INSIDE: Halloween, love it or hate it? Either way, it seems to get bigger and bolder every year. I want to let you in on why I love Halloween and think Halloween foods, including the abundance of Halloween sweets, can be good!
When you’re a dietitian, most people presume you’re the Grinch of Halloween!
But it couldn’t be further from the truth. I love Halloween so much because growing up in 80s rural Ireland, we missed out on Trick or Treating.
So, it’s extra special with my gang now in the suburbs. Although I must hand it to my Dad, he was a dab hand with the snap apple!
This is a stock image. My children don’t want little buckets, they want bin bags!
Can Halloween sweets be a learning opportunity?
A few years ago, one of my neighbours said she found it unusual that I didn’t limit how many sweets my kids ate at Halloween.
But think about it. If I used Halloween to talk about dental decay and insisted on binning things I didn’t like the look of, what message would I send?
As well as sucking the joy out of Halloween, I’m also demonising sugar and showing the kids that I don’t trust them around unlimited sweets.
Instead, I prefer to use Halloween as an opportunity to help my kids become more intuitive eaters. Letting them eat their fill on Halloween night shows them that I don’t fear food, nor should they.
Even when children relish a particular type of food, they have an off-switch. And that the natural consequence of overeating (even of foods you like) is not feeling great.
But most of all, it shows I trust them around eating food of all types.
The kids also have great fun sorting through their stash and giving away or swapping stuff they don’t like. This is another valuable learning point. Value the foods you enjoy rather than eating foods just because they’re there!
Do Halloween Sweets stress you out?
We hear so much about childhood obesity and dental health that it’s only natural to worry about your child eating too many sweets. Other parents tell me that they’re worried that their child will get sick or that they won’t want to eat any other foods that day.
Well, why not think of Halloween Sweets this way instead?
- Your kids can brush their teeth.
- Your kids don’t eat these foods all the time
- Maybe they will puke! The worst thing is it might be on the couch!
- Sugar isn’t toxic
- E number doesn’t equal harmful
- You can serve them alongside other foods
8 Steps to Enjoyable and Successful Mealtimes. This self-paced online course gives you practical, expert and proven strategies to help you raise a happy, competent eater and stay sane while you do it!
Here is my approach to Halloween as a dietitian mum.
Now you know I don’t have an issue with my kids eating Halloween sweets.
# 1: I don’t stress about dinner
I learned that dinner and Halloween in our neighbourhood don’t go together. Once that doorbell starts ringing, there’s no stopping them, which often interrupts our dinner, which means lots of wasted food.
So, now I offer them a filling after-school snack and don’t worry about dinner. There isn’t time. And a day without dinner isn’t going to harm anyone despite what we’ve been brought up to believe.
# 2: I NEVER talk about the food
This means NOT:
Slagging off what they get or labelling it ‘junk’ or ‘treats’. Although I moan about the plastic bags, I can’t help myself with all that waste!
# 3: I let them eat however much they like on Halloween night and the day after
Simple! I let them eat as much as they like from their stash. I’ve noticed over the years that they’re more stingy with themselves than I would be with them. So, trust your kids. Maybe they don’t need you micromanaging them.
This goes against common advice, even from some health agencies and dietitians. But from my professional development in Intuitive Eating and Responsive Feeding, I don’t see restriction as helpful in the long run for children.
Food is abundant in our world, and that will not change. Children need the skills to manage this. They won’t always have you standing by telling them what they can and can’t eat.
Also, telling children what they can’t eat or restricting their intake makes them want that food more.
#4: I Manage leftover sweets matter of factly
By now, there’s a good chance the younger kids don’t have anything left! So, we take whatever’s left and offer it at some meals and snacks over the rest of the holidays. In our house, it’s mostly all gone by the end of the mid-term break. But I know it can last a lot longer than this for others.
A note on being a considerate neighbour at Halloween
I’m not here to tell you what to give at your door. But to remind you that while it seems un-Irish to appear stingy, our sweet contribution is only a drop in the ocean to the total quantity of treats children will score on the night. So, more isn’t necessarily better.
In case you’re interested, here’s what I traditionally give:
- A fun-size chocolate bar
- A small bag of popcorn (for older kids). This is great because it’s large, making me look generous, and the kids appreciate something different.
- A satsuma Jack o lantern for little kids. I’d probably give them out to all, but my boys have made me swear I’ll only offer them to people under 5!
- I have some non-food treats on hand, too.
Some might say stingy, and I like to think considerate.
Are you brave enough to offer fruit as well as Halloween Sweets?
