Last year was the first year that we had to give Halloween some thought in terms of candy consumption with our girl. And let me tell you, deciding how to handle a holiday that centers around candy was harder than I imagined. If you're in the same situation, this post—which I'm separating out by age—might help.
1 year-old-toddlers: For the most part, if you choose to ignore the candy part of Halloween, your 1 year won't notice. (Okay, if they have older siblings and they are closer to 2 they might!) We focused on the costume, which of course L refused to wear on Halloween, and kept bedtime the same, so she missed the whole candy hoopla. I realize that for some of you, you may want to take your 1-year-old trick or treating, to which I say, go have fun! I'd still try to downplay the candy though or simply give a taste or two of an easy to eat candy, like a small piece of soft chocolate or a lollipop you can help them hold, and call it good.
2-year-old toddlers: A 2 year old will have a much clearer sense of what Halloween (and birthday parties, for that matter) is all about. They will almost always know there is candy involved, so you'll have to decide how to handle their loot if you go trick or treating. Last year, L went twice (lucky girl!) and got to choose one piece of candy each time, which she was amazingly okay with. She didn't focus on the candy and she wasn't upset when her daddy took it to his students the next day. It probably helped that there was also a Halloween party in there with lots of cookies! Some other ideas for the candy:
- Let them pick a few to keep, then trade the rest in for money or a toy at the dentist.
- Let them pick a few to keep, then trade the rest in to you for a book.
- Let them pick a few to eat on the holiday, then let them pick a treat to have with a meal on days after (if they remember it).
I know that others may feel differently, but since a 2-year-olds memory is fairly short, I don't think it's necessary to let them enjoy their entire haul. I never advocate restricting food, but toddlers at this age only have so much willpower, so I'd rather let them enjoy the holiday and move on.
3-year-old toddlers: The game changes more with a 3 year old, that's for sure. L has been talking about Halloween for weeks and has proudly declared that she has no intention of sharing. (I plan to do my best to convince her to share a peanut butter cup with me regardless!) She knows that she'll get candy while trick or treating and she will not forget about her loot the following day. 3 year olds do, however, have the ability to reason (at least a bit) and to delay gratification. Which means that despite them being much more all in, you have more options.
- Let them eat the candy they want to on the holiday, then have once piece with a meal each day after until the candy runs out.
- Let them choose a certain number of pieces of candy on the holiday (such as 3 because they are 3!), and do a piece of candy every few days with dinner. This spacing will help prevent the candy with dinner part from becoming a set routine that you then have to break.
- Let them eat the candy they want on the holiday, and do the same the following day. Then put the candy away, but let them choose a piece or two to have with meals occasionally after (for the same routine reasons as above).
The key with any of those options would be to explain the rules, and reexplain them as needed, so that your child knows what to expect. Like feeding expert Ellyn Satter, delaying the candy until mealtime, rather than having it available whenever and possibly taking the place of other nutritious foods, helps it not become too powerful. You are trying to avoid putting these foods on a pedestal so that they are all that your child wants. Instead, you want to serve them in moderation and let your child learn how to self-regulate, since that's the skill they will need to know how to do for years to come.
Think it won't work? Here's what happened in our house the other day.
L got a box in the mail from my mom with a few Halloween treats including three packages of Bunny Treats which are her very favorite. She opened the mail about an hour before dinner and while I know that a few fruit snacks won't ruin her appetite, I choose to make her wait until dinner to have a package. She agreed and put them onto the table by her placemat. An hour later, she ate them in between bites of pizza and peas.
The next day, while we were out of the house, I discovered that she had put the other two packages into her little purse. She asked if she could have some mid-morning, and I said that she could have them with lunch. Again, she was okay waiting. Since then, she's totally forgotten about the third package.
All of this is to say that when we let kids learn that treats are just another food, and a food that we have less often than our healthy, growing food, they won't become as powerful. They aren't off limits, they aren't forbidden, but they are simply a special food that's eaten within a structure. Kids should be given the chance to enjoy holidays—even when the holiday in question includes sugar—and you shouldn't have to feel like the food police.
How do you guys handle Halloween candy in your house? There was a really great conversation in our Facebook Group on this topic, so come join us if you want to discuss more!