Your child comes home from trick-or-treating with a mammoth amount of fun-size candy bars, and you can already hear the begging, whining, and negotiating in the days ahead. You just want that pile gone so nobody has to deal with it. So you wait 24 hours for the sugar-hangover to wear off, let them have a few pieces, then take the rest to the office—or dump it in the trash.
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I know some parents go this route, and I understand the inclination. When my kids were younger, I did some stealth "candy relocation" myself. But I've since changed my tune. And if you're a serial Halloween candy-tosser, hear me out on why you should reconsider too. (I know that for kids with food allergies, as well as young children, getting rid of some kinds of candy is necessary to avoid allergens or choking risks.)
First, it's important to acknowledge that candy is a big part of Halloween—and that's okay. Clementine pumpkins and banana ghost pops have their place as a fun way to celebrate, and trinkets and gum are nice to pass out on Halloween night, too. But there's no doubt that for most kids, trick-or-treating and candy are the main event. Your child worked hard running from house to house to earn his loot. So when you just throw it away, it's confusing. Wasn't that the point of dressing up and going house-to-house, of sifting through the pile and trading favorites among friends or siblings—isn't that what they've been waiting for all month?
Throwing away your child's candy also sends a clear message: I don't trust you with this. And maybe you feel like you have good reason after a candy bender that ended with throwing up, candy wrappers found under the bed, or too many dinners ruined by candy "appetizers."
But kids who worry their parents will take their stash may end up sneaking and hiding candy—or believing the message that they can't be trusted around candy or other sweets. And if your kids are going to be successful in a world where treats are virtually everywhere, they need to learn the skills to manage those foods. Halloween candy is a great place to start.
So how do you do that? I've got some ideas.
Consider letting your child enjoy trick-or-treat without interference. (Again, I know this is different for children with food allergies and very young children.) This strategy may involve some bellyaches, but that's part of the learning process. I let my kids eat as much as they want on Halloween night. If they feel sick, we talk about how overeating (especially rich foods) can cause that.
Conjure up the Switch Witch. Once the kids are asleep on Halloween night, the Switch Witch arrives, takes some of the candy, and replaces it with something else like a toy. It's an idea I got from a neighbor years ago, and it's a way to help your child whittle down their stash to their very favorites. Keep in mind that this is supposed to be fun and something your kid wants to do; the Switch Witch shouldn't be a punishment or requirement.
Make a plan together. The day after trick-or-treating, talk about what you think is a reasonable way to handle the rest of the candy. Does one or two pieces a day sound doable? Would your child prefer to pack them in her lunch box or enjoy them at home?
Take away some of the power. Candy isn't the end-all-be-all when it's readily available. Two strategies you might consider trying: serving the candy along with dinner (yes, she may eat it first before moving on to the rest of the meal, and that's okay!) or occasionally offering as much as she wants at snack time. Those approaches come from feeding expert and dietitian Ellyn Satter and both are designed to build trust and neutralize the power of treat foods. I've tried both strategies, and though they're scary at first, I found them very helpful and effective.
Ask, don't steal. Parents pilfering their kids' Halloween candy is a longstanding joke, but I encourage you to ask first so your child doesn't have to feel obsessive or protective of her stash. Your child gets more practice sharing—and you get something sweet!
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a Contributing Editor and registered dietitian who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids and Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.