Every year, my sister warns me I’ll get ‘egged’ for giving out fruit. But 15 years on, and I’ve only been ‘egged’ once, and to be honest, I can’t link it directly to the fruit.
Here’s why I’m willing to run the risk of an egg being thrown at my windows:
With so much focus on ‘wellness’, it’s easy to forget that food is about much more than nutrition. Family traditions, food sharing with friends, and seasonal celebrations are as important as protein, vitamins and healthy fats!
So, while I don’t have an issue with Halloween sweets, I also like to celebrate with other foods, including those that bring back memories of Halloween’s past. So, bring on the Haribo jellies and chocolate, but why not include other traditional foods like satsumas, apples, barmbrack and nuts (best not to hand these out at the door, though)?
In the spirit of all foods being equal, why not celebrate with fruit, too? Just like we don’t want to put sweets on a pedestal, we also don’t want to downgrade other foods to bland everyday foods!
Managing food allergies at Halloween
As a mum to a food-allergic child, I know that Halloween can be more tricky when managing food allergies.
Although I don’t think my son ever felt excluded, and fortunately, we never experienced any slip-ups at Halloween despite his allergies to milk, eggs and peanuts. He’s still allergic to kiwi, but thankfully, it’s not something that traditionally ends up in his stash.
As a giver, here are a few things to bear in mind:
Keep some non-food treats on hand and put a poster on your door explaining you have ‘safe treats’. Places like Dealz or Euro Giant are great for picking up Halloween stickers, pencils, tattoos, glow sticks, and other novelty items. And always ask Trick or Treaters if they’re allergic to anything before putting it in their bag.
As the parent of a food allergic child, here’s what I used to do:
Visit the houses where people are aware of my son’s allergy. Every year, my lovely neighbour went out of her way to have ‘safe treats’ for my son. Alternatively, you can give safe treats to neighbours in advance. Tell your child not to eat until you check it out at home. Once you get home, swap out foods they can’t have with safe substitutes. But don’t try to trick them out of sweets; this isn’t fair!
Also, check out the Teal Pumpkin Project.
Halloween and messy food play are a match made in heaven.
Messy food play is a great way to expose kids to new foods without pressure.
Here are a few ideas:
- Make a Halloween sensory bin: I love that all you need for this one is rice, food dye, vinegar and spiders!
- Halloween Play Dough-scented and textured playdough is a great way to increase food acceptance later on (you’re not eating the play dough, but getting familiar with smells helps). Instead of pumpkin spice, try mixed spice, and instead of star anise extract, try fennel seeds!
- Snap apple– this traditional Halloween game is an excellent way to give apples to reluctant apple eaters. They don’t have to eat it, but they are trying to get up close and personal with it! You can do an adapted version of this with younger children where you put the apple on the table and get them to bite into it with their hands behind their backs.
- Other Halloween Games: Remember the flour game? And there’s a great game here with slimy spaghetti!
- Make a traditional barm brack- or buy one! But be careful with the ring inside!
READ MORE >>> Messy Food Play Ideas
Something new to try: Have you heard of the Switch Witch?
Have you heard of the ‘switch witch’? I hadn’t until a few years ago. We tried it a few years ago, and it worked out OK, but overall, it felt like too much hard work (and maybe a little controlling) for me.
It works by getting the kids to divide their ‘treats’ into two piles. One pile for the treats they love and the other for those they aren’t keen on. They leave this second pile out for the ‘Switch Witch’ who comes overnight and swaps the food for some non-food treats. The year we tried it, I changed the unwanted sweets for some sugar-free chewing gum (over five only) and money.
The idea behind the ‘switch witch’ (I think) is that it helps kids think about what they like and what they’re not bothered about eating. Think about all the times you’ve eaten something you aren’t enjoying just because it’s offered to you. Wouldn’t it be great if you had the awareness to pass?
If this idea appeals to you, then give it a try.
So, this is what works for my family and me; I’m not saying this is the correct way to do Halloween. You will know what works best for your family. But, whatever way you celebrate, I hope you all have a great Halloween!
INSIDE: Get answers to questions like how many eggs a baby can eat in a week, when I can introduce my baby to eggs, and how to serve them.It's 5 p.m., and you've forgotten to defrost your carefully batch-cooked meal (again!). You rush to the cupboard. And, phew, you...
Feeding toddlers is a challenge. Especially when suddenly you’ve got a 3-year-old who won’t eat dinners. Let’s look at why dinners are hard for toddlers and six ways to help improve your family’s mealtime experience.
There’s no shortage of fancy baby breakfast ideas around. But why not keep it simple? This blog shows you how to serve Weetabix for babies and why to feel good while you do it!