BY BROOKE ORR MS RD LDN, ACSM-CPT
Halloween has included costumes, Jack-o-lanterns, tricks, and treats for thousands of years. In our culture, these pillars of the ancient holiday represent fun; however, they were originally believed to be necessary items to keep evil at bay. Some historians suggest that costumes were originally used on Halloween to scare away or blend in with evil beings that came to visit on this day each year. Lanterns were used to light the darkness, and treats were carried and handed out to avoid being the recipient of a mischievous trick. Fast forward a few thousand years, and you will see that most people are no longer afraid of evil spirits, anciently believed to haunt the night. Now the biggest fright of Halloween seems to be whether the sugary treats will lead our children to childhood obesity. The American tradition of children trick-or-treating seems to have parents on edge, with thousands of articles on the topic, ranging from what to give out instead of candy to how to avoid tantrums when rationing a child’s well-earned candy loot. Hopefully, the following facts will ease your anxiety and lead to a stress-free Halloween this year. Your family doesn’t celebrate Halloween? No problem, this information applies to Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and any other events that involve the availability of high amounts of sugar-rich foods.
Studies from as early as 1939 show that when children are given autonomy to choose how much and which foods to eat, the majority will intuitively meet their growing body’s nutrient needs. Many pediatric experts consider Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian and Family Therapist, as the childhood feeding expert. She is best known for her “parents provide/child decides” mantra for mealtime success. Ellyn Satter says, “Children who have regular access to sweets and other forbidden foods eat them moderately. Children who don’t have regular access load up on them when they aren’t even hungry”. Read below for tips from Ellyn Satter and other dietitians on guiding children into a healthy relationship with their bodies and ALL foods.
- Commit to the goal of having your child manage his or her own treats.
- Keep your interference to a minimum.
- Avoid assigning value or your personal feelings to the treats, ex., “I wish I could still eat candy and not gain weight,” “I feel sick just watching you eat that much candy,” etc.
- When your child comes home from trick-or-treating or any event where they are given sweet treats, let them lay out their treats and explore.
- Encourage them to tell you which pieces excite them most and why.
- Let your child eat as much of it as they want on day one of receiving the treats and the day after.
- Encourage your child to pay attention to the physical sensations in their bodies. Use non-judgmental questions like “what do you notice when you eat different colors of the same candy—does it taste different? Do you feel more energetic after treats, and if so, what does it feel like when your energy runs out? “
- Do a mindful eating experiment with a treat; you can find guidance to lead this experiment at psychcentral.com/blog/practicing-mindfulness-with-chocolate/.
- Have your child put the treats away on day three and only bring them out at meal- and snack-times (allow your child to choose a couple of small pieces at meals for dessert and as much as they want at snack-time).
- If your child follows these rules without sneaking or begging, let them keep managing the treats; if not, you take over for a day or two and then give your child another try at self-management.
When dealing with kids and high-sugar treats, remember to make room for excitement while the treats are new and then transition to structured consumption at sit-down meals and snacks. Remember that during this period of extra treats, the parent is still responsible for choosing the rest of the food that goes on the table. Most importantly, have fun. Children like to explore, so encourage them to be curious (without judgment) about foods—how they taste, how they make their bodies feel, how the food is made. Curiosity without judgment is key to raising children to become the “boss” of their bodies.