Halloween is just around the corner, and most kids can’t wait. When else can you dress up in funny — or frightening — costumes, go door to door, and collect all the free candy you can fit in your bag? And with many kids opting to carry pillowcases instead of cutely decorated trick or treat sacks, that’s a lot of candy!
While Halloween is a kid’s dream, it can be a nightmare for parents who struggle all year to get their children to eat enough fruits and vegetables and avoid excessive sugars and saturated fat.
So how can parents keep their kids from gobbling down all that they bring home from a night of trick or treating — and from eating it all in one sitting? A registered dietician at Washington University in St. Louis offers some helpful tips.
“For parents who want to maintain some degree of healthy eating for their family, Halloween can be a challenge,” says Connie Diekman, director of University Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.
She says that before the kids head out, parents should caution them about eating anything that’s not in a sealed wrapper. And while it can be hard to keep kids from sampling their treats as they go about collecting more, parents should remind their children to relish the thought of having leftovers.
“The amount each child can eat depends on his or her age, the time of the night they get home and what their parents are comfortable with,” Diekman says. “This isn’t about a battle, but it is about kids and parents working together to plan their treats.”
She says parents can help their children control their candy consumption by having them dump all of their “goodies” onto the kitchen table and then sorting them into three different piles: their favorites, the ones they think are just so-so, and ones they don’t really care for. The goal of the three piles, she says, is to allow kids the chance to designate their favorites and parents the chance to combine candy into smaller packages so it’s not all eaten at one time.
The candy the kids don’t necessarily want to eat can often just be thrown away. Once the “goodies” have been divided into the different groups, Diekman suggests that parents work with their children to repackage the candy into smaller, sandwich-sized bags by mixing some favorites with some “not so favorites” to “stretch” the enjoyment.
The small bags can be put into school lunches, eaten as after-school snacks or saved for the future. By dividing the candy this way, consumption is more manageable.
“The key to making the sorting fun, and not punishment, is letting the kids decide which treats go in which small bags,” Diekman says. If you end up with lots of small bags, she suggests putting some in the freezer for later. That way, the candy is hidden from sight and isn’t available to just grab and munch.
“Packaging candy into smaller bags and storing some in the freezer helps kids — and parents — forget about the candy and really use it in smaller amounts, avoiding the temptation to eat it all because it’s right there in front of them,” she says.
The other side of making Halloween a “healthier” holiday starts with what families hand out at the door. Diekman suggests giving out two or three of the bite-sized candy bars instead of one full-sized one to save on calories and fat. Three bite-sized candy bars reduces fat and calories by half when compared to one full-sized bar, Diekman points out.
Diekman also suggests that parents consider handing out treats other than candy. Her ideas include:
- Halloween stickers, pencils or erasers
- Sugar-free gum
- Plastic spider rings
- Small toys
- Temporary tattoos
- Fast-food coupons
- Key chains
These alternative treats can inspire other parents for next year, she notes. And, if it’s a slow night of ghosts and goblins at your door, you don’t have bags of yet even more candy around the house.
“The real key with Halloween, as with any other time of the year, is to just watch how much you eat,” Diekman says. “It’s fine to have a small candy bar or two after lunch, but it’s never a good idea to eat several large chocolate bars in one sitting.”