It's safe to say that Halloween is at the top of the holiday list when it comes to the general easiness of the day — let your kid pick out their favorite costume, go trick-or-treating, and you're golden. Which is why worrying about kids eating Halloween candy doesn't exactly seem to fit, right? After all, it doesn't take a lot of coaxing for your kid to scarf down their favorite foil wrapped chocolate bars or a bag of that-color-definitely-isn't-natural candies. But this is the tale of another spooky parenting issue: What do you do when your picky eater wants to skip dinner and eat Halloween candy? Well, experts say your consciously selective eater can still enjoy the fruits of their trick-or-treating efforts, it just takes a little preparation.
"I recommend parents provide their children with an early dinner or a mini-meal before heading out to trick-or-treat," Amy Shapiro, a registered dietitian and founder and director of Real Nutrition NYC, tells Romper in an email interview. "Once they are out the door and candy is in their sight, it will be harder to get them to not eat it. If they head out with a belly filled with a balanced meal and provided when they are hungry, parents can relax a little."
Shapiro, who is also an advisor to Fresh Bellies kid food, says sending your little ones out with a full belly can also help you to avoid meltdowns. "Once they start eating candy, they won’t be hungry for real food, and trying to get them to eat after they have had candy or eat something healthy instead of candy is the perfect set up for a tantrum, argument, and frustration," she says.
If you can't get your child to eat dinner or a balanced meal before heading out to trick-or-treat, then Shapiro recommends keeping a healthy snack on hand so they have an option when they do become hungry. "Or if your child drinks milk, or likes fruit, veggies and hummus, or cheese sticks, serve their candy with a healthier food," she says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends setting an example for your picky eater by sitting down to eat as a family and even involving them in meal planning so they can become interested in the process. And, of course: "Just because a child refuses a food once, don't give up," the AAP website noted. "Keep offering new foods and those your child didn't like before."
Shapiro also emphasizes that it's important for parents to keep in mind that sugar is OK in moderation. In fact, banning sweets entirely could have the opposite effect on your kids. "If you deprive your children of anything, they will find it one day down the road and likely eat too much of it when they do," she says. "Sure, when they are little you have total control over what they eat, but once they are old enough to go over to a friend's house, they’ll find it."
Instead, Shapiro recommends teaching kids to have a little bit of something sweet, and explaining why it's important to not have sugar on an empty stomach. "I also never recommend bribing children with dessert," she says. "Keep serving sizes small, don’t talk about how it is a 'treat' — just enjoy it as a food and move on."
Another tip you might want to try? Keep the candy out of sight to avoid having your kids repeatedly ask for it. "Out of sight, out of mind," she says. "If they don’t see it, they won’t remember to ask for it." Which, let's be honest, is a tactic that can benefit both little and big kids alike.
Amy Shapiro, registered dietitian, founder and director of Real Nutrition NYC