As parents, there may be nostalgia and excitement associated with watching your children dress up in their individually selected costumes, while getting together with friends, and joining in on a community based tradition. On the other hand, you may be exasperated with the amount of candy that’s accumulated and the overindulgence your kids have of it. You may further dread your children’s awaited candy high and fret how enticed you’ll be by having all that candy around. It may inevitably result in you consuming more than you intended to.
I thought knowing about what kids genuinely appreciate about Halloween, I could make some suggestions on how to make it more enjoyable for all. Based on a poll I took of thirty kids ages 6-16, kids reported that the number one reason they looked forward to Halloween is to spend time with friends and dressing up. The second was because of the competition of accumulating an exorbitant amount of candy, and last was because they get to consume the candy.
During Halloween and in general, I think it’s important that we’re mindful about the way in which we portray candy and understand the way in which it physiologically impacts our children. Also, integral to the festivities, is finding best methods to deal with leftover candy so that your children can learn valuable lessons about their health and also about being generous and charitable. Taking all of this into account can contribute to enhancing the festivities for everyone.
First, take note of the way in which you talk about candy. When you use the terms “bad” food or “junk” food, kids are left feeling bad or guilty for selecting to put “junk” and “bad” foods into their body. It’s also confusing to kids. They may question why it’s so “bad” if it tastes so good. It perpetuates cycles of guilt and shame. Stick to the notion that all food choices are fine in moderation and it does not need to be lectured on, worried over, or obsessed about.
As a parent, you want to build up your child’s self-acceptance, self-love, self-compassion and integrity. To avoid the cycle of shame, self-loathing, and hopelessness, mindfulness around language needs to be considered and practiced. Being mindful of the way you use language to refer to, categorize, or frame food and eating will help facilitate healthier thinking around food and eating behaviors.
Second, recognize and help your kids realize that they can’t help but overeat candy. Very much in the way you may have difficulty fighting your sweet tooth so does your child. Research shows that 90 percent of the dopamine receptors in the reward center of the brain are activated in response to food cues. This compels us to want more and more hyperpalatable foods.[i] These are foods layered in salt, fat, and sweet flavors which are all proven to increase consumption when we eat them. Food manufactures know this and use it to keep you and your children hooked. Because young people are sensitive to the notions of social justice and autonomy, when they are made aware of this, they sometimes make wiser choices, as an act of defiance.[ii]
Research also shows that when given a choice rats were more attracted to sweetened water rather than cocaine or heroin. At the neurobiological level, the neural substrates of sugar appear to be more robust.[iii] In order to understand our biochemistry, when we consume glucose, a type of sugar, it spikes the blood sugar and creates a high insulin reaction. High insulin then blocks leptin, our appetite hormone so our brain doesn’t get the “I’m full” signal and instead thinks we are starving. Our pleasure-based reward becomes activated which drives us to consume more sugar. This explains why your child may have difficulty controlling their urges, especially during Halloween, when they are continuously exposed to candy and foods containing high levels of sugar.
You can explain to your child when we eat snacks riddled with sugar, salt and/or fat, that we have a hard time tapping into when we’re satiated which often causes us to want more and eat more than we intended to. You can use the example of never seeing them overdoing it on carrot sticks or apple slices but you may very well see them overeating potato chips, chocolate, cupcakes, and Halloween candy. You can provide them with an overview around their hunger cues and how they can be more conscious of when they’re hungry or thirsty.
You can additionally inform your child that food is a lifeline for their health and provides them with energy for which they can participate in sports, learn, and go trick-or-treating with their friends. Also, that there’s a difference in the types of foods they eat, and that although all foods provide them with energy, the healthier unprocessed foods are the ones that best supply them with vitamins, minerals, and other compounds that directly help them to achieve and maintain health. Some unhealthy foods, like candy, is fine to eat, as long as it’s eaten sparingly and in moderation and that it doesn’t crowd out essential nutritious healthy foods, which are far more important and necessary to achieve and maintain their health.
Third, be cognizant of the types of candy you choose to give out and receive. Opt for bite size portions whenever possible. There’s a big difference between a mini and regular size bars. A Snickers mini has 42 calories and 8 grams of fat, whereas a regular bar has 278 calories and 14 grams of fat. Also, always be careful of food allergies. As for some kids, any mistake, even a minor one, can prove to be fatal.
Because most traditional Halloween candies have artificial flavors, artificial colors, partially hydrogenated oils, and various types of sugar content (corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, etc.), consider making your own or selecting snacks with healthier ingredients. These ingredients include: dark chocolate, almond, cashew or sunflower seed butter, oats, quinoa, chia seeds, unsweetened shredded coconut, coconut oil, honey, dates, pure maple syrup, agave or stevia, peppermint oil, and vanilla extract. You can make healthier alternatives for your kids can indulge in (http://greatist.com/health/homemade-candy-recipes?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_content=story3_title&utm_campaign=daily_newsletter_2016-10-18_testB_20160817).
Forth, provide direct guidance with selection and portion control. For example, following their expedition, give them the option of selecting any three mini snacks for a period of three days, or you can have them decide how they’ll split up the nine candies that they selected. You can help them put it into snack size zip lock bags (it will appear more full and substantial), and for younger kids, you may opt for them to label and decorate them.
Fifth, find something charitable to do with your child to make effective use of the leftover candy. Present research reports that adolescents will be more likely to improve their health and engage in healthy behavior if the healthy behavior aligns with values which adolescents care about. This includes them feeling like a socially conscious, autonomous person worthy of approval from their peers. This is known to be effective motivation for adolescent behavior change.[iv]
Before Halloween you can express to your children that winning “the competition,” which seems considerably important to them, can benefit those that they’ll be donating their candy to. If they’re dressed up in a costume of a positive role model, you can ask them what their character would do with all of the leftover candy signifying their thoughtfulness and generosity.
You can make suggestions at their school that they accumulate all the leftover candy and donate it to soldiers (http://www.halloweencandybuyback.com/), soup kitchens, shelters, etc. You can also sell them in your neighborhood or at a sports event and ask for 25 cents per candy as a charitable donation and donate all the proceeds to a cause of your child’s choice.
With this, kids tap into their intrinsic values and do something that’s meaningful and purposeful while they’re celebrating. Kids tend to learn more openly and readily when this is the case. They transition from being solely self-motivated to being socially conscious, autonomous and charitable. This holiday can become a keen opportunity to further connect with your child and teach them about health, nutrition, and generosity.
[i] Gearhardt, A.N., Griol, C.M., DiLeone, R.J., et al. (2011). Can food be addictive: Public health and policy implications. Addiction, 106(7): 1208-1212. doi: 10.111/j.1360-0443.2010.03301.x.
[ii] Bryan, C. J., Yeager, D. S., Hinojosa, C. P., Chabot, A., Bergen, H., Kawamura, M., and Steubing, F. (2016). Harnessing adolescent values to motivate healthier eating. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 113 (39), 10830-10835. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1604586113
Ripley, A. (2016). Can teenage defiance be manipulated for good? The New York Times. September 12, 2016.
[iii] Lenoir, M., Serre, F., Cantin, L., & Ahmed, S.H. (2007). Intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward. PLOS ONE, 2(8): e698. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000698.
[iv] Bryan, C. J., Yeager, D. S., Hinojosa, C. P., Chabot, A., Bergen, H., Kawamura, M., and Steubing, F. (2016). Harnessing adolescent values to motivate healthier eating. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 113 (39), 10830-10835. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1604586113