Halloween can be a tricky holiday for those of us trying to maintain healthy eating habits – from the bags of candy purchased in advance for trick or treaters to the leftovers and/or candy our kids come home with. And, when you think about it, Halloween is kind of a kick off to a whole season of sweet temptations leading up to the New Year. But, let’s start with what to do with that leftover Halloween candy, because these are strategies you can use for other occasions as well.

1. Out of sight, out of mind

If we’re being realistic here, it’s not as simple as just dumping the candy in the garbage, especially if it’s your child’s hard-earned haul. Studies have proven that we are more likely to eat treats if they are visible and readily accessible to us, even if we have healthy options in front of us, too. So store those candies away out of your sight so that they’re not constantly staring you in the face and tempting you. Somewhere like the back of a cabinet you rarely open or behind some healthier snacks are good places. This might cut down on how often your children beg for that candy as well….maybe…possibly…

2. Set limits

Having clear boundaries is critical for success in almost any situation. So set those boundaries for yourself and your family. I recommend agreeing to only keep the candy in the house for a week and then disposing of the leftovers by donating them for care packages, etc. I also strongly recommend setting limits for daily candy consumption as well. For the “fun size” candies, I suggest a limit of two per day for that week.

Now, the thing with boundaries is they only work if you stick to them. So it’s important to set those boundaries, make them clear from the outset, and stick to them, especially if your children give you pushback. Think of this as an opportunity to teach your kids about balance.

3. Donate the leftovers

If throwing out the leftovers doesn’t sit well with you (and I totally get that), find a way to donate that candy. In many communities, there are collections for military care packages, etc. Or maybe your college alumni association puts together final exam care packages for current students and they could use the candy. Lots of options out there beyond tossing it in the bin. An added bonus to donating leftover candy after a week is it’s a great chance to teach your kids about sharing and charity. Here is a listing of North Shore donation spots for your candy this year. 

4. Don’t beat yourself up

Most importantly, if you do overindulge, don’t beat yourself up about it. Getting down on yourself is a recipe for a downward spiral and kicking your own butt at the gym isn’t going to undo it – that’s just not how the human body works. The best thing you can do for yourself in situations like that is to own that you didn’t do what you had hoped you would and resolve to do better going forward. This is important not just for yourself but for your kids who, whether you know it or not, watch your every move and hear your every word. This is a chance to teach them how to love themselves and have a healthy relationship with food. Here are some more tips on what to do after you overindulge.

Bonus Advice: How to Talk about Food Choices with Your Kids

While we’re on the topic of setting an example for our kids, watching the language that you use around food is also really important. Dubbing some foods “bad” or saying they’ll “make you fat” can really hurt your child’s relationship with food going forward and can create feelings of shame or guilt around eating. At the same time, it is important to convey that some foods are healthier choices than others. So when you’re talking to children about why you’re giving away the leftover candy or limiting how much you eat, I suggest using language along the lines of:

This isn’t everyday food so we are only going to have a little and then share with some other people. Foods like fruits and vegetables help keep us from getting sick and help us do better in school, but candy doesn’t do any of those things for us so we don’t need to eat a lot of it. Instead we have a little and we focus on eating more of the foods that help us grow bigger and smarter.

Notice that the above example does not say that candy is bad for you or candy will make you sick, etc. It just says that we don’t need it and that other foods do more for us. So we can have a little but should focus on the things that help us the most.

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