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The Imperfect Parent’s Guide to Halloween Candy

Imperpect-Parents-Guide-to-Halloween-Candy-3ssMy pediatrician suggests allowing my kids 10 to 15 pieces of Halloween candy and pitching the rest. My kids suggest I follow them on Halloween with a forklift carrying one of those bins that grocery stores use to display watermelons to cart all of the candy home. Somewhere between these two extremes is a strategy that, if not optimal, is at least adequate. And as a parent, I’ve always strived for basic adequacy.

If you too aspire to be a good enough parent, a few basic ground rules can get you through Halloween with relative ease. Head below for an imperfect parent’s guide to dealing with Halloween candy.

Talk to your kids first

Getting your kids on board with candy rationing starts well before Halloween. In fact, you may want to start preparing your kids for Halloween 2015 now. Although children are driven by their desires and the desire for candy is a strong one, they can also grasp the rudiments of good health. With young children, try simple explanations that are easy to remember and repeat like, “Too much candy will make you sick” and “Candy tastes good but it’s not good for you.” Feeling like they have some grown-up knowledge can really get little kids on your side. With older kids, you can start to explain the health effects of junk food in more detail.candy

Really talk to your kids first on Halloween

As Halloween approaches, sit down with your children, maybe at bedtime, and talk about what you’re going to do on the big day so there are no surprises. Involve them in picking out a trick-or-treating route that you can both live with so they feel like they’ve had some input. Have a discussion about candy and healthy eating habits and ask what they think would be appropriate limits for the candy on Halloween and beyond. Like the rest of us, kids abide better by decisions they’ve had a hand in making.

Load up on protein and healthy fats

Before I get started here, let me tell you that I am not a physician or nutritionist; I have read the nutrition facts on the back of an ice cream container before devouring it, so I have at least that level of expertise. And I’ve noticed that some foods sate my kids’ appetites more than others, and those foods are not sweets. Protein-rich foods like hummus, chicken, or cheese, as well as foods high in healthy fats, like nut butters, can be truly filling and make a mound of candy seem less appealing. So load up on chicken quesadillas or peanut butter banana sandwiches before heading out. (Like how you used to scarf a bowl of pasta before you went out drinking when you were in your 20s.)

Go ahead and admit you’ve lost on Halloween

I try to do right by my family 364 days of the year. I buy the milk without the RBH. I make birthday cakes without artificial dyes. I make sure my kids at least look at a vegetable on their plate at dinner even if they don’t eat it. But on Halloween, my kids’ diet is left to the community at large. Just letting them come home, dump out the buckets, and go to town really lets them get it out of their system.23

Set clear limits

Bearing in mind the earlier conversation you’ve had with your children about candy, remind kids of the boundaries you’ve established. My husband and I have had good luck limiting candy to two pieces after dinner on nights when our children have eaten a healthy meal. Whatever boundaries you set, stick to them (no matter how mean it makes you feel). In the first few days after Halloween, it can lead to some whining, but quickly they’ll understand that those are just the breaks.

Don’t use candy as a reward or punishment

It’s tempting to reward children with candy for a job well-done or to withhold it when they’ve done wrong, but it undermines your message about healthy eating by suggesting that sweets should be more highly prized than heathy options, and, what’s worse, it doesn’t even work. Instead, emphasize that candy is good as an occasional addition to an otherwise healthy diet but only in moderation.

Finally, pitch the candy

While throwing out all but 10 to 15 pieces of candy the day after Halloween feels a little severe, after a few weeks of chipping away at their candy pile slowly, most of the good stuff is gone anyway. Surreptitiously unload some of those candies that aren’t real favorites. Maybe eat some yourself. Just remember, it’s not a reward. Too much candy will make you sick.

Since I’m a parent of two in the under 10 set, I’d love to hear how you parents of older kids deal with the onslaught. And parents of littles, what’s your strategy? Also, can I have your Tootsie pop?ahh

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