Halloween candy invaded grocery aisles weeks ago and sweets are on the minds of children everywhere. Fall is an important time for all families to consider their health strategies, but it’s a particularly challenging time for families who are working toward healthier weights, battling chronic illnesses, or addressing allergies and dietary restrictions.
We’ve rounded up some helfpul tips for any family trying to take the trick out of making their Halloween healthier.
If you are a family with special needs, you are likely equipped with guidelines from your doctor on limiting sugar intake or avoiding allergens. If you have any concerns about these condition-specific dietary matters, contact your doctor in anticipation of the candy-happy holiday.
For a family looking to maintain healthy eating habits or trying to manage weight together, portion control can be a cornerstone for the holiday plans. At C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, our Pediatric Comprehensive Weight Management Center has developed many nutritional guidelines to help families navigate tricky choices. One tool we recommend is the Stack, Spoon, Sprinkle method for portion control. Halloween candies are a sprinkle food, meaning that a child of healthy weight and diet can have a single portion each day. Be sure these are the fun-sized or individually wrapped pieces, and not an entire candy bar. For a child who is managing their diet or battling weight issues, we recommend a single portion on three days of the week.
How to make it work
It’s not easy to make these portion controls an accepted practice in your family, even during regular months of the year. As Halloween approaches, we recommend that you take some time to think about your family’s health needs and goals, the guidelines you would like your children to follow, and how you will make them work. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Be a smart treater. As a parent or homeowner who may offer treats on Halloween night, think about what you buy and how you buy it. If you are trying to keep your family off the sweets until the big day, buy as close to Halloween as you are able. If you buy in advance, try to stash the bag out of sight to remove any snacking temptation. Keep in mind that all families are going to be out trick or treating, and that your neighbors might thank you for limiting the weight you add to the children’s treat bags. We recommend you give out only one or two small candies per child. If you are feeling ungenerous by doing that, give out a small toy, pretzels, apples, fruit snacks, or other candy-alternative alongside the piece of candy.
- Bring the party with you. Parties or school functions can be a hard place to regulate candy or sweets intake. If you are able, plan a recipe at home that you and your children can make together. There are many really great pumpkin-based goodies that can be options for this season. Try these pumpkin recipes we share with families looking to reduce sugar and fats in their snacks.
- Buy back or trade in. The last thing we want to encourage is a totally disappointing holiday experience for your family. A good way to lessen the sting of candy-control is to make the candy that your child is giving up “collateral.” Let your child stack up candy as a payment for a new toy, a special outing, or a late night with friends. When setting guidelines and discussing them with your family, let your children know about options to “trade in” their candy. We’ve even heard success stories from parents who recreate the Tooth Fairy as a candy-snatching Great Pumpkin that leaves toys or coins in exchange for candy. If you can identify a motivator that would help your kids choose a healthier takeaway than candy, it can be a good way to keep the holiday fun and sugar-low.
- On Halloween day: There are a few easy things you can do to support your child’s health on Halloween day, even if with the extra candy indulgence.
- Be sure to have a healthy dinner before trick-or-treating. By balancing unhealthy, sugar-heavy foods like candy with fiber and protein, you help ensure that your child is able to process the sugar in their treats. This will help keep blood sugar levels normal.
- Since your child will already be taking in lots of goodies, stay away from sugary beverages that night, and encourage extra water intake. Avoid cider, juice, punch or soda.
- Keep your child’s treat haul manageable by giving him or her a normal-sized bag or bucket to fill. Pillow cases hold a lot more than a plastic pumpkin. You’ll have much more limit-enforcing to do if your child brings back extra pounds of treats.
- Talk early and explain clearly. With all these ideas, it is important to lay a framework and make it known to your family. Springing the one-candy-a-day rule on your kids on November 1 will prove to be very frightening. Get the ideas out there early and clearly, but also highlight the ways you will be having fun together unrelated to candy and sweet treats.
Take the next step:
- For more resources to guide your family in eating well, check out www.choosemyplate.gov.
- For more information about programs at Mott Children’s Hospital that can help families address weight management or eating disorders, visit www.mottchildren.org.
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University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.