Make Halloween healthy: If you dare!

Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, is a mother, writer and nurse. She worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade, in both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Pre-op Clinic.  She is a regular contributor to Thriving.

Meaghan_OKeeffe_1Happy Halloween! This is a festive time of year when kids get excited to dress up in fantastical costumes and enjoy some light-hearted scares. But let’s be honest. Most kids dream about one thing and one thing only: the enormous bounty of candy that awaits them. Didn’t you?

Besides tasting great, sugar intake heightens the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. Feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin are released when we eat certain groups of foods. The more sugar we eat, the more dependent we become on sugar to elicit those pleasurable feelings. Sustained sugar intake may even alter the neural pathways in the brain, increasing the likelihood of overeating. Understanding this process takes the blame away from each of us and explains why willpower often goes out the window when you’re surrounded by countless numbers of wrapped up chocolates and candy corn.

Halloween might seem like the worst time to talk about moderating our sugar intake, but it’s actually a great time of year to practice how to enjoy a little indulgence, participate in celebration, and do it in a way that honors our bodies and our health. Holiday or no holiday, we can’t keep making excuses for eating large amounts of sugar and highly processed foods. Childhood obesity is on the rise. Adults aren’t doing so well either. Along with obesity come a variety of serious health complications, including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. I want my kids to look at food in a way that I never did. Judging by the obesity epidemic, most of us owe this lesson to our children.

The candy planUnknown-1

Why not approach Halloween a little differently this year? Creating a strategic candy plan will increase your chances of success. Throughout the process, discover what works for you and what doesn’t. Go easy on yourselves, and use this as a learning experience to build on for next year.


Give some of these tactics a try:

Set expectations ahead of time: Make sure your kids know what the candy limit is. Two to three pieces are a reasonable serving size.

Keep the candy out of sight: Any child who sees candy when they come home from school will ask to have some. Make it easier for them by keeping the stash in a closed cabinet.

Focus on savoring: Encourage your child to focus on the candy they’re eating. Is it crunchy or chewy? Fruity or chocolate-y? Can you let it melt in your mouth? How long does that take?

Stay positive: Allow for slip-ups. Don’t berate your child or yourself. Adjust and go back to the guidelines you’ve set.

Donate extra candy: Send any large excess of candy overseas to our troops who really deserve a little treat. Check out Operation Shoebox.

Hold a contest: See whose candy lasts the longest throughout the year. Reward the winner with a special outing.

Set the example: If your children are anything like mine, they can smell chocolate on me with the acuity of a bloodhound. Even if you think you’re covering it well, overeating or eating in secret will get noticed.

Throw the extra away: If you’ve got tons leftover, throw some away. It is not your job to eat all of the candy. Divide candy into categories: a pile for favorites and a pile you can do without. Yes, it seems wasteful, but putting it into your body isn’t a good alternative.

Swap out some treats for dark chocolate: Dark and bittersweet chocolate contain less sugar than milk chocolate and candy bars. I find that eating dark chocolate is far less likely to trigger the automated sugar monster inside of me.

Do you think you can approach Halloween from a healthier perspective? What tactics might work for you?