We’re well into October, which means that a gaggle of witches, ghosts, vampires, and more are about to descend on neighborhoods around the country. For kids, Halloween is a dream come true: the chance to dress up, stay out late, and—best of all—fill their bellies with candy. For parents, though, Halloween can seem like more of a trick than a treat. In the age of childhood obesity, it’s already a huge struggle to get our kids to live healthy lives; the last thing we need is to compete with a bag bursting with candy bars.
Relax—you don’t have to resign yourself to weeks of sticky fingers and chocolaty smudges as your children gorge on the wrong kinds of food. Families can enjoy this holiday without consuming ghoulish amounts of calories.
If you’re the parent of an overweight child or adolescent—or even if you’re just interested in reducing the amount of sugar your kids consume—it’s natural to worry about Halloween candy and the effect it will have on your child.
So how can you keep your child from succumbing to the obvious health pitfalls during a candy-obsessed holiday like Halloween?
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that keeping Halloween healthy can’t be about deprivation. If you keep your kids from candy altogether or are too tight-fisted when handing it out, your children’s desire to gobble it up will only intensify. It’s the classic forbidden fruit principle. Instead, make Halloween about enjoying treats in moderation. Try to achieve a balance between candy, healthy foods, and activity.
Unless you put your kids in a cave until candy corn has disappeared from store shelves, you can’t prevent them from wanting to indulge. But you can take the focus off of junk food while still enjoying this holiday! Here are eight tips:
Infuse Halloween with some action. While it’s a good idea to remain active year-round, place a special emphasis on exercise during the weeks leading up to Halloween in order to prepare for the extra calories that are on the horizon. Talk with your kids about how you can offset increased calorie consumption so that they make the connection.
And when the witching hour itself arrives, walk instead of ride while trick-or-treating. Point out to your kids that being active doesn’t have to be “work”—in fact, it can be freakishly fun. Your kids can race from house to house, play flashlight tag while trick-or-treating, etc. (Make sure to wear tennis shoes!) And as the navigator, you can plan out a route with widely spaced houses in order to get in more walking and less candy.
After the trick-or-treating buzz has faded, make it a rule that no one gets to consume candy calories without first burning them. In order to eat a leftover treat, your kids will first have to play outside or participate in some other type of physical activity. This is a great time for some family bonding time too—play a game of kickball together or get everyone rounded up for a lap or two around the neighborhood.
Fuel up for trick-or-treating. In the midst of all of the costume-donning, face-painting hustle and bustle, don’t forget to eat dinner—a healthy one. You might consider pre-planning a crock-pot roast or long-simmering soup that will be ready to eat when you need it so that you won’t have to divide your energy between the stove and your little ghost’s sheets. If your kids feel full while collecting candy, they’ll be less likely to overindulge. When your kids fuel up on a hearty meal that they enjoy, they won’t be as tempted by the things that aren’t good for them, like candy.
And even if your kids have eaten beforehand, be on the lookout for mindless munching while they’re going house-to-house. They will certainly overindulge this way. Don’t deprive them totally, though, or they’ll only want their newly acquired candy more. Allow them one or two small treats during or after trick-or-treating (after inspecting them for safety, of course!), and save the rest for later.
Play up dress-up. As Halloween approaches—and during the evening of October 31st itself—build your kids’ excitement around things other than candy; namely, their costumes! At least within your own house, you can make Halloween a holiday about dressing up, not about amassing a collection of candy. Let your children play an active role in choosing what they want to be, and if possible, spend time together working on a homemade costume. Remind them how much fun it will be to pretend that they’re saving the world, just like their favorite action hero, for example.
When you focus on the dress-up aspect of Halloween, that’s what your child will be most likely to look forward to—not candy. I’m not saying that a cool costume will overshadow all thoughts of candy, because it won’t. But it might just take the edge off your child’s plans to gorge on treats. Even after Halloween is gone, you can still encourage your kids to don their costumes and play—another fun way to encourage physical activity.
Welcome the Great Pumpkin. We’ve all heard of the Great Pumpkin. According to Linus van Pelt from the beloved comic strip Peanuts, the Great Pumpkin rises from the “most sincere” pumpkin patch on Halloween night, then flies around the globe delivering toys to good boys and girls. You can easily make this holiday figure a part of your family’s tradition and cut down on candy consumption in the process.
First, allow your kids to pick a few things from their bags after they get home from trick-or-treating. (Set a limit; for example, a maximum of 10 treats.) Then put the rest of the candy out for the Great Pumpkin. While your children sleep, he will visit your home and trade the candy for a game or toy they’ve been wanting.
For older kids or teens, consider a ‘Great Pumpkin Prize List’ instead of a visit by the mythical gourd himself. You can list several small items your child might want and assign a value to each. For example, turning in ten pieces of candy might earn a $5 iTunes gift card, and five pieces might be traded for an evening of TV privileges. Your children are still satisfied, and you can rest easy knowing that the candy is not going into their bellies. Read More