Think back to your memories of Halloween—remember your favorite Halloween costume? What about the post-Halloween candy sorting and trading sessions with friends and neighbors? Most of us can recall the sugary anticipation of those nights spent trick-or-treating, and reliving these memories with your child can feel magical.

But as a parent, the holiday can also come with some stress—namely, the worry of navigating the sugar-laden night without going overboard. If your child is anything like the average American, they will end up with a pillowcase full of candy.

“Candy is one of the joys of childhood,” shares Jennifer Anderson, registered dietitian, mom, and founder of the incredibly relatable resource Kids Eat in Color. “At the same time, as parents, we care about tooth health, our kids’ immune systems, and knowing that our kids are grumpy after too much candy.”

Related: Honestly, Halloween is so much better when you have kids

Anderson recognizes that parents are juggling this knowledge while also trying to figure out how to teach kids to self-regulate. “We’d like our kids to be mentally okay with foods, listen to their bodies, and be respectful of others’ choices,” she says. “So much of this starts with how we talk to them about food—including sugar.”

How can parents navigate the world of Halloween candy (and the days after) without making the holiday a stressful night for the whole family?

Here are Anderson’s tips to help you avoid the common Halloween candy mistakes many parents make

1. There’s no such thing as a “bad” food

Categorizing foods as good or bad can have unintended consequences. “If we demonize foods and say a food is bad, kids can often wonder if they are bad,” shares Anderson. It may not seem like a big deal, but Anderson says food labels can be a slippery slope. “They also may obsess more about food, judge their friends and think about food in black and white terms.”

How should you talk about the downsides of sugar without making it a big deal? Use the fact that most kids love to learn the “why” behind things to your advantage. “It’s more powerful to help kids understand what foods do in their bodies and to serve a variety of foods to model a balanced diet.”

Before or after you go trick or treating, serve up a simple, nutritious meal or snack and discuss the benefits of the foods you’re eating. “This helps level out the child’s blood sugar and also helps downplay sweets a bit,” shares Anderson.

2. Don’t overly restrict sugar but do set limits

Another Halloween candy mistake? Keeping candy too locked up. Maybe your neighborhood dentist trades candy for toys. Some families use the “switch witch,” a magical creature that takes the kids’ candy in the night and leaves a toy in its place. It may depend on your child—because we know they are all so very different—but sometimes over-restriction backfires and makes them want the candy even more.

Anderson shares that she tried something similar to the switch witch with her children. While it worked for her oldest when he was younger, eventually, the novelty wore off, and her kids just wanted the candy. “I noticed that the magic Halloween box was causing my kids to obsess about what candy to keep and made them feel like they were losing something.”

Related: 7 ways to help your kids form a healthy relationship with food

Why does this happen? Anderson explains that while research does show that when foods are limited or taken away, kids eat less, it also can increase the obsession and desire to eat even more of it. You may consider allowing your child to have some control over the amount of candy they eat. “When they eat their fill, it takes some of the power out of candy since it’s not forbidden or restricted. There’s less pressure to binge on candy or to hide it and sneak it,” she says.

Setting limits is different from complete restriction. “Just like you would not let your child eat 15 prunes (yikes!), you don’t have to let your child eat as much candy as they want if that feels wrong to you,” Anderson says.

3. Lower the excitement by making Halloween about more than candy

It’s easy to get caught up with the kids as they count the candy, but try not to comment too much on the haul or how lucky the kids are that they got so many goodies. A big focus on the candy can inadvertently build the hype even more. “Candy is good on its own without the hype!” Anderson says.

You can build up the excitement of costumes, spending time with friends, and the fun of the night. Candy is a big plus, of course, but you can take it off the pedestal by not making it the star of the show.

4. Don’t use candy as a bribe or reward

We’ve all done it to get a little more cooperation or a quiet moment away, but using sweets as a bribe can backfire and make candy even more exciting to children, according to Anderson.

The same goes for getting your kids to eat more food, especially vegetables, or saying they can’t have Halloween candy until they clean their plates. It might feel like an easy way to get the kids to eat their veggies, but it could also create a power struggle and make the treat more appealing. “In the child’s mind, this makes candy even better and broccoli even worse.” Essentially as parents, we’ve categorized candy as good and broccoli as something we have to eat to get the good stuff.

Related: Just let your kids eat all the Halloween candy

Every family is different, and it may take time to find what works for yours

Anderson recognizes that all families are different and each child is unique. “Families may find that they want to get the candy out of the house, put some limitations on candy, or let the kids eat as much as they want until it’s gone.” You can avoid these common Halloween candy mistakes that parents make by experimenting and finding what works for yours.

Featured expert

Jennifer Anderson is a registered dietitian with a master’s of science in public health from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. In 2019, she founded Kids Eat in Color, a resource that helps families feed their children from their first bite of solid food through picky eating and elementary-aged nutrition needs. Social: @kids.eat.in.color

Sources
Birch LL, Fisher JO, Davison KK. Learning to overeat: maternal use of restrictive feeding practices promotes girls’ eating in the absence of hunger. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78(2):215-220. doi:10.1093/ajcn/78.2.215