If you’re reading this blog, you’re most likely a parent who cares about your child’s sugar intake and/or you want to help your kids strike a balance between the 5 pounds of candy in their Halloween bag with everyday nutritious foods. Maybe you realize that a one-night sugar rush isn’t the end of their health, but how do you handle the aftermath of fun foods on Halloween (not to mention the upcoming food-centric holidays)?
Because I’m a dietitian, people often assume that my family never indulges in sweets and party foods. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, and I promise I’m not handing out carrots or celery sticks for Halloween.
The 80/20 Approach
At McDaniel Nutrition Therapy, we advocate for an 80/20 approach. This means that we feed our families nutritious, wholesome foods at least 80% of the time, but we save some room for what we call fun “foods” for the remaining 20%.
Why do we do this?
Because when we restrict or control access to sweets and treats, aka fun foods on Halloween or any other holiday, kids actually become more focused on them. This makes them more likely to seek these foods out when we aren’t around (like at birthday parties, play dates, or Halloween trick or treating).
So what is a health-conscious parent supposed to do? We have some tips to lead you in the right direction.
4 Tips for a More Balanced Approach to Fun Foods on Halloween:
1. Remain Neutral
Forbidden fruits tend to make food more desirable.
It’s important to avoid labeling foods as good or bad. Speaking negatively about foods can backfire in the same way that restriction can. Use neutral language when speaking about foods, and avoid using foods to bribe, reward, or punish.
You may even find it helpful to serve a small portion of dessert at the same time as dinner! Child nutrition expert Ellyn Satter advocates this approach as a way to promote mindfulness. Check out our most recent blog post on Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility.
2. Accentuate the positive
Not all fun foods are equal. These foods can still contribute nutrients to the diet!
Ice cream, for example, contains 84 milligrams of calcium per half cup serving. It’s still a fun food, but it’s a better choice than gummy bears. Similarly, oatmeal cookies add fiber to the diet and are a healthier choice than snickerdoodles.
3. Avoid variety
Candy and cookies and pie, oh my! When it comes to fun foods, studies have shown that variety actually makes us eat more.
It’s best to keep just one type of sweet treat in the home. Pick one that the whole family can enjoy, and (ideally) that has some nutritional value.
4. Teach mindfulness
Fun foods provide a great opportunity to teach mindful eating, as it can be tempting to overeat foods that we find especially delicious
Serve these foods at the table and away from distractions like TVs, tablets, and video games. Encourage your kids to stop eating them when they feel satisfied—not full. Finally, resist the urge to probe if your kids don’t eat every last bite. Asking questions like, “You’re not going to finish your brownie? Brownies are your favorite!” discourages children from honoring their internal hunger cues.
Above all, don’t be spooked by the Halloween fun foods. Allowing your kids (and yourself!) to indulge can actually help them learn to listen to their bodies and take ownership of their choices. The goal is to teach them how to become mindful eaters by listening to their hunger and satiety cues while still being able to enjoy their favorite foods.