Halloween, Kids & Candy

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Happy Halloween!  Today ranks as kids’ favorite holiday.  And no wonder – what a stash most of them bring home from the evening’s revels.  And what a quandary it presents for many parents who worry about their children’s diet.  So I thought I’d revisit the subject of kids and food.  Gina posted a few weeks ago on her observations of kids’ eating habits, and perceptive observations they were.  Certainly in agreement with the advice of one of the leading experts about how to help without harming when it comes to children’s weights.

That expert is

Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, and her new  book, Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming, is about just that.  Ellyn’s bottom line is that parents recognize the division of responsibility in feeding kids.  Basically, it’s that parents provide structure, support and opportunities by choosing what, when and where food will be offered.  Children then choose how much and whether to eat from what the parents provide.  Parents must trust children to decide how much and whether to eat. 

That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach but it becomes difficult when parents have their own struggles with food and weight.  When it comes to Halloween, the biggest obstacle is the ‘good food, bad food’ concept.  This belief about food can end up leaving children deprived of certain types of food (translated: sweets, chips, etc.), who then overeat such foods whenever they get the chance.  If parents instead focus on balanced eating – or mindful eating – which includes occasional sweets, etc., this problem can be prevented.

On Halloween, Satter advises that parents treat candy the way they do other sweets, to help children eat them in proportion to other foods.  In Your Child’s Weight, Satter says that “Halloween candy presents a learning opportunity.  Work toward having your child be able to manage his own stash.  For him to learn, you will have to keep your interference to a minimum.  When he comes home from trick or treating, let him lay out his booty, gloat over it, sort it and eat as much of it as he wants. Let him do the same the next day.  Then have him put it away and relegate it to meal- and snack-time: a couple of small pieces at meals for dessert and as much as he wants for snack time.  If he can follow the rules, your child gets to keep control of the stash. Otherwise, you do, on the assumption that as soon as he can manage it, he gets to keep it.  Offer milk with the candy, and you have a chance at good nutrition.”

Satter also emphasizes the importance of structure for meals and snacks.  Children need to eat regularly; to help minimize the pleas for Halloween candy, be sure to regularly offer meals and snacks timed to manage your child’s hunger.

If children learn to eat sweets and other low-nutrient foods as part of a healthy eating plan, enjoying them as they desire on special occasions, they’ll come to view them as just any other food they like.  They eat it when they want it, but don’t want it to excess because they get tired of it.  Now that’s a concept!

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