This article originally appeared in the Oct. 29, 2008 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Halloween is a highlight of the year for many kids, from toddlers to teens. It’s also high season for the kind of over-indulgence that can lead to belly aches and exasperated parents.
On the one hand, you want to let your children indulge and enjoy the holiday but on the other, you don't want to undermine all the work you do the rest of the year maintaining a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. And you don't want to confuse kids with mixed messages.
KidsHealth, a national service providing pediatric health information for families, asked parents to share how they handle Halloween, and 286 responded to the survey. Most moms and dads — 82% — set limits using a variety of strategies to keep kids from going overboard on the Halloween treats.
Many parents said that after letting kids indulge in some treats right after trick-or-treating, they limit children to a certain number of pieces each day or put the candy stash out of reach and out of sight. Of parents who try to limit treats, most — 83% — said they successfully kept their kids from overindulging. Those who said their efforts failed cited a variety of reasons, from children hiding a secret candy stash to having different caregivers (such as babysitters, grandparents and other relatives) who may have different rules for the candy.
Some families have decided to go the non-traditional route in doling out the Halloween treats, giving trick-or-treaters a pencil, ball or puzzle.
“One of the favorite houses in our neighborhood is the dentist, who gives out toothbrushes,” says Rita Chrivia, a registered dietitian at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. “That house is not only popular with the parents; the kids seem to like it, too.”
Chrivia says sweet treats are OK in moderation, but that little prizes can be even more popular, as long as they are age-appropriate and do not cause choking hazards for small children.
Before sending your little ghouls and goblins out the door, try to serve a healthy meal so they're not hungry when the candy starts coming in. Once they return home, it’s a good idea to have a talk about your expectations with their candy consumption. Kids who generally eat just a couple of pieces and save the rest might be trusted to decide how much to eat. If your child tends to overdo it, consider setting limits.
Other insights for handling Halloween treats:
• Tell your child not to snack while trick-or-treating. It’s a good idea for parents to go through a child’s candy bag to find and discard any candies that are not fully sealed.
• Consider being somewhat lenient about candy eating on Halloween, within reason, and talk about how the rest of the candy will be handled. Candy and snacks shouldn't get in the way of kids eating healthy meals.
• If a child is overweight — or you'd just like to reduce the Halloween stash — consider buying back some or all of the remaining Halloween candy. This acknowledges that the candy belongs to the child and provides a treat in the form of a little spending money.
• Be a role model by eating Halloween candy in moderation yourself. To help avoid temptation, buy your candy at the last minute and get rid of any leftovers.
• Encourage your child to be mindful of the amount of candy and snacks eaten — and to stop before feeling full or sick.
Remember that Halloween, like other holidays, is only one day on the calendar. If your family eats sensibly during the rest of the year, that will have a more lasting impact than a few days of overindulgence.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, click here.