This time of year, I get quite a few questions from parents as to how I handle halloween candy in my family. For families navigating any sort of mental health struggles and ADHD, this can be quite a anxiety-provoking and stressful time for parents. For kids - well, not so much until after the blood sugar crash!
My best advice is a little planning ahead, a few fmily conversations and being conscious of how we talk about all the candy with our kids. Here are my 5 tips for navigating this sweet (but sometimes sour) time of the year:
Tip 1: Load 'Em Up on Protein
One of my favourite strategies for dealing with food with my family involves the Division of Responsibility (Ellyn Satter). It's basically a process where, as parents, we adopt the philosophy that we are only responsible for what, where and when food is offered.
That's it. The rest is up to them.
This advice is especially important for children with ADHD as they may be more sensitive to blood sugar fluctuations and the impact of nutrition on their focus and behaviour can be quite apparent. Any pressure regarding food can trigger oppositional behaviour, so adopting a poker face and allowing them to choose what and how much of what is offered, or not (and not worrying about it) is one way through. Even if they don't actually eat all the foods we desperately want them to.
Start October 31st (or any day for that matter) with a balanced breakfast filled with lots of protein, healthy fats and fibre to help to stabilize their energy levels and reduce the risk of sugar-induced mood swings later in the day.
A few options can be:
nut/seed butter on sprouted or sourdough toast with fruit
scrambled/boiled eggs with fruit and homemade protein muffins
greek yogurt parfait with granola, pumpkin seeds and frozen berries
homemade high protein spinach waffles topped with yogurt or cottage cheese
If none of these are options your child will eat - just get protein in them any way you can. It might be popping some meatballs in the oven at 7 am or giving them cheese or pepperoni sticks on the way to school in the car. Whatever works!
In the gap between school halloween festivities and trick-or-treating, offer an early dinner or hearty snack with protein and/or healthy fats as the focus. This will help to regulate their appetite and reduce the temptation to overindulge in sugary treats later in the evening.
One of my favourite ways to do this is by offering a range of foods in a cupcake/muffin tin. It's an easy option, especially in the chaos of getting costumes on, make-up done and the excitement of the entire evening.
Offer a range of finger-food-based healthy protein options:
deli turkey roll ups, meatballs, cheese, roasted chickpeas, pumpkin/sunflower seeds,, almonds, brazil nuts grilled chicken strips, steak bites, air-fryer tofu/ tempeh
I also suggest filling it with with raw or lightly steamed veggies:
broccoli, carrots, edamame, or even things like frozen peas or green beans.
Add a range of fruit choices:
apple slices, banana pieces, berries, etc.
As well as some healthy energy/fibre finger foods:
leftover sweet potato fries, seed crackers (I love Mary's), rice crackers, rice cakes or Annie's bunnies or cheese squares
The hardest part is not the action of putting this food together - it's letting your kids choose what and how much they want to eat.
Put the cupcake tray down and walk away. Don't look back. Trust me! You'll be surprised at what and how much they eat without being prompted.
Tip 2: Don't Make Candy The Enemy
Don't stress over the sugar intake on Halloween night. Candy is a big part of Halloween - and that's actually okay. It's natural and normal to celebrate occasions with food - we've done this for thousands of years! I know that's a lot to wrap your head around. This happens once a year and it's not the end of the world. I promise. Even for kids with anxiety, ADHD and sensitive nervous systems.
So if you demonize Halloween candy or ask your kid to give it all away, you are sending the wrong message about food. Your child worked hard running from house to house to earn their candy haul.
This is the ONE tip I would put the most emphasis on:
Do your best to avoid making halloween candy inaccessible, forbidden or bad.
Worrying about how much candy your child consumes can rob both you and your child the joy of the entire day. Trying to control children's access to 'treat' or 'junk' foods, like Halloween candy (in the Intuitive Eating community, we call this action the 'food police'), can lead to very counterproductive outcomes long-term: difficulties with self-regulation, emotional eating, and disordered-eating behaviours.
It's essential to let your kids enjoy candy as part of the fun without imposing restrictions - so just take the pressure off - everyone. You'd be surprised at how much less they will want it when they know they can have it (reverse psychology - it's a real thing).
Tip 3: Halloween Candy Haul Hoops
Parent's also ask about how much candy on halloween night is too much. My advice is always to err on the side of what works best for your family, but personally, we try not to restrict and allow them whatever they'd like on Halloween night (remember the 'food police').
If they feel sick, we talk about about how overeating can cause tummy-aches and how we need to remember this feeling for next time.
The other habit we've gotten into is pairing that candy with a protein or healthy fat.
A handful of pumpkin seeds, leftover roast chicken pieces, an avocado smoothie with protein powder - basically anything that will support the slower digestion of all those simple sugars will lessen the impact of the inevitable blood sugar crash that can contribute to mood instability and ADHD symptoms.
After the trick-or-treating festivities are done, sit down with your family, dump out their haul and spread it out, together.
Create two different stations, or HOOPS (think basketball), using bowls, baskets or bins. One bowl for 'pass' and one bowl for 'keep'. Encourage your kids to put (or throw, depending on your preference!) candy in either.
The pass bin should be for candy that is 'not their favourite' while the 'keep' bowl should be their absolute favourites. Encourage them to talk about why specific pieces are so tasty and why others may not be.
This activity really helps them think carefully about their food choices: narrowing down their favourites while reducing the overall stash.
The Switch Witch Option
This is one can be a bit controversial, but works for many families.
The Switch Witch is a friendly witch who arrives on Halloween night after bedtime. She takes the candy and exchanges it for a coveted toy, book or special non-food item.
My opinion? If we send away all the candy - you are sending the message that candy is bad.
We want to avoid labeling food as good as bad. We want to send the message that our kids can be trusted around the candy.
So, instead of 'pass' pile create a 'Switch Witch' pile.
This option teaches kids to put value on what they really enjoy - and not to waste time on what they don't like. Think about all the times we've eaten leftover pizza just because it's there.
Putting priority on our favourite foods is a skill we need to give our kids in this world where food is accessible in an instant.
The Switch Witch option should be a something your kids want to do and it shouldn't be forced upon them - they should be the ones to choose this option.
Phew! I know that's a lot to take in… And I do have 2 more tips for you. I'll post the rest in a few days. In the meantime, feel free to download a few: Healthy Halloween Snack Recipes Perfect for any spooky festivities over the weekend!
Curious about holistic nutrition can do for you and your family?
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BA Hons., B Ed., RHN, CNE, OCT
Metabolic Balance® Coach
Intuitive Eating Counsellor Candidate
Care-Informed & Health At Every Size® (HAES®) Nutritionist