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The Halloween debate: trick and no treat?

Okay, now that I’m finally [somewhat] settled in the metro DC area, it’s time to start blogging again. And, what better time to start back a nutrition blog than the week before Halloween?

I recently read two fellow dietitians’ blogs debating the big Halloween question… What is the best way to manage kids and trick-or-treat candy? At Raise Healthy Eaters, Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen writes about her personal experiences of Halloween with her young daughter. She takes the stance that Halloween is a one-day affair and kids (over the age of four) should be allowed to handle their Halloween stash. Kate Geagan, on the other hand, suggests on her blog to avoid mainstream sweets and reach instead for organic and naturally-occurring sugars.

Both of these dietitians offer great advice and compelling respective arguments. And, they got me thinking… How will I–as a registered dietitian–handle my toddler son’s already-existing sweet tooth when he is old enough to trick-or-treat? Is it possible to safely and healthfully indulge a child’s sweet tooth on Halloween?

Yes, I believe it is possible to let children indulge in traditional Halloween treats without wreaking havoc on their teeth, health and weight. But, I think the way to let children indulge is for you, as the parent, to know your child’s personality. There are some children that will self-regulate a stash of Halloween candy for months to come. Then, there are those children that can’t self-regulate, especially when it comes to sugary foods. The answer to healthfully and safely letting your child enjoy Halloween treats is to know whether your child is a self-regulator or not.

Self-regulating children
Does your child self-regulate? Does Johnny or Jane know “when to say when” when it comes to food? If the answer is yes, then they will likely be able to enjoy managing the Halloween stash under the bed for days or even weeks ahead. Allowing your child (over the age of 5) to choose when he would like a piece of candy helps him feel confident about his food choices and mature enough to be in charge of his hard-earned loot.

Children who don’t self-regulate well
Yes, even at a young age, there are some children who just cannot self-regulate their food intake, especially when it comes to sweets. If you know that your child will seek out sweets above all other foods, has great difficulty leaving any sugary food behind or seeks out sweets when specifically told not, it may not be wise to let her manage her stash. Hold on to the Halloween candy and, as Maryann at Raise Healthy Eaters advises, dole out a piece as a snack–along with a lean protein, such as a hard-boiled egg white or turkey slice, to stabilize blood sugar levels–or as dessert.

Two children: One who self-regulates and one who doesn’t
Now, the real trouble begins if you have multiple children of varying food regulation abilities. In this instance, go the route of the non-self-regulating child… Hold on to all of the Halloween stash and dole out a piece of candy here and there.

Take advantage of this teaching moment
Regardless of which temperament your child possesses, use Halloween as a teaching moment. Emphasize the importance of eating a healthy diet year-round and that Halloween is one day and that the real fun is dressing up and spending time with friends. The candy is simply icing on the cake.

The bottom line is… All foods can fit into a healthy diet and there is no reason to deny your child a night of trick-or-treating. And be a good role model… Your ability to follow a healthy diet most days of the year, exercise most days of the week and enjoy a sweet treat occasionally is the best way to get your kids moving towards a healthy lifestyle.

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