Halloween trick for parents: 6 ways to keep kids from candy overload
As Halloween slowly transforms from one night of trick or treating to a month-long, caramel-coated extravaganza, parents are faced with a question: How to deal with all that candy.
We’re not referring to grown-ups who can’t resist grazing — but to the kids who happily enjoy handfuls of candy day after day.
Turns out, there are a few good ways to limit kids’ Halloween sugar intake without turning the holiday into a battle. We asked a few experts for their strategies:
1. Use Halloween to teach kids about moderation
Skylar Griggs, a registered dietitian for the preventive cardiology program at Boston Children’s Hospital, often hears concerns about candy overload from parents around Halloween. She encourages parents to talk to their kids in terms of saving and why it can be good to parcel treats out over time.
“You can actually use Halloween as an opportunity to teach a child moderation, both nutritionally and maybe financially — learning how to save or learning how to span an amount of treats over time,” Griggs said. “I think the most important thing that parents can do is have a conversation about it before Halloween so there’s a game plan.”
2. Discuss swapping a child’s candy haul for a new toy
One idea for limiting candy intake is the “switch witch.” Of unclear origin, the story goes that the switch witch is a friendly, candy-loving witch who visits families’ homes on Halloween night and swaps out excess candy the children are willing to give up for a new toy. Parents get to rid their houses of cavity-causing sweets while kids get their first taste of negotiating, along with a new game or gift.
The story has been capitalized on a few times — once by brother and sister-in-law duo Rob Bouley and Lara Spear Riley of Massachusetts, who appeared on “Shark Tank” in 2015 to pitch their Switch Witch product, a plush doll and accompanying children’s book about the friendly witch. None of the “sharks” bit.
3. Unless there’s a health reason to do so, do not ban candy altogether
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with having a reasonable, decent amount of candy on Halloween night, Griggs said. What’s essential is avoiding an all-or-nothing mentality with food, which can start to “fuel a restrictive and over-consumption pattern down the road.”
She recommends keeping to kids’ normal dessert allowances in the days following Halloween, but swapping what would be their typical dessert with a piece or two from their trick-or-treating bag a few nights per week. That way, kids get to experience the newfound independence of having their own goodies while still sticking their parents’ plan.
4. Put the candy out of sight after Halloween night
Kristin Quinn, a mother of three from the South Shore behind the parenting blog Misadventures in Mommyhood, also likes to dole out candy over time. She says that to her kids, the fun is more about obtaining the candy than it is about eating it.
“It really is more about the act of getting the candy — and then getting home, looking at it all, organizing it,” said Quinn, whose entire family is going as different characters from the Disney movie “Moana” for Halloween. “Sometimes I find that they forget about it a couple days later. I’ll put it away in the pantry, and they stop asking about it.”
5. Focus on healthy eating — not on weight
For parents whose little ghouls don’t forget about the bag of candy in the pantry, Griggs suggests using kids’ favorite athletes and celebrities as examples for healthy eating. But skip any talk about weight.
“Don’t bring weight into it,” she said. “Talk about how eating healthy makes you be a better soccer player, it keeps your heart healthy. It allows you to stay more alert in school. But take the weight conversation out of it because then you kind of avoid that sensitive topic, especially for young kids.”
6. Don’t add to the avalanche of candy yourself
For families leaning toward reducing sweets, Griggs suggests volunteering to bring glow sticks or other toys to Halloween parties instead of candy. Party supply stores stock lots of spooky goodies — from plastic spider rings to rubber “eye balls” to ghostly pencils and erasers — for kids.
But if possible, don’t forbid candy completely.
“You want to avoid that restriction-deprivation cycle,” Griggs said. “The more that you restrict and you deprive a kid, and you give the candy that allure of being off-limits, it’s going to make a kid want to eat it more — as opposed to having a conversation about it, coming up with a plan, allowing for occasional indulgences, but sticking to a routine moving forward.”