How to Handle Halloween Candy with Kids

Y'all, these videos by Jimmy Fallon each year crack me up.

Not because I am some sick dietitian who just loves to see kid's Halloween candy taken from them, but rather because they show just a glimpse at how much kid's. love. candy.

How to handle Halloween candy with kids isn't a new issue of parenthood, nor does it come to any surprise to dietitians. I know it is one that a lot of you are probably wondering about though as we sit here just days away from Halloween.

Before we jump in though to talk about 13 lucky little lessons for how you can handle all that Halloween candy once it makes its way into your home, I want to encourage each of you to enjoy the festivities (including some nutritionally-absent food options in candy) on Halloween. On Halloween night, don’t stress over the sugar. Just cherish the times with your kids. See the joy in their eyes. Embrace their sticky fingers. Teach them to listen to their tummies. Foster freedom around food. Brush their teeth. Tuck them in agreeing that the day was the “best day ever” (in their innocent eyes).

Then tomorrow, you can begin to implement the following ideas for how all foods fit - including all that candy they carried home.

How to Handle Halloween Candy with Kids

Want to know how to make Halloween candy with kids a little less spooky?
Read these 13 lucky little lessons from a dietitian mom.

1) Remember the Basics of the Division of Responsibility.

If you want the most simple way to break down how I think we should handle allowing our kids to have Halloween candy, it all comes back to the basics of Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility. As a reminder, it is our job to determine what, when, and where our child eats. It is our child's job to determine if/whether and how much they eat. Connecting the dots between this and how it relates to Halloween candy, that means it is our job as the parent to set boundaries around what candy/treat is offered, when your child has it available, and where your child is allowed to eat it. Then, you can transfer the control and trust to let them determine if/whether and how much they eat (keep reading).

2) Don't make Halloween candy feel forbidden.

The more you can keep Halloween candy neutral, the better. Research is clear that kids who grow up in an environment where restriction, pressuring, and bribing is used (to get them to eat either a certain way or a certain amount), the more often they crave forbidden foods like candy. Maybe you can relate? If you were raised in a family where sweets and treats were overly off limits, you may find yourself struggling with self-control when it comes to common triggers like candy. Conversely, when approaches like the Division of Responsibility are used as the main form of food parenting, our kids learn how to self-regulate all foods, including candy. So even though it may seem as though a more strict food environment serves our kids well when it comes to Halloween candy, remember that the more restricted this highly appealing food becomes, the more your tactics may backfire.

3) Consider your kid.

I’m not saying to cater to the sugar obsessed kid and become totally permissive as a parent. What I am saying is to address their sugar obsession head on. Rather than forbid them from eating these preferred sweets more because you know they tend to obsess over them, consider creating a more liberal dessert policy in this season to help see it past. By offering these foods more often for a given period of time, you can establish an environment that shows you trust your child(ren) to listen to their bodies and make healthy choices. Kids in turn learn to trust their own intrinsic cues while still appropriately managing cravings and making smart food choices. While kids don't need added sugars in their diets (see the next point), a small amount for a given period of time can help take it off its preferred food pedestal.

4) Determine "enough."

While the Division of Responsibility deems it the child's role to determine if/whether and how much our child eats of a given food, there are exceptions to this when it comes to candy and dessert. This gets a bit confusing but in general comes back to parents finding smart strategies for what amount of candy is age-appropriate or rather “enough,” so that it doesn’t crowd out healthier options of food but also doesn’t restrict the sweet stuff so much that kids cravings for it increase (beyond expected). The dietitian in me would say no amount is necessary. The mom in me, however, realizes that a 90:10 food philosophy allows just enough flex room with food, especially in seasons like these. So if you are wanting a number of pieces of candy per day that gets the pass, you can review this calculation to find a general gauge for how much added sugar still falls within appropriate limits. You can also read more here for ideas on how you can determine healthy in your home, encourage pleasure, and promote self-regulation so “a little can go a long way” with candy and other foods that fall in the 10% (of discretionary calories).

