We’re all about Halloween in our house. My girls love all the fun Halloween activities, they love picking out their costumes and dressing up, and they love, love, love all the candy.
And I don’t know about you, but I love all the candy too – Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, Nerds Gummies, M&Ms (of any variety) – I’m a big fan. And as a pediatric dietitian, I want my kids to explore and love all foods, too – yes, even candy.
As parents, our number one priority is to raise healthy kids and an important part of raising healthy kids is cultivating a healthy relationship with food. Sure, candy isn’t going to offer the same nutrients as other foods but candy is a part of life so instead of vilifying it and leading to confusion for our concrete-thinking kiddos, let’s shift our mindset to how we can help our kids learn to enjoy candy not just for its delicious taste, but for the fun, joy, and memory making opportunities it offers. And for you as a parent, the learning opportunities too!
As parents, our number one goal is to raise healthy kids, right? A big piece of that is helping them form a healthy relationship with food. Now, we all know candy isn’t exactly on the list of top nutritious foods, but let’s face it, candy is sprinkled all throughout life’s fun moments. So instead of giving it the villain tag, which may confuse our literal-minded concrete thinkers, why not shift gears a bit? Let’s help our kiddos find joy in candy, not just for its deliciousness, but for the fun, the laughter, and the awesome memories it’s part of. PLUS, candy is an amazing educational tool!
So let’s chat about how can we make sure our kids enjoy Halloween and how we can use it for playful teachable moments.
Here are some tips for navigating candy this Halloween in a way that keeps it food and body-positive, and most importantly, fun!
Try letting them eat as much Halloween candy as they want
I know it may be tempting to want to limit how much candy they eat, but I actually encourage you to let them try eating as much as they want. Why? Because when we tell our kids they can’t have something, it often backfires and makes them want it even more.
Part of developing a healthy relationship with food is to treat all foods equally. You can help your kiddos develop a healthy relationship with food (and candy) by allowing them to enjoy without the feelings of restriction, shame, or guilt, and listen to their own bodies. Not only does this build lifelong trust in self-regulating candy consumption, it also creates a food-neutral environment making candy feel like just another food – no need to binge or horde!
Don’t shy away from letting them have “too much” on occasion, as it’s a pathway for them to intrinsically connect with how that feels in their own bodies. A couple of candy-rich days won’t make or break their nutrition, but it can lay the foundation for learning how to self-regulate.
There’s no need to play the 20-questions game about how their body feels or if their belly is doing somersaults. However, if a tummy-ache does make an entrance, a soft inquiry about what they think caused it can spark those internal connections. Guiding them to tune into their own body cues is key; it’s their little roadmap to understanding what ‘too much’ feels like. This approach not only empowers them but also builds autonomy, nurturing their confidence in making food choices.
The heart of the matter is, their body is their own wonderful domain, and we’re just the external cheerleaders, not the food referees. Sharing your own sensations when you’ve had a candy spree can be enlightening, but let’s cap it there. The aim is to keep the dialogue open, light, and supportive, paving the way for self-aware, candy-wise kiddos!
Instead of making candy off-limits, let them enjoy it and have as much as they want. Then, once the candy is gone, it’s gone.
Of course, if your child has any food allergies, be sure to check the labels on the candy before letting them eat it. And if your child is younger than 4 years old, avoid candy that is a choking hazard such as hard candy, taffy, and caramel!
Learn how to create candy boundaries without vilifying it
It’s not always about what you say, it’s about what kids hear.
A food-neutral or food-positive approach isn’t about allowing your kids to eat candy non-stop for days on end. But it is about helping them consciously learn to enjoy all foods while also listening to their bodies. And just as we set boundaries for screen time or bedtime, we can set some boundaries around candy while still making it accessible. But that can be hard to do without making candy seem like a “bad” food or an “unhealthy” food.
Changing your phrasing for how you refer to candy is key to presenting candy neutrally. This supports your kids in establishing a healthy relationship with food and building lifelong body trust around candy. Plus, it can help prevent a meltdown when they don’t have a scarcity mindset around their hard-earned candy.
Here are some tips:
🌟 Instead of calling it “bad,” “unhealthy,” or “junk” ➡️ Try calling each candy by its name or just call it candy.
🌟 Instead of blaming candy or sugar for behavior ➡️ Try taking a step back and chatting about what’s been going on in their day and how they’re feeling.
🌟Instead of controlling the quantity of candy your child can have at a meal or snack ➡️ Try placing a candy bowl on the table with meals and snacks so they can help themselves. *This isn’t a free-for-all of candy all day every day, it’s making them available to enjoy with meals and snacks.
Use Halloween candy as a way to explore new foods
There’s so much variety when it comes to Halloween candy. It’s a great way to explore new tastes and textures with your kids. Not only is this a fun activity to do together as a family, but it encourages kids to slow down and focus on the candy itself, versus the excitement of Halloween or having more access to eat candy.
To do a simple Halloween candy taste test, and invite them to become candy “critics.” Gather a few different types of candy (or dump your candy bin) and have your kids taste each one. As they’re tasting, ask them to notice the different flavors, textures, and smells. It’s perfect for identifying likes and dislikes about textures and flavors, helping them enjoy more of the candy they love and skipping the ones they don’t!
Our Food Explorer Mats are a great, child-led way to do this activity and work on their fine motor skills in the process. You can also have them rate each candy with the smiley face hedonic scale!
Do fun things with the Halloween candy that doesn’t necessarily involve eating it
Halloween is a whirl of whimsy and excitement. Kids put in the legwork, from costume, and prepping to door-to-door trekking, earning their sweet stash fair and square! Yet, the joy of candy isn’t just in the eating. It’s also in the colorful wrappers, the fun shapes, and the shared giggles over favorites and not-so-favorites. The magic of Halloween candy can extend beyond the taste buds, weaving into the playful spirit of the season.
Help your kiddos celebrate their candy stash with some fun games and STEAM activities like a scoreboard candy toss into their trick-or-treat bucket, make your own candy necklace, or build a candy tower! I love weaving in some math for all ages from simple sorting and graphing to addition/subtraction, patterns, and sequencing, or fun science experiments!
The options are really endless, and it’s a fun way to get creative with your kids while still celebrating candy with a fun learning experience. And when they’re done playing, they can always come back and eat more later.
So this Halloween, let’s unwrap the joy in every candy wrapper, savor the shared laughter, and foster a sweet beginning to a lifelong, joyful relationship with food—one colorful candy at a time.