Newswise — While Halloween, with all its candy and treats, may be a child's dream come true, it can turn into a nightmare for parents who have been touting the benefits of healthy eating the rest of the year.
How do you keep your kids from devouring all that candy in one sitting? It takes a bit of planning, says Connie Diekman, R.D., director of University nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and president of the American Dietetic Association.
"Start ahead of time," suggests Diekman. "The day before Halloween start talking to your kids about all the treats they are going to get. Talk about how fun it would be to divide up candy so it can be enjoyed over several days."
Diekman says dividing the candy into small packages allows the child something to look forward the next day and in the next few weeks. That way, Halloween seems to last longer. It also prevents kids from overindulging.
"Get your kids involved in the dividing process," she says. "By involving them you are giving them more ownership over the process. Work with your children to repackage the candy into smaller, sandwich-sized bags by mixing some favorites with some not-so-favorites to stretch the enjoyment."
Diekman says Halloween is a perfect opportunity to teach kids about healthy eating.
"If your kids do get Halloween treats, help make that food a part of a healthy eating plan by establishing when treats can be eaten, how much can be eaten and how healthier foods fit in with candy and other treats," she says. "Show your kids that it's ok to eat sweets in moderation and teach them how to control those treats so they are a part of a bigger health eating plan."
While candy is a big focus of Halloween, there are other options, suggests Diekman.
"There are alternatives to handing out candy, whether it's fun stickers, Halloween spider rings, small granola bars or single portion calorie-controlled packages of cookies," she says. "You could also hand out crackers or baked chips. That way kids are getting a bit more of the healthy carbohydrates and less sugar."
Another part of planning for the holiday is to discuss rules for eating candy while the child is still out trick-or-treating.
"Do you want them to eat while they are trick-or-treating or do you want to look at those candies first, after they get home? A lot of parents are more comfortable being able to inspect the candy to make sure items are wrapped well, to prevent food contamination or hand-borne bacteria," Diekman says.
"Most parents do want to suggest to kids that they shouldn't eat anything that's not in a tightly sealed package. You just never know where it might have been. Don't scare your kids so much that they fear Halloween, but remind them that the food they are eating needs to be safe."