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If most American kids had their way, the Declaration of Independence would proclaim the right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Candy.” No holiday upholds this sentiment more than Halloween, when gorging on sweets takes on the cadence of an inalienable right. For some, Halloween represents a once-a-year confection-fest, with eating habits retreating back to normal on November 1. For others, Halloween may be the beginning of a long-term season of calorie-laden holidays and overeating, resulting in weight gain and potential health issues. It may be hard for parents to lay down a no-candy law for their kids on this sweetly scary night, but should they?
Healthy Habits, Healthy Lifestyle
“Health is created through habit and is not a one-time event,” says Sarah Armstrong, M.D., director of the Duke Healthy Lifestyles Program, who is clear that one night of candy will not cause obesity in and of itself. Armstrong warns, however, of the ill effects of binges, even on special occasions. “Binge eating such as that associated with overindulgence at Halloween can be psychologically damaging and should be discouraged.
Eating a few pieces of Halloween candy is special and celebratory, not to mention appropriate for our culture. Allowing a candy binge however, akin to getting too many presents at holiday time, leaves kids unsure of boundaries,” she adds. It may be hard, however, to set a solid boundary for children dead set on getting their sticky hands on as many pieces of candy as possible.
How Much is Too Much?
“Halloween represents two of the worst features of our society, entitlement and sugar,” says Howard Rankin, weight-loss book author and retired clinical director for the Hilton Head Health Institute, a residential weight-loss facility. Rankin’s complaint is not uncommon. The increasing number of trickster teenagers, roaming the streets in search of candy and children all too eager to repeat-visit houses with the best treats, rankles people from coast to coast.
“Years ago, children were satisfied with an apple and a few M&M’s. Now, they show attitude if you give them less than they think they are due, or candies they don’t like,” says Alina Adanajou of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Adanajou, along with Rankin and his wife, have opted out of the candy craze, choosing to give kids healthy snacks and dental floss instead.
What Can Parents Do? Handing out healthy alternatives to candy may not do much for the sugar content in your own child’s trick-or-treat bag, but giving out less-sugary, more healthful items and other fun treats can help set an example for your own child. Some individually wrapped goodies to consider include:
- Boxed raisins
- Cinnamon or chocolate-dusted almonds
- All-natural cheddar puffs or popcorn
- Cheddar cheese wedges
- Fruit like apples, oranges or tangelos
- Halloween bling, like spider rings or glow-in-the-dark bracelets
Don’t Skip Dinner
Kids are often too excited to eat before trick-or-treating, but parents can support good nutritional goals by serving a healthy meal before they run out the door, which will also help them to indulge less throughout the evening. Halloween is the third biggest pizza night of the year, according to marketing analyst and public relations connector Stacey Hilton. Rather than just letting your kids eat pizza, think about adding a salad to the table or even veggies to the top of each slice, such as broccoli or spinach, so as to add a nutritional boost to Halloween night.
Fun Not Phobic
The best thing parents can do, however, is maintain perspective. Denying your kids candy completely is a strategy almost bound to backfire, turning one night’s denied sweet-fest into a life-long obsession. Consider letting them enjoy their booty in moderation, having a few pieces of candy a day until the bag is empty and work with your kids to substitute some of the candy for healthier treats. Parents can also use Halloween to teach their kids about moderation, according to body image expert Marci Warhaft-Nadler.
“We’ve become so consumed with fat-phobia that we’ve forgotten how to just enjoy this fun holiday,” says Warhaft-Nadler. “Instead of entertaining the idea of banning treats, parents can use the holiday to teach their kids not to be afraid of every little thing they put in their mouth that isn’t approved by Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig,” she adds.
Armstrong agrees, saying, “Halloween creates a teachable moment for many situations in life which call for restraint, delayed gratification and common sense. As parents, we can use Halloween to solidify life lessons such as sharing, waiting and determining limits.” Armstrong also mentions that parents set the stage for these lessons both on Halloween and all year.
Practically every adult has memories of Halloweens gone by, tinged with shivery moments and fun with family and friends. Most remember the good times as opposed to the candy consumed. Grown-up trick-or-treaters probably serve their kids best by maintaining perspective and a common-sense approach to the holiday, rather than being scared of the candy their kids will consume.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.