When I was growing up I LOVED fall and loved Halloween—I still do! The pumpkin carving, the apple picking, the candy corn, the fall colors and jumping in leaf piles are what I remember the most. Trick or Treating around my neighborhood was so much fun, too. Every year my brother, sister and I would don our costumes at dusk, trot/run door to door and fill our twin-size pillowcases with as much loot as we could get.
When we finally walked home, tired and exhilarated, we would dump out our candy on the living room floor and sort it into piles. My mom would let us eat as much candy as we wanted while we were Trick or Treating, as well as during the sorting process; in fact, she and my dad would eat candy with us, taking our Hershey’s Special Dark and other kinds of what they termed “adult candy.” We would oooh and aaah about how much we got and savor our favorites while remarking how cool it was that the lady in the big house down the street gave out full size candy bars. Thereafter my mom would take all the candy, put it in a brown shopping bag, and place it on top of the refrigerator. Over the coming weeks she would allow us one piece of our choosing per day, usually after school, as part of our snack. Sometimes my mom would put a piece into our lunches for dessert. As the experience of the year’s Trick or Treating receded into the past and became another great memory, I forgot about the brown paper bag on top of the fridge.
The push and pull with candy, or the power struggle to control sugar consumption, was never an issue in my family. My mom let us enjoy the holiday and the experience by eating candy on Halloween without restraint, and then we were able to eat the candy in the days afterwards in a way that felt okay to my mom, whose job it was to feed us so that we could play and grow. This was candy that in my mind I had earned and felt entitled to eat because I had walked so far and knocked on so many doors and said “Trick or Treat” to so many of my neighbors (hard work for a little kid, right?) To me, it would have been mean of her to take that away.
Although my mom didn’t have any training in healthy feeding for children according to the latest research, this way of dealing with Halloween and Trick or Treat candy fits with an approach to feeding children that is in fact supported by the literature, and exemplified in Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility, the gold standard in pediatric nutrition. Here is what Satter has to say in her book Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming:
“Halloween candy presents a learning opportunity. Work toward having your child be able to manage his own stash. For him to learn, you will have to keep your interference to a minimum. When he comes home from trick or treating, let him lay out his booty, gloat over it, sort it and eat as much of it as he wants. Let him do the same the next day. Then have him put it away and relegate it to meal- and snack-time: a couple of small pieces at meals for dessert and as much as he wants for snack time.”
She goes on to explain that as long as your child can follow the rules, she or he can keep control of their candy stash; as soon as they cannot, you will control the stash. At snacks where candy is offered, provide milk and there is a chance that she or he will get some nutrition. The point is to affirm the child’s autonomy (and let them have fun!) while providing a framework for good nutrition overall.
Your child will need a little guidance from you to eat candy in good proportion to other items in his or her diet; with a little help, eating Halloween candy can be fun!
Sarah Pruett Soufl (pronounced “so full”) is a non-diet Registered Dietitian Nutritionist that empowers people through insight and information to appreciate their bodies, move more, improve lab values and understand food and nutrition as one important aspect of a full life. Learn more here: https://souflnutrition.com/