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Too Much Candy – How to Manage the Halloween Haul

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

If your child goes out trick-or-treating – or even if she just goes to a really great Halloween party or harvest celebration – she likely will come home with a bagful of candy. And then what? Do you let her just eat it? Or do you set some limits?

Most parents want to set some limits. The notion of a child eating his way through an entire pile of sugary, artificially-colored, sticky sweets just runs counter to every principle of kid nutrition. But setting limits isn’t so easy either and sends a message you may not want to send. Here are some ways to manage the Halloween haul.

Just eat it with no limits. You know this is bad for your kid but it might be the way your own parents handled Halloween and you turned out okay. Bear in mind, though, that nutrition is a zero-sum game and what calories are devoted to sugar are calories not devoted to vitamins and minerals and protein. You already know that a diet of candy is not optimal. If you choose the “just eat it” option, you’re really saying you can’t be bothered to intervene. That’s okay, but at least notice that’s what you’re saying.

Just eat it but what’s not eaten in a week gets tossed. This has the advantage of setting some limits to the lifespan of the Halloween haul – I have known kids who still had Halloween candy at Easter time – but it also encourages binging on candy in the first week of November. The long-term dietary effects might be minimized but the short-term ones are likely to be brutal. This plan makes eating candy into some sort of time-limited eating contest. I hate eating contests, don’t you?

Just eat it but only one piece per day. Kids whose parents use this plan are the ones who still are munching candy corn when marshmallow rabbits come round. If you would make “taking candy” once per day something akin to taking a multivitamin once per day, then you’re on the right track with this plan. If you don’t want to make candy a dietary essential – and a habit – then maybe another plan is better.

Pick out the 10 best pieces and toss all the rest. Unlike the other plans, this plan doesn’t treat every piece of candy as equally desirable. And it lets candy take a less-important role in the holiday fun. A kid can still count how many pieces he got and gloat over his haul. But then he winnows the hoard down to a fairly small number of candies that are worthy of being eaten. These he can decide when and where to eat – all at once or spaced out. But because the number is small, the dietary effects are small too.

Out with all of it. This radical position demotes candy to so many game pieces. It’s the getting of it, not the eating of it, that’s important. While your neighbors who shelled out for tiny Snickers bars might not buy any next year if they knew this is what happens to it, there’s nothing, really, that says a kid has to eat his Halloween candy. Not eating any of it can be strangely liberating!

Don’t think for one minute about donating unwanted candy to your local food bank. Instead, encourage your kids cash in their uneaten candy for canned goods that you buy and let them donate that. Put the food into the now-empty trick-or-treat sacks and have fun making a food bank delivery.

That’s a great way to start the holiday season, putting both candy and charity in their rightful place.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.