The USDA says the average trick-or-treater consumes nearly three cups of sugar and 1½ cups of fat—just on Halloween.
Treat yourself to just five “fun-size” Snickers bars over the course of the day and you’ll consume 400 extra calories and eight teaspoons of refined white sugar. That’s a big number to burn off at the gym on November 1.
On Halloween, by my estimation, most kids will gobble down an extra 3,000 empty calories comprised of candy. And that doesn’t include what you eat from the Halloween bag on November 1, and every day after that.
Let me be clear – while I am an obesity medicine physician, I have no intention of telling parents to substitute balloons and coloring books for candy. It’s just not realistic.
This delightedly sugar-laden holiday should be enjoyed by everyone. But it can also be a timely opportunity to teach kids about setting limits and empowering them to recognize when it’s time to put the candy away.
Empower Kids to Regulate What They Eat
With older children, incorporate Halloween candy into a larger discussion about healthy attitudes toward all kinds of food, not just the sweet stuff. Beginning conversations with sensory questions can help kids (and grownups) cultivate food awareness.
Asking “how do you feel after you eat a ton of candy?” or “how do you know when you’re hungry?” can increase a child’s empowerment over what — and how much — they eat.
I think this is a far more realistic approach to eating junk food in general. It’s going to happen (whether you approve it or not), so let’s address how much is too much.
Starting when children are in elementary school, create a simple, defined structure for enjoying Halloween candy. Don’t ban or restrict it – rather, teach kids the life lesson that they have the power to enjoy a treat now and then – but not to abuse it.
Setting Fair Limits for Kids Based Upon Age
Before kids head out the door, try to fill up their stomachs with protein and fiber-rich foods to leave less room for the sugar later on. Offer a cheese stick and whole wheat crackers or an apple with nut butter. This can also help to slow sugar absorption.
In my family, we set a candy budget for the day. Your candy limit — for the entire day — equals your age: Seven pieces of candy are allotted for a seven-year-old child (all day).
Within these guidelines, kids choose the candy they love the most and leave the rest (I’ll get to that next).
This is all done on the honor system, so kids are challenged to make positive independent choices on their own, hopefully. They may exceed that limit, but putting a guideline in place still teaches kids they have the freedom to enjoy, but with realistic limitations.
Keep in mind, most kids enjoy the once-a-year thrill of acquiring a huge plastic pumpkin or pillowcase-full of free treats nearly as much as eating it. Phase II of the fun is displaying the inventory on the living room floor and then negotiating trades with friends and siblings.
The Day After – Leftover Candy
I don’t recommend announcing that you’re throwing all the candy away on November 1. It can actually stress children into overeating and making themselves ill. Instead, why not offer them their choice of two pieces of candy every day after school? You’ve set a fair guideline and they are empowered to choose.
By about November 5, you can conveniently forget to offer it and they probably won’t be particularly interested by that point anyway. Then you move on to the final phase of Halloween Candy 2017 — donate or dump it.
Older kids can pad their wallets by selling surplus candy at one of the numerous “buybacks” where local dentists will pay a dollar per pound. To find a location in your area, log onto HalloweenCandyBuyback.com and enter your ZIP code.
Most buyback programs donate the candy to service members living abroad. To go directly to our troops stationed across the globe, visit OperationGratitude.com, where you’ll be encouraged to add a personal letter from your kids – along with a toothbrush.
It’s easy to ride the wave of Halloween candy into the pecan pie of Thanksgiving and straight into all those holiday cookies. But by starting with a realistic strategy now, you’re setting a course for judiciously enjoying the special treats that come with every holiday celebration, for you and your children. When the ball drops on December 31, you can look back and be proud of the decisions you made and that your pants still fit beautifully.
That’s more satisfying than a bag of Snickers’ bars any day.
Ayotunde Adeyeri, MD, FASMBS, is a board-certified advanced laparoscopic, bariatric and general surgeon on staff at several central New Jersey hospitals. He is the medical director of Sterling Surgicare in Holmdel; medical director of the Institute for Weight Loss, Raritan Bay Medical Center; and co-medical director of Central Jersey Bariatrics in Freehold. Visit SterlingSurgicare.com or call 732-217-3897.