I believe that it is normal to eat candy any time of the year. It is also normal to eat a little more after collecting the spoils of Halloween. However, not everyone would agree with me. Therein lies the candy conundrum.
Sure, it contains no vitamins or minerals or added physical benefits to our lives but eating a treat isn’t about maximizing antioxidant intake. It is about savoring the sweet or salty flavors for a few blissful minutes. It is about the mental pleasure it contributes to our lives as well as the variety.
Reading all the tips and tricks from health professionals and parents about what to do with Halloween candy has got me thinking about what I will do when my little guys are older.
The Candy Conundrum
Some advocate to stick to “healthier” types of candy but in my opinion, candy is candy. Trying to eat the “best of the worst” is a battle of the minutiae. If parents don’t feel comfortable letting their kids eat everything, then focusing on fruit based candies or fruit sweetened candies could be one option.
However, it is important to remember that sugar is sugar- whether it comes from a fruit or from sucrose, it will have the same ultimate effect on our bodies(give us energy). Also, it is important to note that making some foods “ok” to eat while calling others “bad” can do quite a number on the relationship kids (and adults) have with food.
Here are a few more facts to help you feel more comfortable with candy and labeling it as “bad”:
- Studies have shown that restriction of “bad” foods can lead to bingeing or over eating those foods followed by guilt or shame. Neither of which is healthy for us to experience.
- We don’t have full control over our weight and the theory that fat kids eat more and move less has been debunked.
- We tend to think of forbidden foods more often (ie. become preoccupied by them), even if we don’t like the food!
- Some studies have even shown that children will eat more of a food if it is labelled as off-limits.
Read more about labeling foods as “good” and “bad”: Eating in secret and other embarrassing side effects of dieting.
Children can learn to self-regulate
I believe that self-regulation is more the issue when it comes to children. Teaching children how to decide for themselves their intake in times of plenty is a hugely important skill to master and will help them enormously as adults. Knowing that they are entitled to eat the treats again tomorrow can really help kids (and adults) feel comfortable and happy with what they eat today.
It is important to note that if you eat candy, you won’t undermine “all the work” you do the rest of the year. Being sedentary for a while or eating more sugar, does not take away from the days when you are more active or eat more nutrient dense foods. In fact, these things can improve our health and support us in self care. Enjoying a treat takes nothing away from the healthy eating we participate in every day. Fortunately health doesn’t work that way!
Treats and Special Foods Are a Normal Part of Life
I have read that some people believe that kids can be confused with mixed messages surrounding candy-filled holidays. However, I don’t see anything confusing with teaching them that on special occasions more treats or special foods will be around more often. Just like during a lunar eclipse we can stay up a bit later- it is a treat and rules are decided by the parents. Just as you would explain that using a knife in the kitchen requires an adult’s supervision (rather than ban your child from helping in the kitchen), you can explain that there is a time to eat some candy and a time when the body may need fruit. Learning that there are limits is part of growing up. Never being exposed to limits makes coming of age very difficult.
I have also come across the suggestion to pair treats with healthy food. I feel this can lead to trouble in the same way that “one must finish your plate before eating dessert” does. Teaching kids that you must eat a healthy food (or exercise) to earn a treat may lead them to eat when not hungry. Or lead them in the direction of needing to compensate for “bad” eating (a disordered eating pattern). The point is that a treat can be a substitute (a few cookies instead of an apple) or addition to a snack (a cookie with 1/2 an apple), not earned. Food as a reward or as something to earn leads you down a slippery slope of an unhealthy relationship with food.
The Same House Rules for Everyone
Lastly, I strongly encourage you not to single out heavier children with special rules surrounding candy. If you believe a child is not at their natural, healthy weight, this should have no bearing on the house rules surrounding candy. A slimmer child does not earn the right to eat more candy because their natural weight is lower.
Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable allowing your child to eat certain foods, that is your prerogative as a parent. If you feel bullied into feeding your child in an extreme way- stand up for your right to feed your child in a moderate, normal way that includes all food groups AND fun foods or treats.