Your Frankenstein and Cruella have made their way around the neighborhood and come home with their bounty — a bag full of candy. Before you let your children dive into all those KitKats, M&Ms and Twizzlers, consider some helpful strategies to keep them from turning into sugar monsters.
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Dietitian Nicole Hopsecger, RD, shares the pitfalls of eating too much Halloween candy, as well as some techniques for keeping the holiday fun and safe.
“Halloween is a holiday, and it’s OK for kids to consume candy,” she says. “It’s one day of the year. It’s the days following that tend to get us in trouble.”
The dangers of eating too much sugar
We’ve all heard the damaging effects of eating too much sugar. But in children, it’s important to watch how much sugar they consume — not just on Halloween but every day. “A moderate amount of sugar can be part of a healthy diet,” says Hopsecger. It’s all about balance.
Too much sugar in children can lead to:
“Candy doesn’t have a lot of nutritional benefits,” says Hopsecger. “If kids fill up on candy all day long or sugary drinks, they’re going to miss out on the foods that can really support healthy growth for them.”
Eating or drinking added sugars should be kept to less than 10% of total calories, Hopsecger says. She recommends using the 5-2-1-0 rule for kids: Five or more fruits and vegetables per day; two hours or less screen time per day; one or more hours of activity per day; and zero sugar-sweetened beverages daily.
How much candy is too much?
While there’s no magic number for how much Halloween candy you should let your child have, Hopsecger suggests thinking about your relationship with food to help guide you in making smart choices. She recommends the following:
- Avoid using candy as an incentive or reward, or even labeling candy as good or bad. “It can add value to the candy itself and create struggles later on in the child’s life,” she says.
- Make healthy foods fun. Try decorating different healthy snacks by carving a pepper like a jack-o’-lantern or making a clementine a “pumpkin” by peeling it and adding a green jellybean on top.
- Include alternative activities. It will help take some of the emphasis away from candy. Consider a costume contest, pumpkin painting and other crafts.
- Be a good role model. “If a child sees an adult constantly consuming candy or sneaking candy, they’re going to think that it’s OK to snack on candy.”
- Encourage mindful eating. Making sure your child listens to their body — how it tells them when they’re hungry or when to stop eating certain foods — is key. “I would say to them, ‘It’s OK to eat candy, but eating too much candy may cause you to feel sick and that’s one of the reasons why we’re trying to watch how much you’re eating,’” Hopsecger says.
Tips for inspecting Halloween candy
Before you let your child dive into their candy pile, you need to sort through each piece checking it for a variety of things to ensure everything is safe.
Throw out candy with ripped or torn wrappers
We all know we should do this, but Hopsecger emphasizes how important this step is. “Any tampering with candy can’t be great for the child’s health,” she says. Start by inspecting that each piece is properly sealed and checking the expiration date. Throw away any that have torn wrappers or holes in the packaging.
Toss homemade treats
Homemade treats are OK if it’s from a family or friend. But if you don’t know the person who made the treats, the best bet is to throw it away.
Check candy for any allergens
If your kid has a peanut, soy, milk or tree nuts allergy, be sure to check each piece of candy for ingredients that could cause an allergic reaction. “We don’t want a kid accidentally consuming something that would be dangerous for them,” Hopsecger says.
Another pro tip? To help limit the amount of candy your kid consumes, Hopsecger recommends having them pick out their favorite candy. “Really prioritize eating those types of candy, as opposed to the ones they don’t like so much as a way to help reduce intake,” she says.