I’m not a nutritionist. I don’t have the most balanced diet nor am anywhere close to where I should be on the doctor’s charts. I am not a dentist either. My only qualification to tell you how much Halloween candy is the right amount is that I am a parent.
Let me begin by saying that every child is different and every family is different. This matters for a few reasons. If you are a household with a “no treats, sweet, and dessert rule” for most of the week or year, then Halloween candy represents a very different thing than if you are a house with frequent access to sweets. I have one child that eats limited sweets because they don’t like too much sugar. They will ask for vegetables to “undo the sweet”. I have another child who can eat sweets to their hearts content and has no internal gauge for when enough is enough.
So, how much Halloween Candy is the right amount? Here are a few things a parent in any household of any child can use as a guide. It also works as a general guide for sugar in a child (or any person’s diet.)
- Behaviour changes: If you notice mood swings. Hyperactivity or restlessness. This is a sign that too much sugar had been consumed.
- Poor sleep: They are already likely staying up late to trick-or-treat and are already over tired. My kids usually spend the evening sorting and counting their loot Halloween evening and don’t tend to eat that much (it cuts into the numbers). My son especially always reacted strongly to chocolate as a toddler so I would let him have his treat in the morning. Chocolate after noon affected his sleep. Why not let the kids have one small treat before breakfast- followed up by a good meal and tooth brushing it is a win win?
- Sort the candy: Red dyes, chocolate, chips, toys, gummy candies. All treats are not created equal. Chips can go in lunch boxes or for after school snacks. Sweets with dyes may affect some kids more than others. Older kids can try different candy and see how it affects them. Get them to notice. One of my children gets severe headaches after too much sugar. Another gets an upset stomach. The more aware kids are of how the candy makes them feel the less desirable it is. For younger kids, you be the detective. Get them in on it. Talk about how it tastes and if what they like about it.
- Feed them other treats: If my kids come home to a plate of fresh baked muffins, or some other favourite food, they’ll fill up on that before reaching for the candy. The same is true with a bowl of fresh berries. I always put out a spread before trick or treating that includes a protein (often chicken nuggets) and a platter of fresh veggies. The bowl of candy is always left at least 1/2 full but meanwhile the veggie platter is swept clean. Parents never believe this, but the more you offer fresh they less they go for pre-packages.
- A candy a day works for some and not for others. We usually leave the candy bags out for a few days and the kids take one (or probably more) a day. After a week, I put the candy away and it is usually forgotten.
- Teach vs. Control: Forbidden fruit is the most desirable. Instead of banning or sending away the candy, I try to teach the kids to approach it responsibly. I do so by talking through how they feel when they eat it, how to plan for a treat in their day, choosing a better treat, and if self-control is not an option then we talk about getting rid of it altogether.
- There is no right or wrong way to approach Halloween. Let the kids enjoy the “holiday”, find a system that works for you, and stick to it.
Oh and I forgot one more important rule.
8. Parents are entitled to one piece of candy from their child’s loot bag per day-ish.
I like your idea about putting out other foods as well as candy. My girls were grazers when they were little and I left plates of veggies, cheese, and meat cubes out all over the house, and they would eat when hungry (kinda like free-feeding a cat!) We would/still have candy out as well, it’s just one more choice.
My girls also like counting and sorting. And we would spend hours making the “perfect” movie treat mix bags (snack size ziplocks) with a candy bar, gummy, lollipop and chewy treat; these we saved for movies in the theater or at home.