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There’s no avoiding it. Halloween is just around the corner.

And let me tell you — with a 4.5 year old in the house, it’s a pretty big deal around here! I’m pretty sure we’ve been talking about it since July.

Ah, Halloween. A day that all kids look forward to but that many parents dread, as they struggle with how to handle the piles of Halloween candy that will come home that night.

As a nutritionist focused on kids’ nutrition and healthy habits, I thought I should weigh in. So here goes.

Reality bites…

There’s no denying that loads of sugar just isn’t great for kids. (I don’t mean to be a Debby Downer, but here are just a few of the reasons why it concerns me!)

And I’m not a huge fan of the dyes, preservatives, GMOs and high-fructose corn syrup that are lurking in most commercial brands of candy. (Seriously – why can’t companies stop pushing this stuff on our kids!?)

So what is a parent to do?

Don’t put treats on a pedestal…

Sure, it may be tempting to just avoid treats altogether.

But, raising a healthy eater means focusing on helping them developing good habits and a healthy relationship with food (and NOT getting all fussed up about nutrition!)

The reality is, when you withhold and restrict certain foods, kids are going to just eat more of it when they have the opportunity.

When a food is restricted, it leads kids to believe that “Hmmmm…if my mom doesn’t want me have this, then it MUST be good!”  (Yep, they’re on to us.)

Plus, scaring or pressuring our kids about their food choices is a step in the direction of shameful or guilty feelings around food. (And shame and guilt can be the beginning of a really unhealthy relationship with food. Let’s avoid that, shall we?!)

So yes, you should let your kids eat candy!

Because it’s important for kids to learn that there is a place for everything in a healthy diet. And once kids are at a certain age, you can start having those conversations.

And by not making such a BIG DEAL when they’re chowing down on treats, we can work towards neutralizing the treats instead of putting them up on a pedestal.

And to be clear – I’m not saying that this will mean that your kids will one day choose broccoli over a bag of jujubes.

The idea is to teach them to love and eat a wide variety of food (healthy and unhealthy) and be in tune with their body enough to eat these foods in quantities that make them feel good

So I just bite my tongue, and try not to cringe when Tyson wants to eat that lollipop he got from the well-meaning hairdresser 🙂

And I look at it as a step in the direction of healthier long-term habits.

The big day has arrived…

And what does this look like on Halloween?

Let me just say that I’m not a big fan of the idea of letting kids “gorge” for one night (or week) and then taking it all away.

What kind of message is this sending?  It basically encourages kids to gorge on sweets when they have the chance, or to hide candy for fear they won’t get any again.  The feeding relationship needs to be about trust.

So my advice — as hard as this may be to swallow — is to allow children to learn to moderate their own candy intake.

Let them choose if they would like to have some of it at some of their designated meal and snack times (along with a variety of other healthy foods) and let them eat as much as they want during those times.

This is a great opportunity to chat about listening to their appetite and only eating when they are hungry.

In our house, we talk a lot about the importance of variety for staying healthy. (So let’s eat some fruit with those snickers bars!)

You’re working on those healthy habits, without creating a feeling of restriction or panic around the candy.

Will they gorge like crazy the first couple of days? Probably. Is this whole moderation thing going to be a work in progress? Heck ya!

But just remember – healthy habits are not something that can be created in one (candy-filled) night. They need to be worked on every. single. day. For the entire year.

So don’t get too worked up about exactly how much candy they eat on this particular spooky evening.

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Now before I go…

So although good habits are the goal, I still wanted to leave you with a couple of strategies that you can use on Halloween night to keep candy intake in check.

Healthy Halloween Strategies

1. Make sure kids have eaten a quality dinner before going trick-or-treating – This may seem obvious, but Halloween is a busy night and in the rush to get kids in costume and out the door, dinner may take a back seat.

A good dinner of real food will give them the energy to run around all evening, and may help them regulate their candy intake when they get home.  (Tip – use a slow cooker to prepare dinner in the morning so that it is ready when everyone gets home from work/school.)

{NOTE: This should not be an attempt to “fill-them-up”. We want to teach them to regulate their appetite – which means saving room for the candy you know they are going to eat later – instead of stuffing themselves past the point of fullness!}

2. Set a limit on trick-or-treating – Who says that kids have to have an unlimited amount of time or houses to trick-or-treat at?

There is nothing wrong with giving kids a time-limit or even better, a limit on the number of houses/streets they can go to.  This will obviously adjust with age, but will help limit the amount of candy they bring home.  In the spirit of healthy habits, don’t tell them you are trying to limit their candy intake.  The old “it’s a school night” excuse will work great this year.

3. Be a part of the change –  If you’re a really weary of the dangers of sugar and chemicals in your kids’ food, why not choose to give out something healthier and be part of the change?

Check out this site for some less-horrible Halloween goody options. It also lists non-food ideas such as stickers, games, crayons, cookie cutters and patterned band-aids.  The bonus?  You won’t be stuck with a bunch of leftover candy to tempt you later.

4. Suggest a “swap” option While I’m not completely on board with convincing kids to trade away their candy for toys (it still sends the message that candy should be “restricted” and is something they should covet), I love this idea of allowing them to choose to trade the treats they don’t like for ones they actually love. Such a great lesson on moderation and eating foods you truly enjoy.

5. Save some candy for Christmas –  This blogger encourages her kids to pick out some of their “prettier” candy for use on a gingerbread house at Christmas.  Brilliant.

So go out there and have a blast with your kids on Halloween.  I know I will.

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