5) Be clear and consistent.

Being clear about when your child can eat Halloween candy during the day (or scattered throughout the week) helps keep both of you sane until the candy bowl runs out (or gets forgotten about!). Amidst your child's frequent initial asking for Halloween candy, decide on a consistent answer for when they can expect to have it using a predetermined time of day. While this may differ from family to family in timing and frequency, it is important that you stay consistent. This makes it so candy isn't the dangling carrot in front of their nose that they always chase and yet never actually get to enjoy. It also makes it less tempting to use tactics like bribing (i.e. "If you eat all of your dinner, you can have a piece of Halloween candy). Instead, these clear and consistent expectations take the pressure off of you from daily deciding if/when to allow it and in what amount, while also freeing up your child's mental energy to focus on something other than an elusive forbidden food.

6) Determine the when.

Just as we talk about the aspects that fall under the parent's role with the Division of Responsibility, also comes the clear and consistent expectations around the when candy is offered. Just as we addressed above when each day candy will be offered, here I want to highlight the when in terms of how long it will be offered. Determine for your family the following: When is Halloween candy welcome in your home? For one day post-Halloween? One week? One month? Until it runs out? While some kids do forget about candy when it is kept out of sight and out of mind, other kids tend to do better with time limits that are set for the whole family. In our house, all candy is over my the time of my husband's birthday (which conveniently is November 6th). This helps us to enjoy it for the week following Halloween, but then get back to our normal eating habits and family dessert policy of desserts only on weekends and birthdays.

7) Include Halloween candy as a snack.

Crazy, right? Especially when I tell each of my coaching clients to use snacks to fill in nutritional gaps with non-traditional "snack foods." But that can be done here too simply by pairing the candy alongside a more nutrient-dense item like a glass of milk, side of fruit or veggies with dip, or handful of nuts (age permitting to prevent choking). When spaced appropriately with scheduled meals and snacks, offering Halloween candy as part of a child's snack makes it so it doesn't compete with more nutrient rich meals.

8) Find other nutritionally void foods to cut.

While it might sound crazy to offer candy as a snack, think of all the nutritionally poor options we default to offering out kids for snacks. From snack crackers to fruit snacks and roll-ups, it isn't the calories in these I am concerned about. It is the fact that those calories come at a valuable cost: the real estate in our kid's stomachs. So take this as an opportunity to become more intentional about when you are working to get in important nutrients. While candy isn't an ideal option to be offering, it can compel you to think through what other, everyday options you otherwise may have offered that also are nutritionally void. Start making a commitment to watch for added sugar in the other foods you offer, and gradually choose healthier, lower added sugar alternatives. While the new food labels are only rolled out on some food products so far, you can still look at the ingredient list to identify sources of added sugar. Then consider how you can make healthier choices to cut down the added sugar in your family's everyday favorites. This will create a habit that serves your family well far after the candy runs out.

9) Keep candy out of sight.

Just watch, and I think you’ll be surprised about how much more out of mind candy becomes if their pumpkin pale isn’t on the counter in plain sight. As mentioned from a study I shared on this post about five ways to curb sugar cravings in kids, keeping candy out of plain view helps keeps not to focus on it as frequently. The less they think about it, the less they ask for it, the less of a nonstop issue it needs to be from a nutritional standpoint. So put it away and wait until your child asks for it. Chances are that even before all of the candy gets consumed, your child will forget to ask for it at the set time (discussed above) and your family can just move on without it again.

10) Talk about the characteristics of candy.

