates will dance in his head forever, while visions of dental bills and weight problems dance in yours. Even if you have somehow managed to keep sweets out of your house, they seem to be everywhere else: on TV, in the grocery, in schools, at birthday parties and holiday celebrations that are the core of most children’s social life. These influences make it hard to ban candy outright. In fact, some experts say that parents should not ban candy altogether because “… if candy is seen as a forbidden fruit, it becomes more desirable.” Also, kids are less likely to be obsessed with candy if they know it is not off-limits.
Therefore, if candy cannot to be totally forbidden, how much should be permitted, and how do you limit? As with many of life’s little pleasures, the key is moderation. Since most kids will want as much candy as they can possibly hoard when they knock on doors on Halloween, consider handing out healthy snacks like granola bars, fruit juice, crackers, pretzels, raisins or dried fruit. If alternatives foods are offered to our children, they are less likely to get fixated on getting overloaded with sugar, and hopefully choose more desirable food products like fruits and vegetables.
For some inexpensive, creative non-edible treats, try some of these suggestions:
• Colorful stickers, pencils and erasers
• Temporary tattoos – these come in a variety of shapes and designs
• Halloween bowl of “treats” – fill up a big fish bowl with novelty items like plastic vampire teeth, bottles of bubbles, rubber toy mice, frogs, squishy balls, whistles, or other party favor items.
• Glow sticks or glow-in-the-dark bracelets or necklaces
• Flashing wands
• Finger beam lights
• Art supplies like Play-Doh®, crayons or markers
These will definitely fill up those Halloween buckets, keep the trick-or-treaters happy and occupied, and temporarily keep the candy monster at bay. Of course, make sure to choose an assortment of toys to cover a mix in the ages of kids who will be knocking on your door for their treat, and small plastic toys should not be placed in the hands of small children to prevent choking unless they are accompanied by an adult.
It is also important to set a good example. If your child catches you constantly munching on a chocolate bar, you’re giving a clear message that sweets are well tolerated in your home. If we want to put the brakes on the “candy monster”, we don’t need to wait for Halloween to start. We need to review the message of food that we send to our children as early on as possible, because their choices and feelings around foods will be affected for years to come.
Sugar, while it is certainly not the healthiest ingredient in food, is not something that needs to be completely avoided. If children are fed well most of the time—say, 80-percent—then there is room in their diet for “treats.” And as parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children how to make good food choices and provide them with sensible information about foods.
How do we manage the after effects of our children’s Halloween candy-binging? Here’s a great tip:
Instead of giving your kids free reign over the now-overflowing Halloween buckets, restrict candy intake to a few, or even better, one, piece of candy each day. In the beginning, your child might protest, but one way to make the process go more smoothly is to make a small “event” out of it. Establish a set time each day, and encourage your child to choose his daily-allotted candy very carefully. Tell him to eat his candy slowly and enjoy it rather than shove the entire thing into his mouth before running off. If you can manage to slow the process down enough, you will effectively bypass binge candy eating, while also teaching your child the importance of savoring his food to avoid overeating and increase satisfaction and appreciation of food and treats.
In the end, we control how we celebrate this holiday: whether we see this as just a bizarre holiday, or transform it into another teaching moment where we leave our children to imagine and transform into anything they wish to be—the choice is ours. Have a safe and memorable Holiday!
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