If there is one thing that all kids seem to agree about celebrating Halloween, it's that it opens up a world of exciting possibilities from picking out costumes, to scaring siblings who probably didn't see — or have — it coming, to sitting down with their parents to discuss healthy food choices.
OK, the last part may be a stretch but perhaps not as big as you might initially guess, according to registered dietitian Pamela Nisevich Bede a member of Abbott's nutrition scientific and medical affairs team.
"It's one day of the year and any food can fit, in moderation. It's important to talk. As parents, we need to communicate that we can enjoy our treats as part of this annual tradition, but we shouldn't start indulgent eating at Halloween and then continue it through to New Year."
Setting the Right Tone and Example
As with so many aspects of raising children, the key to navigating Halloween is often playing the long game. Parents have a vitally important role maintaining consistent dialogue about food and our emotional connections to it.
"We all have different relationships with food, and you don't want to be at war with what's on your plate all your life," Bede said. "Have ongoing conversations with your kids about what different foods do for, and to, them. While candy can give them energy, there may be other foods that also do that, taste sweet and provide important nutrients. The more conversations over time, the more credibility you will have when you need to find the appropriate middle ground regarding treats."
One of the best ways to set expectations? By example.
"Give out treats you'd want your own kids to get," Bede said. “We often hand out pretzels, popcorn, seasonal Rice Krispy, granola or nutrition bars like ZonePerfect. It's easier as a parent to set guidelines when kids see you being consistent."
Halloween and Diabetes
Often lost in the excitement and bustle of Halloween are the unique challenges faced by children living with diabetes. This chronic condition does not mean they have to ghost Halloween celebrations, said Megan O'Neill, PA-C, CDCES and medical science liaison with Abbott's diabetes care business. "A person with diabetes can still enjoy the holiday. It's just that the potential consequences may be greater if healthy choices are not made.
"I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all approach. There should be an individualized plan, made in advance, including options of limiting portions, finding healthier substitutes for some treats so as not to present situations where the child is faced with temptations or feeling singled out."
Other strategies can be used as well.
"Some people choose to take a day to safely indulge or pace themselves to better normalize the holiday experience," O'Neill said. "Each person needs to figure out what works best for them and their health goals."
Like Bede, O'Neill believes that the best outcomes are the result of both food moderation — in time and amount — and open discussion regarding limits, monitoring and consequences.
Finding the Right Place to Draw the Line
Super-strict Halloween rules can lead to scary results, including binge eating and hiding unsafe behavior.
Look to plant your parental flag in a middle ground that is healthy, both physically and psychologically.
"It's good for kids to understand that we have 'sometimes' and 'always' foods and we treat them differently," Bede said. "You want everyone to enjoy the holiday but not so much that they get sick or it steers them away from otherwise healthy habits. Also, try to avoid categorizing foods as good or bad, while highlighting those that are healthier."
Don't snicker: Sometimes that can result in some clever horse- (or Hershey's-) trading.
While one family may decide to ration out an especially strong haul over the course of several days or weeks, another may negotiate a sweet financial deal in which excess treats are purchased from a child at a penny per piece (not quite stealing candy from babies) and the resultant sugar heist donated to grateful recipients.
Making Halloween a Success
Physical activity and smart food choices can combine to make Halloween great for both kids and their concerned parents, O'Neill and Bede agree. Some strong ideas include:
- Move away from overly processed, sugary foods and toward things with real nutritional value.
- Seek out more whole food-based treats, including popcorn, nuts and seeds. Lean toward pretzels, healthy snack bars, juice boxes and the like, if your child can safely process these options.
- Everything in moderation.
- Avoid foods with multiple chemicals and colorings.
- If you're an adult and you suspect there is enough kid in you to make you a gobblin' ghoul lurking over your child's gummy bears, think about eating well throughout the day and maybe getting in some pre-treat exercise.
- Everyone should have a healthy dinner first rather than going out hungry. Candy corn is not a vegetable.
- Walk a good distance while trick or treating to balance your intake.
- Take the opportunity to teach moderation and discuss the impact different foods have on bodies.
- Most importantly, if you don't do all these things, realize that the world will not end. But try not to get into repetitive unhealthy behavior as you continue through the holiday season.
An old joke suggests the only winner on Nov. 1 is the dentist. With a little preparation and a bit more conversation, Halloween doesn't have to become a nutritional nightmare.