Most kids are counting down the days to Halloween, that glorious night when they can trick or treat their way to a weeks-long supply of candy.
For parents, however, the event presents its challenges.
On the evening of trick-or-treating, parents have to stay on their toes to ensure their kids return home safely. And long afterward, it seems the house is filled with sweet temptations for children and adults alike.
Spectrum Health pediatric dietitian Sarah Flessner, who also happens to be a mom, says you don’t have to fret about all that candy. A little planning and forethought goes a long way.
Flessner’s tips for handling trick-or-treating and the post-Halloween candy surge:
1. Let your kids indulge—a little.
Letting your children enjoy some candy is OK, but do it in moderation.
“It’s part of what we do around Halloween—and if we don’t allow it, it sets them up for deprivation,” Flessner said. “Then kids feel like they have to sneak.”
It’s better to allow some indulgence, as it helps your kids learn how much is too much.
But still, throughout the post-Halloween glut, try to limit your children’s sugar intake until the candy stash is gone.
Current guidelines from the American Heart Association say that preschoolers through 8-year-old children should not exceed 3-4 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Pre-teens and teens should not exceed 5 to 8 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
2. Set limits.
You should definitely set limitations for younger children, but also try to help the older kids learn to set their own limits.
Flessner encourages parents to try something she has done with her own children.
It’s important for kids to explore what it feels like to overdo it with the candy. So ask them to pick out four or five pieces, and then talk to them as they’re eating it.
“Say to them, ‘How does your tummy feel now?’” Flessner said.
While preschool-age children will be too young to learn to self-regulate, older elementary children are ready for that conversation—and not just with candy.
“After they eat a cheeseburger and fries, ask them how they feel,” she said. “Then after they have some fresh fruit salad say, ‘How is your body feeling after that?’”
3. Serve a good dinner before trick-or-treating.
Eating a good dinner on Halloween night helps prevent your children from overeating candy later. It also lessens the effects of sugar intake on the body.
Flessner recommends high-fiber foods such as whole grain pasta or brown rice; lean protein such as chicken, eggs or beans; and fruits and veggies.
If you’re ordering pizza, as many families do on Halloween night, go for the whole grain crust with toppings such as chicken and veggies.
4. Consider candy alternatives.
Have a conversation with your children about whether they’d like to keep their candy or do something else, such as turn it in for a toy.
Some families have a visit from the Switch Witch or Halloween Fairy, who of course collects all that Halloween candy and leaves a present in exchange. Dental offices and other organizations sometimes offer the option of donating candy to military members overseas.
But don’t force these things if your children aren’t interested, Flessner said.
Also, consider what you’re handing out to trick-or-treaters at your house. Flessner offers one bowl of candy as well as a bowl of non-candy items, such as pencils and stickers. This also provides a great option for children with allergies.
“This means that their whole bag will not be filled with candy at the end of the night,” she said.
5. Purge the persistent candy.
When your child has a bunch of candy that just seems to hang around too long, it’s probably time to get rid of it.
A good indicator: If you’re offering your children a few pieces of chocolate or other sweets each day, it may mean that candy has been around a long time. Share it with neighbors or friends who don’t go trick-or-treating. Ask your children to go through it and pick 20 of their favorites, then donate the rest.
As for the candy you’re handing out on Halloween night: Buy it a day or two beforehand so it’s not tempting you in the weeks leading up to Oct. 31.
The morning after Halloween, take the leftover candy to work. Your co-workers will love you—and your children’s dentist and pediatrician will thank you.