Trick or Treat.
For children, Halloween is a candy dream come true. You would think it's a nutritionist's worst nightmare. It's hard to look past the sugar, calories, and fat consumed on this holiday. But that's just it—it's a holiday, and sometimes you have to let kids be kids.
Last year, I decided to try an experiment with my daughter, who was then three years old. I told her she could eat as much candy as she wanted on Halloween, but the next day, the candy would be gone. My plan backfired, and I watched my child, covered in chocolate from head to toe, try to fit as much candy in her belly as possible. Long story short, she overdosed on candy, and her holiday ended with a terribly upset stomach.
About 41 million children went trick or treating in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. If this year is anything like last year, a lot of children will be wired on sugar. Here are ways to handle the holiday healthfully:
Remember it's a holiday
It's OK for your kids to enjoy themselves. It's a holiday, and it's supposed to be fun. Banning candy altogether won't do anyone any good. If you're too strict, your child may rebel and start hiding candy in his or her room. Then, as a parent, you lose control completely. It's almost like asking for a temper tantrum.
My advice: Be lenient. Your child probably looks adorable in his or her costume. (This year my 4-year-old is dressing up as a candy fairy, and my 2-year-old twins are Oompa-Loompas. I know, I have my work cut out for me, with their costumes built around a candy theme.) Take it all in. Admire how cute your little ones look, and let them enjoy a little sugar rush.
Make your own rules
There is no magic answer to the question of how much candy is an appropriate amount to consume, nor is there a specific set of rules that works for everyone. Some children just like to collect the candy and aren't as focused on eating it, while others are addicted to sugar. My failed experiment may work for your household. You may choose to allow your child to eat three pieces of candy on Halloween, and then toss the rest. This year, I don't plan on discussing rules with my kids, but I'm going to allow them to have one piece of candy per day for the rest of the week. (I'll let you know how it goes.)
Tip: If your kids are rushing through dinner just to get to dessert, try putting dessert on the dinner plate for the week. It may help take the focus off the treat.
Hand out healthier options
No one wants to be that parent who gives out raisins and fruit for Halloween. How boring. You were a kid once; those were the houses you walked away from. They made you feel robbed of your holiday. But there are healthier options that kids will be excited about. Justin's dark chocolate peanut butter cups will satisfy any sweet tooth and are made with organic peanut butter and chocolate. I think they taste even better than a Reese's! Mix up your trick-or-treat bowl with Justin's peanut butter cups and all-natural, preservative-free dried apricots by Fruit Bliss. The neighborhood kids will be flocking to your house.
By giving out healthier options, you are showing your little ones that healthier foods are treats too. Your children are going to go door to door and collect plenty of junk, but hopefully they will choose to indulge in a treat from your own stash.
Don't buy candy too early
The early Halloween candy sales are tempting, but keeping all that sugar in your house too early will tempt your sweet tooth, and you're child's. More likely than not, you will dig in before the holiday. It's a slippery slope. Eating just one piece becomes two, then three, then four, and so on. Purchase your candy as close to Halloween as possible to eliminate extra temptation.
When you're shopping for candy, don't buy your favorite treat. If you're a chocolate lover, buy Smarties or gummy bears. That way, you won't be as tempted to overdose. It's for the kids anyway, right?
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Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, is a nationally-recognized nutrition expert, author, and entrepreneur. She is the author of two top-selling books, The Wall Street Diet and Bread is the Devil. She is the founder of Nu-Train, a nutrition consulting company, and Bestowed, a subscription service that offers consumers a personalized way to discover, sample, shop, and learn about the best nutrition and lifestyle products on the market.