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5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Dump Your Kids' Halloween Haul

Use Halloween candy to teach your kids some healthy eating habits.

Halloween is an eating disaster. By some estimates, the average Halloween haul contains about 7000 calories in candy. (That’s more than 13 Big Macs.) But that's the nutrition perspective. From a habits perspective, Halloween is just another day at the office.

Don’t fall for the idea that your job at Halloween is to control the candy. When we're thinking about habits, there’s only one question you need to consider:

Next Halloween, will you have to engage in the same old candy-control struggle with your kids? Or, will your kids have evolved so you are off the hook and they can moderate more of the mess themselves?

Dumping Halloween candy is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

I'm not saying that dumping doesn't control the situation. I'm saying that dumping the candy doesn't teach your kids anything useful. That means that next year you’ll have to recycle the same set of strategies, and gear up for the same set of struggles, to get you and your kids through the celebration. Yet again.

On the other hand, if you get out of the candy-containment mindset, you can use your children’s mega-candy Halloween haul to teach them a thing or two about healthy eating habits, including how to:

  • Eat without over-indulging
  • Experiment with new foods and flavors
  • Fit inferior “foods” into their diet in a healthy way.

And, if you need further convincing…becoming the Candy Police is high risk for teaching kids the wrong habits. Here are five unintended lessons kids learn when parents restrict Halloween candy consumption:

1) I’m going to dump it so you better eat as much as you can now. Think gorging, hoarding, hiding. Instead, limit how much candy your kids can collect by reducing the number of houses they can hit up, or make sure their Halloween bag is somewhat smaller than a suitcase.

2) Candy has power. Instead, neutralize the candy by letting your children choose when they eat their Halloween delights... until they are all gone. The only caveat is this: the candy has to be folded into your kids' sweets routine—candy or a cupcake, candy or an ice cream, candy or a cookie—not supplement it.

3) Feel guilty when you eat candy. Some advocates advise showing children pictures of decayed teeth (like showing smokers pictures of tar-filled lungs). There is no evidence that these pictures change behavior. And, they are misleading. One day (or even one week) of extreme candy eating won't make your kids' teeth fall out. Chronic candy consumption causes the damage. Instead, teach your kids the difference between plenty and greed.

4) It's best to eat candy when you're full. In theory, filling kids up on a healthy meal before they go trick-or-treating dissuades them from sampling their stash...too much. Unfortunately, it's more likely that if you fill your kids up on a healthy meal they'll still snack. It's better to give your children a small meal, thereby teaching them to save room for their Halloween haul.

5) You're not to be trusted around candy. Instead, set some limits for your kids—you can have two pieces each day—but let them regulate their own intake. Even young kids can do this.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand the concern about candy. By some reports, our kids stuff 5% of their yearly candy consumption into their Halloween candy bags.

Flip the statistic around, and you tell another story. If 5% of all candy is consumed around Halloween, then 95% of all candy consumption happens during the rest of the year. In other words, when it comes to candy, Halloween isn’t where the action is.

Here are a few more ways to teach BIG lessons this Halloween.

Think of Halloween as a Big Buffet.

Research shows that some people browse buffets before loading up. Others load up as they go. Browsers scan the buffet as a way to make sure they fill their plates with their favorite foods before their plates are filled to capacity (or beyond). As a result, browsers tend to be thinner than loaders.1 Teach your kids to be browsers not loaders by encouraging them to scan their stash—perhaps sorting by category first—and to eat the stuff they like best. You might also consider A Better Buy-Back.

Encourage Your Kids to Taste Test.

Every year I hear parents say, “You won’t like that candy. Choose this one.” This mindset—be cautious about trying new foods, even if those new foods are candies—ends up biting parents in the butt. Instead encourage your children to be adventurous. Conduct a taste test. Have your children sample one bite from any (or even every) candy that looks interesting. Then compare.

Teach Your Kids to Think BIG.

Proportion—eating foods in relation to their healthy benefits—is, hands down, the most important thing you can teach your kids about eating, especially in today's environment where sweets and treats (read crap) are everywhere. Rather than getting caught up in the control struggle, teach your kids to think BIG. Talk to them about proportion and how to integrate inferior foods into their diets in a way that works. It's only by talking about sweets in context of the overall diet that kids can learn to manage their eating—for life.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

1 Wansink, B. and C. R. Payne. 2008. “Eating Behavior and Obesity At Chinese Buffets.” Obesity 16(8): 1957-60.

© 2014 Dina Rose, PhD, is the author of the book, It’s Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating (Perigee Books). Portions of this post have appeared on Dina's blog It's Not About Nutrition.

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