I’m a pediatrician, mom of three. And to many, this may come as a surprise, but yes, I give my kids candy on Halloween. And I don’t mean the organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, no artificial colors or flavoring, good for you “treats.” I’m talking about chocolate, caramel bars, gummies, and sour balls. Personally, my all-time favorite is red Twizzlers (yup, I’m admitting over the internet) Nevertheless, I have spent over two decades in medicine improving kids habits to decrease chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cancers as well as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. I want your kids to participate in the festivities, feel ok about their relationship with candy, and not feel like their goodie bag has to be only filled with pencils, stickers, coins, and erasers or else the somehow failed at being healthy.
If we want kids to eat healthfully, then we must stop labeling foods “good or bad.” Food is simply food. Granted, some foods are more nutrient-dense than others. We all know how important it is to eat more fruits and vegetables, high fiber, limit red meat while cutting down on added sugar. So that’s not the issue. We need to make food, especially junk, non-nutritious snacks less important and powerful. No more bribing with candy, or allowing it only after two cups of lima beans have been consumed. Instead, enjoy the piece of candy at that moment, and don’t spend it feeling guilty or negative.
7 guilt-free candy tips
1. Don’t refer to candy as good or bad. It’s just candy (and yes, it’s filled with sugar) I guarantee if they eat too much, then they will get a stomachache — and that will be bad.
2. Avoid telling your child that you will be mad if they eat candy. This tactic never works. Stay in the here and now. It’s better just to let them choose which candy to have and have them enjoy that one treat than to deprive them of any candy.
3. Add in some extra exercise by walking to the farthest house for trick or treating because the only way to get home is to walk all the way back.
4. Make holidays like Halloween, not just about the candy, treats, and gifts. Also, incorporate games, read stories, watch holiday shows together, as this will take the focus off candy and emphasizes the social aspect of the day too. It also will make for lasting memories.
5. Decide how much candy your child can save for another day but let your child choose which ones they want to keep. I will add it’s better to store the saved booty in the kitchen rather than in the child’s room, particularly if you know they will sneak it and eat it alone by themselves.
6. If your child collected bags full of candy, donate the extra to a shelter or other organizations. Have your child participate in giving it away, don’t just do it yourself on the sly. This reinforces sharing and the importance of giving to others who may not have been able to partake in their own family festivities.
7. Allow candy or treats (in moderation) on nonholidays or events. Don’t bribe or make threats to access it. Go ahead, enjoy it. You are the parent and can decide how much to give and when it’s appropriate. Just remember choosing never to allow any junk will most likely backfire.
The holiday season is definitely upon us, with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa on their way. The excess of food and sweets is also a constant in our daily lives, and it’s important as a parent to be aware that by making forbidden foods less forbidden, a healthier long-term goal is achievable. By allowing small amounts without negative feelings, you can shape the way your child relates to food and their health.
Jennifer Trachtenberg is a pediatrician and can be reached at Ask Dr. Jen.
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