As the unofficial start of the fall and holiday season, Halloween is equal parts scary, silly, and sugary-sweet. As kids are delighted to collect their favorite candy (and a few duds), many parents are equally as likely to fret over sugar consumption. Some parents turn to tactics like the Switch Witch, leaving a toy in exchange for fun-sized treats, rather than allowing all food to fit on Halloween.
What happens to this confiscated candy? Ironically, after trick-or-treat booty is impounded, parents themselves often have a tough time being around so many sweets. (And sometimes find themselves secretly snacking on the candy they took from their children.)
For both kids and adults, fixating on sugar and viewing it in a negative light can inflate its importance and make it even more desirable. An alternative approach is to use Halloween as an opportunity to practice being around food some might consider “forbidden” or “bad.” So, when the Halloween candy seems scarier than the rest of the holiday, remember that all foods fit, Halloween candy included. Here are some tips for navigating the trick-or-treat haul.
Keep the big picture in mind
It can be alarming to see a pile of candy spilled out on the kitchen table. But that candy isn’t going to be eaten all at once. That same amount of candy spread over days, weeks, and even months, is far less formidable. Even if your children were to eat all the Halloween candy on the table without limitation, several days of candy consumption is unlikely to affect health.
Don’t take the candy away
Because Halloween is a great time to practice the all foods fit philosophy, hiding candy or taking it away is counterproductive. Parents may wish to set the sweets aside, to be served over a period of time. But if the candy is taken away altogether, it fosters a get-it-while-you-can mentality. Repeated exposure to sugary foods gives kids the opportunity to be curious about their own food regulation. They can learn preferences: Chocolate, or gummies? Nuts, or not? When the jack-o-lantern pail is emptied onto the kitchen table, the assessing, sorting, and bargaining begins. (“I’ll give you two Almond Joys for two Hershey bars and a Tootsie Roll.”) The entire trick-or-treating experience helps foster self-regulation and feeling empowered about food choices.
Give unconditional permission to eat
One of the key tenets of intuitive eating is Make Peace with Food. Achieving peace requires giving oneself unconditional permission to eat any and all foods (barring a specific medical condition). This includes both physical permission and psychological permission. Both types of permission are necessary, because it is possible to give physical permission without psychological. An example of this is eating a restricted food while simultaneously thinking, “I shouldn’t be eating this,” or “I will be good and only eat one, even though I want two.”
How does unconditional permission help? When a specific food is readily available and eaten freely, without guilt, it loses its power.
Parents may worry that unconditional permission is the same as 24/7 accessibility for a child. However, just like with other foods, parents can decide when to offer Halloween candy to their children. “Unconditional” predominantly means not assigning a moral value. For example, making the candy contingent on finishing vegetables is conditional. Instead, offering candy alongside other food choices during a snack or meal normalizes all foods. All foods fit on Halloween — it’s not all about the candy.
Buy Halloween candy at other times of the year
If Halloween is one of the few times that candy is allowed, then its allure in October is amplified. Most Halloween candy is readily available year-round, so having it available during other seasons reduces its novelty. What may start out as a trigger food often evolves into an enjoyable food that is eaten more moderately.
Notice other fun parts of the holiday
Although all foods fit on Halloween, and the candy is a big part of the holiday, it is not the only part. And it’s not the only part we can enjoy and look forward to! Unfortunately, worry over the quantity of treats takes away from the rest of the fun. Focus on the other festive elements: costumes, decorations, and scary music and movies. Above all, enjoy the social part of parties, trick-or-treating with friends, and school parades.
Barbara Spanjers, MS MFT is a therapist and wellness coach who helps people feel more attuned with food and their body. Learn more.