In this age of scary messages about candy, chilling thoughts about sugar, and terrifying “facts” about childhood obesity, parents are more and more concerned about Halloween candy.  Parents have employed tactics like allowing kids to participate in trick or treating only to ask kids to trade in the majority of the candy for a toy.  Or, the “candy fairy” comes at night, exchanging the candy for a toy or money.  

Unfortunately, making candy “forbidden” (or at least controlled and deemed “bad”) places candy above other food and lends it power.  This power makes the candy more irresistible to kids, who may then become the children who secretly binge on cookies, candy, and sugar-sweetened cereals when at a friends’ house or home alone.

What can be done?  Let’s consider some studies done on children and eating.  Science has shown that the more a child is exposed to a particular food, the less they desire to eat it.  This phenomena is called Habituation – the diminishing of a physiological or emotional response due to a frequently repeated stimulus. (1)

In Ellyn Satter’s, (MS RD LCSW) book, Your Child’s Weight, Helping Without Harming, specific suggestions are given around Halloween candy.  Ellyn sees trick-or-treating as a learning opportunity for your child to continue to develop eating competence.  Ellyn proposes that “your child needs to learn to manage sweets, like he does other foods.  When your child comes home from trick-or-treating, let him enjoy his bounty by eating as much of it as he wants.  Allow the same the next day, keeping your interference to a minimum.  Then, have him put it away and relegate it to meals and snack times. 

If he can follow your guidelines, your child gets to keep control of the stash.  Otherwise, you do, on the assumption, that as soon as he can manage it, he gets to keep it.  Offer milk with the candy, and you have a chance at good nutrition.” (2)

Because of habituation, the idea is that, over time, candy will lose power in the child’s mind.  Most kids will lose interest after a few days and eat fewer and fewer pieces of candy over time.  

We know this can seem like a radical approach to Halloween candy.  And more exposure to this idea is likely needed.  To learn more, check out the Ellyn Satter Institute or get support on the journey of feeding your child and schedule an appointment with a nutritionist here at Starkel Nutrition. 

We hope you have a Happy Halloween!

Interested in learning more? Schedule an appointment with Anna to get support on your journey to holistic health.

Written by our nutritionist and mental health counselor,                              Anna Cannata, MS, LMHC, CN

References:

(1) Epstein LH, Temple JL, Roemmich JN, Bouton ME. Habituation as a determinant of human food intake. Psychol Rev. 2009 Apr;116(2):384-407. doi: 10.1037/a0015074. PMID: 19348547; PMCID: PMC2703585.

(2) Satter, Ellyn, Your Child’s Weight – Helping Without Harming, Kelly Press, Madison, WI, 2005.

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