It’s getting kids to eat what parents serve that causes so many problems.

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DINA ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.
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« Healthy Eating for the Holidays | Main | The How-to Control-Your-Kids'-Candy-Consumption Con »
Tuesday
Nov012011

But What Are You Going to Do With All That Halloween Candy?

Halloween is over!  Phew. Now ask yourself this question:  Next Halloween, will you have to engage in the same old candy-control struggle with your kids?

Or, will you and your kids have evolved so that you are off the hook and they moderate more of the mess themselves?

I know you want to know what you should do with all the candy and I’ll get to that in a minute.  First, though, it’s important to consider how you want next year’s Halloween to go.

In my last post I talked about the unintended lessons parents often teach their kids by becoming the Sugar Police. This week I want to make the point that if you dump your kids’ Halloween delights, even after a few days of full-on gorging, you will have opted for a short-term solution to a long-term problem.  True, you will have controlled the situation—the candy will be gone—but your children won’t have learned a thing about how to handle this holiday eating mess. 

And 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 safely 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.

Strategy One: Think of Halloween as a Big Buffet.

Buffets are challenging eating environments where many people over-indulge.  So many choices.  So much food! (Sounds like Halloween to me!)

Researchers at Cornell University  recently discovered something about how people serve themselves from buffets that is useful to Halloween parents.  Some people browse buffets before serving themselves; others begin loading up at once and don't stop until they reach the end.  

You probably won't be surprised to learn that the browsers tended to be thinner than the loaders. Because this was a strictly observational study, the researchers never asked the eaters why they choose one serving method over the other but I think it's safe to say that the browsers scanned the buffet as a way to make sure they filled their plates with their favorite foods before their plates were filled to capacity (or beyond).

Teach your kids to be browsers not loaders. Encourage them to scan their stash—perhaps sorting by category first—so they choose to save (and eat) what they like best. Read A Better Buy-Back.

Strategy Two: Encourage Your Kids to Taste Test.

Imagine the world from your children's perspective: Halloween is a time when they get to taste an entire range of goodies—at once.  What could be more exciting?  Especially for younger kids who haven't explored all the different kinds of candy...yet.  All those packets of candy look so pretty, so shiny, so inviting.

Even veteran haunters, those kids who have been around the block a time or two, are often tempted by the sheer volume of treats that they haven't tasted before.

Every year I'm surprised to hear parents telling their children, "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 of teaching kids to be adventurous when it comes to eating, these parents are inadvertently teaching their kids to be cautious.

Encourage your children to take a taste test.  Have them sample one bite from any (and every) candy that looks intersting and compare how different candies look, taste, smell and how they feel in their hands, in their mouths and in their tummies. Your kids' mission? To find the candy (or candies) they like best.

Yes, I know that in the process of sampling your kids will consume a lot of candy. However your kids will:

  • Eat fewer candies in a sampling session than they would by grazing.
  • Cull the collection as each partially eaten candy hits the trash.

Strategy Three: 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.  Read Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!

Still want to lighten the Halloween Load?

You could conduct a series of science experiments! 

  • Which floats better: Skittles or M&Ms? 
  • What happens when you dissolve Nerds in water and then add baking soda to the brew?

Check out Candy Experiments for more ideas.

Or use leftover candy to decorate Ginger Bread Houses.  This Mamapedia article is loaded with ideas.

There are a lot of over-the-top eating events during the course of the year. Halloween is just one of them.

The myth about Halloween is that this once-a-year candy-fest is a unique event in the scheme of things.   But Halloween isn’t the only time during the year when your kids are going to be bombarded with lots of free bonbons.  In a few weeks there will be Thanksgiving. Then Christmas and Hanukah.  New Year’s Eve. And then birthday parties, sporting events, school picnics, family reunions. And the list goes on…

These events are all eating orgies too. Teach your kids to cope or they might just explode.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

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Reader Comments (10)

I REALLY appreciate this article! Big issue for our family. I can't believe the way candy is thrown at our kids at everything from parades to doctors offices to haircuts. My preschooler barely eats, but she is like a crack addict when it comes to candy. I can't wait to try some of your suggestions. Thank yoU!

November 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

I couldn't agree more! When I was a child my mother tried to instill her healthy eating habits in me by forbidding all refined sugar. As a result, I used to sneak to the corner store to get candy, then eat it on the sly and hide the wrappers under my bed. Definitely did NOT help me to develop a healthy relationship with junk food!

I have come to that relationship on my own, and I'm now trying to help my kids develop their own. We always talk with them about making healthy choices and viewing food as fuel for their bodies and needing variety to get all the different nutrients, etc. We allow them to incorporate treats in small amounts all of the time, and even my 3 year old will tell you that she doesn't want to eat too much junky food because it's not healthy. As a result, their Halloween loot will usually languish, as they each eat one piece per day, well into the Christmas season, at which point I generally get rid of it and let the new holiday's junk replace it. I'm trying to focus on the bigger picture, as you mentioned, and help them figure out how to balance their wants with their nutritional needs so that they internalize the ideas and will make good choices even when I'm not looking.

November 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commentererika

Emily and Erika,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. It's so hard to teach kids to put junk into their diets in a reasonable way because they are bombarded with the stuff. In response, it's so easy to "crack down," but as you both have mentioned, that approach usually doesn't work out too well.

Dina

November 2, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

I've struggled with unhealthy food relationships for years because I was set in an all-or-nothing viewpoint. I would forbid myself sweets--my weakness in an otherwise very healthy diet--and then binge on them when I hit any kind of emotional bump in the road or because I felt I "deserved" it (or because it was a Tuesday and I felt deprived). I very much want to give my 1 year old son better habits and a healthier viewpoint. So I don't say no to candy or indulgences (for him or myself), and I'm trying very hard to show him that it is possible to enjoy sweets and treats without going overboard. Your article gave some really great concrete suggestions for how to do this, which is really helpful for those of us navigating new territory when it comes to rethinking our eating habits.

November 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily Guy Birken

Emily,

Thank you for sharing so much of your story. I feel I have many of the same patterns--eating well, feeling out of control sometimes around sweets. My motivation for my work came from wanting to give my daughter a better food life.

I'm glad you found this article helpful, and I appreciate your comments.

Dina

November 3, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

Thank you for this article! I love your approach and will keep it in mind as my children grow older. Right now, I only have a 3 year old daughter. She had two pieces of candy on Halloween night and the candy has been sitting in a bowl on the counter since then but she hasn't asked for it, so I haven't offered her any. I wasn't sure how to handle the whole candy thing, but I love your perspective. I don't want to be overly restrictive, but I obviously don't want her to OD on candy, either! Your ideas seem to be a way to strike a balance while giving her the control and allowing me to guide/teach her. I'll see how it goes the next few days, but maybe I'm off the hook this year and won't have to worry about it until next Halloween. Anyway, thank you! :-)

Maryea,

It sounds like you have struck the right balance with your daughter. Congratulations!

Thanks for the kind words about my work.

Best,

Dina

November 4, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

What a great idea for Halloween candy. My 17 month old son and 3 year old son found going door to door far more fun. Neither are particularly interested, and I was singing the Yo Gabba Gabba song "too much candy will make you sick". They each picked at 2 pieces of candy... the rest is sitting in a bucket on top of the fridge, with neither asking me for another piece. I will probably bake it into cookies.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeanette

The candy experiments are brilliant! Thanks

November 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda

Thank you for the insight as my son gets older and I am faced with this candy war... I will have to remember this article! Very helpful

November 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine

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