If you want your child to wolf down their candy, help remove each piece from the wrapper and prepare to see your kid mindlessly go after it. Instead, let me suggest you try this. Use inquiry-based learning to slow down the eating process. Ask questions about a candy’s taste, texture, flavor, color, size, etc., to help your child slow down and savor their candy. Just as we as adults have to remind ourselves to do this, let's equip our children at a young age to be mindful eating. Not restrictive from any one food (no food allergies, permitting), but rather remind them to be mindful about each morsel they put into their mouths. Not only does this help our kids to learn to appreciate specific elements to fun “sometimes” foods (in these off seasons when they are offered), but this helps our kids to consume less as well. For more on avoiding labels around Halloween candy or other “forbidden foods,” read this article on Six Simple Takeaways on the Sticky Subject of Sugar.”

11) Look at behaviors beyond the candy bowl.

We obsess so much about if/whether our kids eat Halloween candy that we divert our focus and honestly our accountability from the constant, day to day feeding behaviors we have irregardless of Halloween. While it is of obvious importance to limit added sugars as an overall feeding principle in our families, we also need to keep in mind that there are likely many other feeding behaviors that we could improve on also. So rather than getting too focused on the candy at hand, let's also take Halloween as an opportunity to consider what other feeding habits we could pay closer attention to.

12) Consider other creative options.

Just as Elf of the Shelf took the Christmas season by storm, many parents are also adopting a "Switch Witch" for handling the candy after Halloween. Many local dentist offices also participate in candy swap out programs, so ask your child's dentist if they do something list this.

13) Transition into a season of Gratitude.

As October ends and a time for Thanksgiving nears, teach your kids to consider how they could serve others with their candy. This may be sending the candy to troops, donating it to Ronald McDonald House for sick children who couldn't trick or treat, or by making a visit to a local elderly facility to share it with them. From a work site wellness standpoint, I tend to not encourage parents taking it all to work with them as the alternative. Instead, engage your kids in community outreach ideas that will help others to enjoy the candy when they otherwise wouldn't be mobilized on their own to do so.


Final Challenge: Be Big Picture About It

However you choose to handle all of that leftover Halloween candy with your kids, remember the big picture. Our goal in even having this conversation is to instill in our children a healthy relationship with all foods - even those that we don't always love or want them eating a lot of like candy. By teaching them when it's appropriate and how to self-regulate these types of foods, we empower them to handle all of the Halloweens to come with confidence around candy. That is no costume, but rather a true eating competence to aim for within each of our families.

Happy Halloween to all of you, my favorite guys and ghouls!

7 Ways to Keep Your Child Seated Through Meals

Whether it be on my live workshops or through parents submitting their inquiries, one of the most common questions I get asked is how to get squirmy kids to stay seated at the table.

Does this sound familiar?

"I have issues getting my 4 year old to feed himself.  He is easily distracted and just won't sit down and eat his full meal. In the end, he will only finish his plate if my husband or me feed him ourselves. How do we get him to take a few more bites on his own before he is halfway out of his seat?"
"Lately, my 2 year old twins will get in their booster seats, be all ready to eat, then barely touch their plate and say "all done!" and want down. I don't want to pressure them to eat, but then I don't know if I should just be allowing them to suddenly decide they're done without eating much. Any advice with this?"
"My 3 year old son wont even sit down unless he loves whats being offered. How do I get him just stay seated?"

No matter the age or gender of your child, wrangling kids to "just sit and eat" is no small feat.

That's why in today's post, we are going to talk about how to get your child to both sit AND stay seated, how to set them up for success in the process, and what you as the parent can do to maintain a Division of Responsibility at meal times with even the squirmiest of eaters.

7 Ways to Keep Your Child Seated Through Meals

7 Ways to Keep Your Child Seated through Dinner

1. Don't seat your children until it is time for the meal.

This will help them to not be waiting for the meal in the only five minute window you may get with them to actually stay seated and eat. Instead, be as prepared as possible when it comes to meal times. Have a gauge on when the meal is truly "almost ready," and then engage them in a pre-meal routine like washing hands and finding their seats. You can also include them in helping with meal time routines in other ways like carrying over silverware, napkins, setting the table, or even any final food prep based on their ages and abilities.

