As we enter the sweet season, parents are worried kids might indulge their way to obesity by gobbling up too many Halloween candy. But having a little fun with candy once a year will not lead to childhood obesity, says Ken Haller, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University.
Halloween is a social time and kids want to be a part of their peer group by enjoying the perks of the holiday season. Haller says it's OK for parents to allow their kids to be part of this holiday spirit.
"Eating candy on Halloween is like taking a vacation, kids should not make it a habit," said Haller. "After the holiday they should feel like they have had enough candy and be willing to go back to their regular diet."
Haller says a parent should be in charge of deciding how many candy kids can have during Halloween. While eating candy are an important part of the culture and socialization during this holiday, parents also do not want their kids to end up in hospital emergency rooms with tummy aches.
An important lesson to teach kids this holiday season, Haller says, is eating in moderation. When kids come back from their grand trick or treating rounds, parents can go through their load of candy, portion them out, save some for the week, while freezing the rest for later. Parents should also feel free to knock out the ones that are very high in calories, especially ones with high fructose corn syrup content.
"Parents can have a discussion about this. Kids don't have to eat everything that comes back with them," Haller said. "None of these candy are wildly unhealthy or poisonous, they are just not nutritious."
If parents don't want their kids to eat all the candy at once, they can playfully communicate the message to them and avoid being strict about it. Kids want to know parents are on their side and are more likely to listen to them if they are positive about it.
"If parents are pleasant, upbeat and enthusiastic about how much candy their kids can have, kids might accept what they are advocating," Haller said.
Another way to minimize the amount of sweets kids eat is for parents to introduce them to the concept of sharing.
"Halloween candy can be used to teach kids an important ethical lesson -- we need to share with the ones who don't have what we do," Haller said. "This practice of sharing can be an introduction to Thanksgiving and then Christmas."
Lastly, it never hurts to remind kids about healthy dental habits. Haller says Halloween can be a good time to reinforce in kids a daily habit of brushing their teeth.
"Halloween is a great time for parents to buy their kids a brand new toothbrush," he said.
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