Wondering what to do about your kids and their Halloween trick-or-treat candy? In a word: enjoy.
In a time when America has grown increasingly health-conscious concurrently with the rising obesity rate, it’s understandable that parents would be frenetic over the couple pounds of candy their children have hoarded each year. So when I say enjoy, I’m not saying this so much because I think letting a bunch of kids dressed up as Spiderman and Disney characters eat all the candy they want is a healthy choice (although it does make for adorable photos), but that overtly restricting them from their prized candy can result in worse behavior. In a recent Slate article, Melinda W. Moyer cites a study that tested patterns of restricting palatable foods from children. Based on the results, Jennifer Orlet Fisher and Leann Lipps Birch concluded that,
“Restricting access focuses children’s attention on restricted foods, while increasing their desire to obtain and consume those foods. Restricting children’s access to palatable foods is not an effective means of promoting moderate intake of palatable foods and may encourage the intake of foods that should be limited in the diet.”
The results are not necessarily surprising. It’s pretty much human nature for someone to desire something when they are specifically told not to, kind of like how when someone tells you not to think about something…and then you instantly think about that thing they mentioned. Furthermore, restricting food access can lead to overeating, obesity, and even develop into eating disorders. Not that these potential results are a risk every time, but the point is it is generally better to find a way to leave your child’s candy on the table, then take it away from them and say no.
Worried about your kids running around like crazy after eating copious amounts of sugar from sweets? Well, fortunately for you there is a growing body of research that finds the mythical link between sugar and hyperactivity to be surprisingly slim. Hyperactivity following an event such as Halloween seems to be a more behavior based association than a physical connection to the consumption of sugar. Similar to the idea of restricting foods from children creates a stronger desire to attain those foods, the placebo effect comes into play surrounding Halloween and trick or treating for candy.
While we do know eating lots of high-fructose candies is not good for you or your child, understanding that behavior plays a a larger role than the actual candy can provide a great opportunity to focus on the other aspects of the Halloween festivities. Remember that the actual act of trick or treating is an exercise in community involvement, friendship building, and social engagement. If you are worried that your child may focus too much on the candy alone, start off by making sure they eat a nutritious dinner high in fiber before going out in costume. Stress to them about the fun they will have with their friends, what their costumes will look like, who they will see and what new streets and adventures they can go on. You do not have to be strictly covert, but talking about the overall experience of Halloween and focusing on the candy as little as possible can help get them excited about more than just how many Reese’s cups and Butterfingers that will be appearing in their little bags or buckets.
Of course, what makes these studies subjective is their reliance on cause and effect relationships, which can be subjective and tied to the context of say, why you behave the way you do and towards your child and vice versa. Still, one of the most important messages to take away is finding a way to embrace the excitement of Halloween (and the candy that comes with it) and transform that excitement into a well-rounded learning experience. What you do with all that Halloween candy after the big day is up to you, there are cool alternatives you can try, but you might as well enjoy the one time a year you’ll have so much sugary goodness in front of you. You might find yourself this once eating too many candies, but hey, it’s not like a few handfuls of Reese’s and Milkway bars were not eaten in the making of this post!