2. Be clear about expectations.

Don't feel bad telling your child(ren) that meals are not only about eating but also about togetherness. This helps them to learn their are expectations for them at meal time and you will help them adhere to those boundaries. Share with your child that you expect them to join their siblings and/or family for meals whether they choose to eat or not.

Then, be sure they are also well aware of the expectations after meals. If they get up from the table, the meal is over. Gently remind them that if they get hungry again after getting up, they will need to wait until the next planned meal or snack. This helps them to learn the boundaries of structured meal and snack times (while also giving you the opportunity to reinforce them). A set pattern for meal and snack times encourages kids to become more discerning before bouncing out of their seats. By reminding your child(ren) of the message that the kitchen will be closed until the next meal or snack time, kids learn to eat when food is offered (because grazing later will not be allowed). Again, this helps them to learn the cause and effect of what happens when they prematurely get up from the table.

If I get out of my seat --> The meal is over --> I won't get to eat again until the next meal or snack

3. Be realistic about how long they should stay seated.

Most kids can handle 2-5 minutes seated at the table per year of life. If it is a meal they're not into, it's usually on the lower. If it is a meal they are more fond of, they will usually stay a bit longer to allow them more time to eat and enjoy it. For a two year old, that means you can expect them to sit for 5-10 minutes. For a 3-4 year old, 15-20 minutes is a reasonable amount of time to work towards them being able to stay seated.

Remember that this can take some work, however. If your four year old struggles to sit at the table for more than five minutes, you will need to work your way up to a longer stretch using some of the other tactics covered here.

4. Don't use pressure as a tactic to get them to stay.

Even parents who are committed to using a Division of Responsibility in feeding approach can fall prey to pressuring their child to eat as a tactic to keep them seated. This creates new issues besides just wanting your child to sit through a meal though and is highly discouraged. Remember that the goal is not for your child to clean their plate of take X number of bites of XYZ food. You are training your child in valuable life skills and helping them to succeed in the social etiquette of a meal, so that as they grow older they can politely participate in more family meals and outings.

5. Practice in the peace of your own home.

If eating out with your child is an issue, consider working on the flow of a meal at home. Play pretend in a toy kitchen or using children's dishware at the dinner table. Let your child pretend to be the server and you as the guest, then trade roles. Role model the behaviors you expect your child to do at meal times and then reinforce how your family is to behave while at restaurants. Home is the perfect place to practice. There is no pressure to perform and your demeanor as the parent is much more relaxed during "pretend" than at a usual meal or outing. By using pretend food, this also allows you to positively reinforce the meal time behaviors you want your child to repeat using plastic, mess-free food!

6. Probe their curiosity to buy a little bit of time.

If your child says "all done" almost immediately after they sit down, try to get them "over the hump." Initially, they are testing your boundaries to see if you will allow them to leave the table. Once you have reinforced the expectations at a meal (that they will stay seated politely), redirect their attention and energy to help them succeed at staying seated. Talk about the learning it foods that have been offered and yet not yet tasted or touched. If your child has already decided s/he is finished eating, don't pressure any "polite bites." Instead, try to get them to learn the other foods by asking probing yet non-pressure questions like: which one is softer, your raw carrot or cooked green beans? What do they smell like? Do they smell the same, or different? What color is your chicken? Do you see any spices or sauce on it? Do the spices/sauce seem sweet or salty (almost always gets them to at least lick it) and so on.

Do this in a fun and conversational way. This turns a "sit your bottom in the seat and eat!" statement and forced feeding environment into one that emphasizes a positive feeding dynamic of togetherness and exploration, even if little gets eaten.

