How much Halloween candy should your kids be eating? A dietitian weighs in

a pile of halloween candy, including candy corn, gummy worms, gum balls and jubes
Dietitian Abbey Sharp opens up about how much candy kids should eat on Halloween. (Photo via Getty Images)

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Halloween is here, so you know what that means — it's time for you and your kids to pick a last-minute costume (if you haven't already!) and for you to stock up on Halloween candy.

However, after your children have made it around the neighbourhood and come home with their bag of loot, many parents wonder how much candy their kids should be eating.

Before you let your costumed kiddos dive into their sugary bounty, consider some helpful strategies to prevent them from turning into candy monsters.

In an interview with Yahoo Canada, dietitian Abbey Sharp speaks about managing children's candy intake and shares techniques for keeping the holiday fun and relaxing.

"While I know a lot of parents get totally freaked out about their kids binging on sugar and eating all their Halloween candy in one night, I actually think we should think of it as a learning opportunity to help our kids work on their intuitive eating skills," Sharp says.

Should parents limit kids' Halloween candy? Why are parents worried about their children's sugar intake?

According to Sharp, many parents worry that their kids will be unable to contain themselves around their candy, leading to sugar highs and hyperactive behaviour.

"Most parents are worried that kids won't be able to control themselves around candy, and will gorge themselves for weeks after Halloween and never eat another vegetable again," Sharp explains.

"But research suggests that the more novel or forbidden we make foods like candy, the more likely kids are to overeat them," she adds.

"Research suggests that the more novel or forbidden we make foods like candy, the more likely kids are to overeat them."Abbey Sharp

Additionally, the mother-of-two believes that parents should use Halloween as a "teaching tool" to become aware of how food makes their kids feel.

"Halloween can be a really important teaching tool to help our kids understand how food impacts them...while I think most parents restrict our children's access to Halloween candy, this often can backfire and contribute to a life-long obsession with sweets," Sharp adds in a YouTube video about the topic.

How much candy should kids eat on Halloween: Should parents manage their children's sugar intake?

Simply put, Sharp doesn't believe parents should manage their children's sugar intake. That said, she does recommend a protocol that parents use during Halloween.

"On Halloween night, feed them a balanced dinner with lots of satiating fibre, protein and fats. Once they bring home their loot, let them eat as much as they want that night," Sharp says. "If they complain of a tummy ache, use that as a teachable moment."

After Halloween is over, the dietitian suggests spreading out how often and when children have access to their candy.

"The day or two after Halloween, choose a snack time and allow them to choose whatever they want from their bag without limiting quantity. This reminds them that candy isn’t that special after all, so it robs it of its allure," she explains.

After a few days of this habituation, Sharp says that most kids will lose their interest in eating large quantities of candy.

Halloween Jack o Lantern pail with spilling candy sitting on a dark background
After Halloween is over, Sharp suggests spreading out how often children have access to their candy. (Photo via Getty Images)

Is there anything parents should avoid when it comes to Halloween candy?

Sharp believes letting kids have (relative) free rein over their candy.

But when it comes to Halloween candy no-nos, she has an important message for parents themselves who might be dieting during spooky season — "don’t buy candy you don't like."

"Diets will tell you to only buy the candies that you don’t like so you wont be tempted to eat them. This just sets you up to sneakily raid your children's loot, which only further perpetuates distrust with your kids and with your body," Sharp says. "If you love Mini Snickers, buy Mini Snickers. A daily Halloween candy is good for the soul."

The five-step system for Halloween

Sharp's methods include a five-step system for making the most of Halloween as a family — candy included.

1. Enjoy the night as a family

According to Sharp, not only is Halloween a great teaching tool, but it's also a really fun way to get active with your family.

"I your living situation allows, avoid driving neighbourhood to neighbourhood for the 'good candy' and instead use the opportunity to walk around the neighbourhood together as a family," she suggests.

"Allow your kids two to three days of unlimited access to candy. Here we are teaching kids that it's not special or novel, it's not worth hiding or binging on."Abbey Sharp

2. Let kids sort and eat what they want on Halloween night

"Once your kids get home from trick or treating, they are inevitably going to want to sort through and brag about their booty to their siblings, and they're going to want to try it. Let them," Sharp reveals.

The dietitian also says that you don't want to restrict your children from sugar, even if they eat what you perceive to be a lot of candy, which "is totally OK as it's just one night."

3. Allow two to three days of unlimited access

Sharp says that kids need some consistency for them to learn that candy is nothing special, and that we can use our bodies to tell us when we've had enough.

"Allow your kids two to three days of unlimited access to candy. Here we are teaching kids that it's not worth hiding or binging on," she says. "After three days the excitement starts to wear off and kids can make the connection that eating a lot of sugar doesn't make us feel great. They'll start to eat less candy without any prompting or restricting."

5. Serve up balance

Around Halloween, focus on making sure that the meals and snacks you serve are generally well balanced.

"A good idea is to send your kids off trick-or-treating with a full belly, a full balanced meal, think roast chicken with some broccoli and sweet potatoes," Sharp recommends, but notes that your meal can vary depending on your dietary restrictions.

General advice for parents on Halloween

"The best advice I can offer parents when it comes to Halloween candy and your kids is to just chill out. It's one day of the year, so let's not let our own hangups around food rub off on our kids," Sharp says.

Further, the dietitian adds that the way we speak about food matters.

"Don’t call the loot 'junk food,' 'toxic,' 'poison' or 'bad food you.' Call each sweet what it is – it’s a mini chocolate bar, candy corn, or chips," she says. "Language does matter, and its important that we talk in morally neutral terms if we want our kids to have a morally neutral relationship with food."

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