To treat or not to treat: Halloween & The Candy Conundrum

I believe that it is normal to eat candy in moderation any time of the year.
It is also normal to eat a little more after collecting the spoils of Halloween.
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 guy is older.

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. Just because something it made with agave nectar or honey does not make it good for you nor does it make is less bad for you. How much you eat of it and how often are still the biggest predictors.

Since I believe that quantity is more the issue, setting a house rule on the amount that can be eaten per day by everyone would be more efficient at promoting moderation. Teaching children how to moderate 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 a few treats again tomorrow can really help kids (and adults) feel comfortable and happy with the few treats they eat today.
On a positive note, Halloween sized candy can be perfect for dosing out small treats since the size of the packages are usually quite small. For many people it is tough to eat only half a chocolate bar so smaller portions can be great for reasonable sized treats.

It is important to note that if you eat a bit of candy, you won’t undermine all the work you do the rest of the year. Any act that is less healthy – say being sedentary one day or eating more sugar, does not take away from the days when you are more active or eat more natural foods. Enjoying a treat once in awhile takes nothing away from the healthy eating we participate in every day. Fortunately health doesn’t work that way!

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 we can eat a few more treats than normal. 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 requires 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. 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.

Lastly, I strongly encourage you not to single out heavier children with special rules surrounding candy. If you believe a child should lose 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. If you have an underweight or very active child whom you believe needs to eat more calories, chips and candy is not a healthy way to do it.

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 way that includes all 4 food groups (or 5 if you are American) and the occasional treat.

If you’d like to read more about this topic, may I suggest this interesting article.
If you are having difficulties with feeding your child and find meal times are a battle you’d prefer not to have, try exploring this website: http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/

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