Why parents shouldn’t be spooked by Halloween candy

It’s the perfect time to teach your kids about sugar, says UAlberta dietitian, who offers five tips.


The word “moderation” is not generally associated with Halloween’s haul of sugar-laden treats.

But Sabina Valentine, a registered dietitian with the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health Centre for Health and Nutrition, says it’s the perfect time to have important conversations with kids about healthy eating.

“Halloween is a really good opportunity to talk to kids about how to eat food in healthy ways,” she said. “Of course, trying to eat in moderation is a lot more difficult than it seems. But as a dietitian who counsels adults, I can tell you that it is much easier to learn when we are young.”

Why Halloween’s an exception

Over the past decade, there’s been a rise in major health concerns that were never seen in kids, like Type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and it’s been attributed to really high sugar intake, primarily sugar sweetened beverages, explained Valentine.

“This has created a culture of fear around sugar. Some parents restrict sugar intake altogether. But that can backfire, too, causing kids to adapt by hiding or sneaking food, which can lead to unhealthy eating patterns.”

The recommendations by the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation is to limit added sugars to less than 10 per cent of our daily calorie intake. A good rule of thumb is the American Heart Association recommendation, pointed out Valentine—just six teaspoons of sugar a day (or one cup of pop).

As long as you are working toward that intake most of the time, Valentine said, Halloween is the one night of the year you can ease up.

“One night of eating candy is not the cause of obesity,” she explained. “It’s what you do the other 364 days of the year. After the first night’s novelty wears off, then you can get back to work teaching moderation.”

Here’s how.

De-emphasize food. At Halloween, Valentine encourages her kids to focus on the fun aspect of dressing up and trick or treating, not competing for how much candy one gets or eats. “Emphasize the social aspect,” she said. The same goes for any holiday we typically associate with food and, often, overeating (namely, Christmas).

Trust kids to make healthy choices. After the night of candy bingeing is over, put the Halloween candy in a bowl on the kitchen counter and encourage kids to eat only a few pieces a day, said Valentine. “Set reasonable limits and come up with a plan with your kids so they take responsibility for their own eating.”

Teach body cues. Should kids overindulge on the trick-or-treat loot, use the tummy ache as an opportunity to explain how to listen to your body. “Let them know that when they feel full, they should stop eating. The body knows what it needs,” said Valentine.

Nip boredom eating in the bud. “When my kids are bored, they head straight for the fridge.” Valentine’s solution is to have everyone in the family list 10 things they really enjoy doing in place of eating and put that on the fridge. The reminder is a simple tool to prevent senseless eating. You can put the same list in front of the Halloween candy bowl.

Watch for excessive eating. Once kids hit their tweens and teens, especially, if you find them overeating any type of food, it’s important to continue conversations about eating in moderation, but also ask whether they have any emotional concerns, said Valentine. “Often kids can’t vocalize feelings at that age. Maybe they had a bad day at school. And they reach for food because it makes them feel warm and fuzzy.”

Valentine suggested talking about feelings and giving kids alternatives to manage stress. “Your main goal is to help them create only healthy relationships with food.”