A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Too Much Halloween Candy

Too Much Halloween Candy? It’s a Learning Opportunity!

Sometimes people don’t believe it’s possible to not give out candy on Halloween. As @KPKiddoc, I posted this recently on Twitter:

Don’t have 2 hand out candy on #Halloween. Kids like stickers, pencils, & sm toys as much! 

Only to get this response from a follower:

Maybe we’re not giving our kids enough credit? Sure, they like candy but they enjoy toys and other treats as well. (Besides, I don’t think the follower read the study I linked to in the tweet.)

If you allow Halloween to be a “learning opportunity” you’ll find that kids can learn to manage their own stash of candy and make wise choices. They might choose a cool Halloween pencil instead of another mini candy bar. I know this works because I have offered both candy and other fun items for years. The pencils and toys are definitely popular!

Before becoming a parent, there were many things I thought I’d never do as a mom. You know, like just wipe off the pacifier and plug it back in. Or buy a cell phone for my teen. Or let the kids wear sagging jeans. Or let them eat as much Halloween candy as they want. I’ve had to eat my words a few times, and Halloween is one of those times.

I enjoy Halloween with its fall colors and crisp air. It has little in the way of obligation or work associated with it and feels for the most part like pure fun. But as parents and teachers, we worry about the amount of sugar kids eat at Halloween. This concern is for good reason.

• The average child in the U.S. is reported to eat about 20 teaspoons of sugar a day.
• The Centers for Disease Control tell us that American kids eat 16 percent of their total calories every day from added sugars.
• Americans purchase nearly 600 million pounds of candy a year for Halloween.

Given this, Halloween offers us a chance to educate our kids about sugar, nutrition, and exercise. Here are some ideas:

• Talk with your kids about sugar, candy, excess, and moderation. Is it OK to eat small amounts of candy? Is it important to learn how to stop after one piece? How does eating too much candy make them feel? What can they do with extra candy?
• Volunteer to bring a healthy snack to school for Halloween parties. One idea is seasonal pumpkin muffins.
• Give packs of sugarless gum, stickers, pencils, and small toys! You don’t need to hand out candy on Halloween.
• Only hand out one small piece of candy per kid.
• Start off Halloween night with a healthy, plant-based dinner. Full kids eat less candy (full grown-ups too!).

Then, after trick or treating comes the biggest challenge: What do parents do with all the candy? There are many approaches to this so you have to find out what works best for your family. I suggest teaching moderation. Trying to control or prevent all sweets can backfire.

• Allow a piece or 2 of candy a day. (Many moms take 1 piece for herself each day too!)
• “Buy back” candy from your kids. For example, a pound of candy can earn them a book.
• Donate candy.
• Show younger kids that they can have fun sorting the candy by color, shape, and type. Make graphs of what they got.
• Make trail mix with dried fruits, nuts, and small candies and pack it as a treat in their lunches.

I asked my kids last night at dinner about Halloween candy. Why do they end up with a pile of uneaten candy each year rather than chowing down every last grain of sugar? They all felt that it had a lot to do with my unconventional approach.

You know those things I said I’d never do as a parent? Well, after checking for safety, I do tend to let my kids eat what they want out of their bag of candy. I recognize how crazy that sounds coming from a pediatrician, but I temper my laid-back approach with loads of education.

Halloween can be a chance to talk with our kids about health choices, nutrition, and exercise.

This article first appeared in the blog KP Thriving Schools.

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