7. Make sure they are seated properly.

Often as kids get too big for a highchair, they transition to a chair that is too big for them. Consider using a booster that allows their feet to rest on the chair also, or put a stool under the table that their feet can rest on. These added areas of support can really help kids maintain better meal time behavior and thus eat better. Additionally, consider keeping your children strapped in to either high chairs or boosters for as long as possible (ideally until about age three). This helps keep age-appropriate restraint in place, which once removed (or no longer used) is harder to reinforce strap-free. For more information on how to properly position your children for meal times, the best resource I have found on this subject can be found here.

If you are looking for age-appropriate booster seats or transitional feeding chairs, consider this Right Height Chair (by Regalo) or a more full-sized style chair like this one from Stokke or this one from Svan (Amazon affiliate links).


Establishing a New Normal

By taking the lead on how you approach your child's constant attempts to get up from the table, you can quickly establish a new normal. There is no need to chase your child down, beg them to take another bite while they're half way out of their chair, or taking a plate into another room to feed your child in front of the TV. Instead, it is up to you to find productive tactics that aid in the establishment of a positive feeding environment -- none of which is occurring when we can't get out kids to sit still.

So try the above approaches and let me know how they work!

If your child still throws up a fight, politely excuse them and remind them that that type of behavior is not allowed at the table. Don't get wrapped up in their drama, but calmly redirect them to another area and continue with the meal. If you establish the boundaries and stay consistent with what, when, AND where meals are offered, they will learn how to live within those age-appropriate and loving limits.


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Baby Sign Language Beginner's Guide

When we had our first daughter, I researched infant sign language A LOT. It was one of those awesome things that as a first-time, single-child, stay-at-home-mom I actually had time to look into at length. I found my go-to site, we bought several of the infant sign videos (which our daughter later LOVED), and checked baby sign books out from the library to go through with our little girl.

Now looking back, I am grateful I invested the time and attention into this when I did. Even though it is no longer my reality to have that time to research it (with two mobile little ones and a budding at-home business), I still recall much of what we learned. Better yet, our now 3 year old is also able to communicate with her sibling at meal times and be mommy's helper in meeting the needs that her sister signs.. She has quickly recalled many of the signs we previously used, being able to not only use them but also to reinforce them with her sister.

 

For our family, I had the goal of using baby sign language to bridge the gap between non-verbal and verbal communication stages.

I will admit, I am not someone who started signing at birth nor someone who planned to used American Sign Language as my children aged. I did however find it to be hugely helpful in understanding our daughter's wants, needs, and requests, without having to work through quite so many ambiguous babbles as her vocabulary developed and ear-piercing screams as she found her voice. While it does take a bit of time and intention to teach (on average, it takes a six-month-old baby two months of signing exposure to start signing back), the payout was well worth it. Both of our daughters have been able to learn it and use it successfully in many applications, including eating and meal times. 

Conveniently, most sources recommend parents start teaching their infants sign language around six months of age. Since this is also when children start to eat solids, it seems like a natural time to begin integrating infant sign into meal time rituals, manners, and conversations with your kiddo. Sources also recommend starting with five signs before adding to your and your child's signing vocabulary. As BabySignLanguage.com puts it,

"Doing one sign fifty times a day is much better than doing fifty signs only once per day."

 

With that tip in mind, here are the best signs to start with:

Try starting with the first five, then adding others to help your family experience less meal time stress and more feeding success with your infant!

First Five Baby Signs to Introduce

  1. More
  2. All Done
  3. Milk
  4. Drink
  5. Eat (the same sign as for "Food")

Others to Teach After the First Five

Foods

For these, our daughter LOVED the Baby Signing Time videos, particularly the ones that had signs for different foods (like this one and this one). We asked for them for her first birthday as gifts, and they were great ways to engage her in learning new signs. Plus, since we greatly limited TV time before two, these were a special treat and the main "show" she would get to watch. This "Silly Pizza Song" in particular offered quite the entertainment for toddlers! There are many other great flashcard resources for more foods available here.

These have been some of our favorite signs that have helped us to effectively communicate with our daughters at meal times.

I'd love to hear, what are some of your favorite signs to use?

 

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