Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Candy—An Annual Treat? You’re only tricking yourself.

Eat the candy. Break the rules!

Halloween candy doesn’t have to be scary. That is, if candy and sweets aren’t viewed as evil. We never called it junk food in my house. Junk food, by definition is high in calories and low in nutritional value. And while there may be little nutritional merit to candy, anyone who has ever eaten a fine piece of chocolate knows better than to call it junk. There is value in the form of pleasure that we get when we eat foods that taste good, and take the time to truly enjoy the experience. And in the scheme of things, it is better to allow ourselves to include these satisfying sweets—not just on Halloween, for one night, but throughout the year.

Halloween in our home

From their earliest years, after trick or treating, I had my kids place their candy in plastic bags, each marked with their names. We then placed their stash in a kitchen drawer, easily accessible to them. Candy was to be eaten in the kitchen—not with the TV, not in the bedroom—and they could opt to take a piece or two to have with their lunches at school as well. When they were hungry for a snack, they could opt for a Snickers, Kit Kat or whatever delighted them, perhaps with a glass of milk, eaten mindfully at the table.
It may be hard to believe, but their Halloween reserve lasted well into the next year, with the least desirable candies remaining until the following October. Unlike the approach taken by many, I did not restrict their access to candy, warn them that at the end of the week the rest would be thrown out, or send them (the candies, not the kids) to my husband’s office. As a result, I believe they trusted that the candy was going to be there. It was not “now or never” eating chocolate. And they were not told to finish their vegetables in order to earn their candy. And they never binged on candy, or anything else, for that matter.

When my kids were little, we never bribed them with candy, not even to potty train, as many parents do. Ok, that’s a lie. There was one time my husband and I decided to bribe our sons, then 5 and 7, to motivate them. It was their first really hard hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a trail up to almost 5,300 foot elevation, an almost 9 mile hike round trip. Seemed necessary at the time to hand out the Skittles one by one as they progressed along their challenging climb. While it’s definitely not my style to use food rewards, I must admit it worked. To this day, my boys have a love of hiking to great heights (although I’d caution that it wasn’t solely the result of the Skittles!)

This may seem like a crazy approach, legalizing junk food, but it works. It’s valuable for you, and if you have them, for your kids. And it’s not too late to change the system, to let go of the rules. As for weight management, where does that fit in with my freedom to eat candy? Perfectly! Restricting access to desirable and enjoyable foods hardly solves or improves our relationship with food. It increases demand, and makes us feel deprived. And even if you see some short term “success”, I caution you to look at the big picture. What was your experience around chocolate weeks later? How did you handle social eating situations when you finally had exposure and access to those beloved sweets? And did restricting these items, the junk food, solve your eating problems?

I return to that definition of insanity, referenced in a previous post. It makes no sense to maintain the same thinking and approach to eating hoping that this time it might work. Perhaps it’s time to sit down with a good piece of chocolate, add a glass of milk or chai tea, and truly enjoy it!

Happy Halloween!


  1. I absolutely could not agree more! We have basically the same approach to candy (and food) in our house. It seems to be working for my daughter. I have watched her choose strawberries over cinnamon buns and one of my favourite "achievements" as a parent is the utter failure of trying to bribe her with chocolate/candy to use the potty . No dice, she knew she could have it some other time!

    I find for myself, it is better to have something "sinful" in the house (my personal fav are chocolate pudding cups) for those times I really want it. What I find I struggle with is making sure I REALLY want it. Definitely prone to non-mindful snacking...I'll get there.

  2. Thanks for validating the success of this approach! And you're right--it does require eating mindfully, and in response to hunger, versus all the other reasons we eat. Look for an upcoming post on honoring your hunger I'm working on! Thanks for reading, commenting, and spreading the word about this blog!

  3. Thank you so much for this. I don't have kids yet, but I learned all the wrong lessons about food growing up. It's been rather painful and difficult to retrain myself as an adult, so I worry lots about how to avoid teaching my future children the same damaging lessons (not just about food, but food is one of the ones that baffles me the most). Until reading this, I had no idea where one would even begin with teaching kids healthy food habits ("now or never" was big with my parents, with meals as well as candy). I look forward to reading more like this in the future.

  4. You are so smart! I do allow my kids to eat all their lollies before they even get home...I figure, once it's gone it's gone. But I never realised that I was actually encouraging them to binge. Right, that stops this year. Although I do know that having lollies in the house will be difficult for me - but I will have to work that one out.

  5. Glad to hear I might be making a dent on future generations of eaters! Thanks for reading!

  6. My husband, kids, and I are in decent health, physically and mentally, and seem to have fortunate genes with regard to weight control. Yet I stumbled across your blog recently from someone else’s and was utterly absorbed. What you say with regard to food and attitudes rings true, especially as I’ve seen in other areas of my life. Law stirs rebellion, freedom stirs peace.
    Yet as I read your blog, I saw mistakes I’ve made with regard to my children and sweets. I’ve occasionally used candy to bribe. I once bought their Halloween candy back from them. I’ve required their eating a certain amount (not all, but usually half) of a meal before receiving dessert. On the plus side, I’ve never banned certain foods. We do have ice cream in the freezer and cookies on the shelf. Yet my kids have never been free to take a sweet without asking, and I usually don’t have candy on hand.
    So here’s my question and a request: would you consider a writing a blog post for those of us who have already made some mistakes, how we might right the ship? I think I’d like to start a candy-stash in the drawer of the refrigerator with wrapped candies, let it be available to the kids so long as they sit down with a napkin and throw away their wrapper. I’m afraid that if I were to do this right away, though, they might be like those rats going crazy on the lever after a period of reward-deprivation. Would it be better to gradually introduce this, perhaps by my offering them some of this candy on a daily basis before making it a free-for-all?
    Also, I’d love to know what age plays with regard to all this. My children are ages five and eight. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this and, if yours time allows, responding.