Tis the season for sweets and treats right?…With Halloween just around the corner at this time of year our children are privy to more sweets than usual….so how as parents do we balance this out?
Rather than limiting sweets and feeling guilty about how much children are eating, (or us parents taking halloween candy), here is what we should be doing.
This article will change the way you think about sweets and treats for our children.
Stop feeling guilty
As parents we want our children to be healthy and well and too many sweets can often feel like we’re doing just the opposite, we ask ourselves questions like:
Should I be firmer at saying “no more”?
Should I bribe them into eating a piece of fruit for every 10 sweets they consume??
Maybe I should slave for hours over healthy winter casseroles or sauces stuffed full of hidden vegetables to make sure they get their vitamin fill?
Trick or Treat season might be upon us but my advice is to ditch the parent guilt, it’s better not to trick your kids with hidden veggies and instead allow them freedom with treats this Halloween.
Let them gorge on sweets and chocolate if they want to. It’s ok if they eat till they make themselves sick!
This experience will be an important lesson for your children and stand them in really good stead for a future with a positive relationship with food.
Let me explain.
Why it’s ok for children to overindulge
Sweet foods are highly desirable to children, it’s an evolutionary thing as babies are born with mature sweet taste buds to help them seek out the breast for survival, but this sweet desire stays with them right throughout their childhood.
Allowing freedom with sweet foods will teach your children that these foods are just food, like pasta or carrots.
Because when children are restricted from highly desirable foods, they learn that those foods are ‘special’ and this makes them all the more desirable.
They also learn that restriction means ‘forbidden’ or ‘bad’ and so whenever the opportunity arises, children will overindulge, they just can’t help it.
And because they have learned that these foods are forbidden or bad they will feel bad, guilty and shameful after eating them.
We also know that children who are restricted from eating sweets and chocolate tend to carry more weight as adults and they also lose their internal appetite regulation. They don’t sense when they are full.
And those feelings of guilt and shame can also lead to disordered eating in vulnerable young people.
What happens when you restrict sweets at Halloween and give healthy options like satsumas and celery instead
At Halloween, I often see this problem arise because children who aren’t allowed to join in with the sweets and treats feel even more restricted and isolated.
They are not immune to others eating those foods and can feel resentful of their parents when they can’t join in. I’ve seen this lead to parent-child battles in the food/feeding relationship.
I love the idea of creating spooky healthy snacks for Halloween parties like apple monster teeth or banana ghosts, but in my experience part of the fun is door to door trick or treating and getting fun size chocolate bars and sweets.
Children love to come home, check out their haul of goodies and eat them. I don’t think there would be quite as much fun with satsumas or homemade healthy snacks.
But isn’t restricting sweets and treats just part of healthy eating?
It’s up to parents to decide when is the right time for children to eat foods like chocolate and sweets.
One night of overindulgence isn’t going to lead to any huge health problems, but if this was encouraged on a daily basis, that would be a different story.
Parents should come up with what their family’s routine ‘sweet strategy’ is. For some it might be a small portion with dinner every night as dessert, for others, it might be after school on Fridays.
I’d encourage parents to regularly include sweets and chocolate in their kids diet so that they don’t feel restricted, but to do this in a managed way.
A good rule of thumb is the 10% rule so 90% of the time kids get healthy wholesome meals and snacks and 10% of the time is for those ‘fun foods’.
Change your language around sweets
It’s best not to call sweets ‘treats’.
A treat suggests that sweet foods have a higher value than other foods and we don’t want children to grow up placing a higher value on sweet, less healthy foods.
For kids to grow up having a healthy relationship with food, they need to learn that there is a time and place for all types of food.
And of course, the word ‘treat’ suggests it’s special or rarely given, which of course makes it highly desirable.
One night of overindulgence won’t lead to obesity
There is no doubt that our body shapes are changing and that over time children are getting heavier, but there are many factors involved and one night of switching sweets to homemade healthier snacks isn’t really going to solve the issue.
We know that children carrying additional weight is not just about food or activity levels. And in fact, the impact of restricting sweet foods makes them more desirable to kids and so could actually make the obesity problem worse in the long run.
What happens if they don’t eat their dinner because they’re full up on sweets?
Remember, as a parent, you’re still in charge of the what, where and when when it comes to your children’s meals and snacks.
Still serve your usual nutritious meals at Halloween just like every other day of the week, then after dinner let them indulge in their Halloween sweets.
Doesn’t too much sugar make kids go hyperactive?
No! This is a myth and there is no evidence that supports a link between sugar intake and hyperactive behaviour.
What about Halloween candy for toddlers and babies?
If we’re talking about under 2’s its best avoided. Even chocolate which some people think is better than sweets, you can read my chocolate blog here is you are wondering about when to introduce it to your little one.
Because babies are born with a sweet tooth, they automatically have a preference for sweet foods, and this doesn’t need to be encouraged. Some little ones will reject all other foods in preference for the sweet stuff and before you know it you have a fussy eater.
Also consider that some sweets and candies are a choking hazard, especially boiled sweets, peanut M&M’s, caramels, gum drops, jelly beans and even chewy gummy sweets.
Non-candy gifts are a much better option in my opinion.
How my children enjoy Halloween
Charlie 15 and Maisie 13 go trick or treating with their friends, they come home and sort through their piles of sweets on the lounge carpet and then eat them.
We’ve practiced not restricting foods their whole life and so they will often swap what they don’t like with their friends and eat as many as they want, saving the remainder for another day.
They understand now how to self regulate but they didn’t at first and we did end up with some tummy aches from over indulgence, but that’s not been a bad thing!
I believe that our role as parents is not to coddle our children but to let them face the natural consequences of life, but in a safe and supported way.
Take a moment to consider where your fears and beliefs around eating too many sweets come from.
Many of us learned this from our own childhoods and we may even have been told that if we ate too many sweets we might get fat, we might lose our teeth, we might be unhealthy… plenty of scary stories, that all amount to one thing.
The way we raise our children around food today.
A lot of parents tell me that many of these messages that they grew up with during their childhood lead to traumatic relationships with food, disordered eating or constant dieting.
These are just generational eating habits and messages that have been passed down from one generation to the next but now we know better, we can address this and ensure we don’t pass this onto our kids. Managing your own food beliefs is one of the pathways that I teach in my Happy Healthy Eaters Club, drop me a line if you want to learn more.