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Halloween is coming, are you ready?

Posted by on Oct 26, 2011 in Blog Posts | 19 comments

It’s that time of year again! Does the prospect of bags full of candy scare you more than the ghosts and goblins? Read on. I have read the section in Child of Mine every year.  This approach works for us. Be prepared though, if sweets and treats are a problem for you, if you try this technique, your little ones will likely eat a ton of candy. This is part of an approach to dealing with “forbidden foods” and it is amazing to watch your little one sample a few, reject some and stop after a “reasonable” amount.

Here is M, just turned one year old, getting her first taste of chocolate. She was gnawing on a wrapped Kit Kat, and her expression was priceless when she got to the candy. She stopped, looked around a little, examined the package, broke out in a huge grin, and then we shared the Kit Kat. This was before I knew about the Trust Model of feeding, so I was nervous about how to handle things. She enjoyed her “Chlok-lit” but it’s never been her favorite… One of the best things about the Division of Responsibility is that you know basically how to handle situations. For me, the confusion and wondering is gone. I am confident in my approach. It’s simple- not always “easy,” but simple.

Here are Ellyn Satter’s words of wisdom on the topic.

Interpreting the news and research about feeding and eating

(Originally published in 2005)

The topic of Halloween candy is so sticky for parents that I address it in all of my books. Here’s what I said in Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming Chapter 4, ”Help without harming with food selection.” ”Treat candy the same way you do other sweets. Your child needs to learn to manage sweets and to keep sweets in proportion to the other food he eats.” I had previously explained that treat-deprived girls in research studies load up on forbidden foods when they weren’t even hungry and tend to be fatter, not thinner. Girls who were allowed treats regularly ate moderately if at all and were thinner.1

Still quoting from Your Child’s Weight : ”Halloween candy presents a learning opportunity. Work toward having your child be able to manage his own stash. For him to learn, you will have to keep your interference to a minimum. When he comes home from trick or treating, let him lay out his booty, gloat over it, sort it and eat as much of it as he wants. Let him do the same the next day. Then have him put it away and relegate it to meal- and snack-time: a couple of small pieces at meals for dessert and as much as he wants for snack time.”

”If he can follow the rules, your child gets to keep control of the stash. Otherwise, you do, on the assumption that as soon as he can manage it, he gets to keep it. Offer milk with the candy, and you have a chance at good nutrition.”

Despite what most people think, studies show sugar does not affect children’s behavior or cognitive performance.2 My own observation is that children who are allowed to eat sugar instead of meals and snacks provided for them by their parents are likely to show deficits in behavior and cognitive performance. That has to do with poor parenting, not poor food selection. The key phrase in my candy advice is relegate it to meal- and snack-time . Structure is key. Maintain the structure of meals and sit-down snacks, with parents retaining their leadership role in choosing the rest of the food that goes on the table. With that kind of structure and foundation, candy won’t spoil a child’s diet or make him too fat.

Ann Merritt, reviewer, experienced parent and pediatric dietitian, makes an observation about this important topic. ”This advice should be in every parents’ magazine every year. I have seen so many kids have Halloween ruined for them when parents are over-concerned about sugar.” When you consider that for many children, Halloween is their very favorite holiday, that is a serious concern.

Reference List

1. Birch LL, Fisher JO, Davison KK. Learning to overeat: maternal use of restrictive feeding practices promotes girls’ eating in the absence of hunger. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003;78(2):215-220.

2. Wolraich ML, Wilson DB, White JW. The effect of sugar on behavior or cognition in children: A meta-analysis. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1995;274(20):1617-1621.

Copyright © 2008 by Ellyn Satter. Published at

Rights to reproduce: As long as you leave it unchanged, you don’t charge for it, and you include the entire copyright statement, you may reproduce this article. Please let us know you have used it by sending a website link or an electronic copy to

Copyright © 2011 by Ellyn Satter. Published at

Rights to reproduce: As long as you leave it unchanged, you don’t charge for it, and you include the entire copyright statement, you may reproduce this article. Please let us know you have used it by sending a website link or an electronic copy to

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  1. Heather

    Unexpected (and unwelcome) Halloween aftermath. My mother-in-law was looking through my son’s candy with him and made a comment that “you probably won’t like this one because it has nuts in it”… and of course it stuck with him, and now he thinks he doesn’t like Snickers, Peanut M&Ms, etc. He has always liked those candies before. It’s not that I care if there are types of candy that he doesn’t like, but I’m so mad because it was HER idea, not HIS. And I’m bummed if this translates into a general dislike of nuts. Any ideas how to best deal with this? Obviously, not make too much of a big deal about it, but any other tips?

    • katja

      Ack. So annoying. I would say ignore completely and see what happens. Kids can be so suggestible. Snickers are a favorite of mine, peanuts, protein, fat, and sugar? With a glass of milk, it’s pretty balanced as far as candy goes. The outside interferance is enough to make a parent crazy. Maybe mention to Gramma that he is suggestible so she doesn’t say more? I worry about teachers that M looks up to, how suggestible she might be. I remember a friend was totally miffed because a teacher had started a vegetarian club for the kids in the school…

      • Heather

        Thanks, Katja. My husband did talk to her about this… hopefully it will stick. Yesterday I packed some trail mix in my son’s lunch box – he ate the chocolate chips and raising but left behind the cashews. 🙂

        • katja

          Oy. You just have to keep serving it and not comment when he leaves the nuts behind. We have peanut butter on the table with breakfast, I have nuts, and I always offer. M rejects all things nut without having tried many. I just have faith that at some point she will try them and maybe even learn to like it. Maybe not! My dad didn’t like peanut butter until he was in his fifties…

  2. Susan

    As usual you have a sensible approach to the issue, Katja. I like the idea of making a small donation, kind of like a chocolate-offset instead of a carbon-offset. Truth be told, at 4 my son is not that into going house to house and we only end up at a few anyway. At least that’s how it was last year, his first time out trick or treating, so we’re not talking about fueling the world chocolate demand here.

  3. Susan

    I’m ready to let my 4 year-old son eat as many sweets as he wants on Halloween and thereafter (with the structure suggested by Ellyn/Katja), but my problem is that I recently read about how most commercial chocolate is produced under horrific labor conditions, including child slavery, and now I feel so sick about the whole trick-or-treating question. Like I would never go out and buy non fair-trade chocolate now that know, but do I let my son go out and collect and eat it? I’m not meaning to hijack this into a political discussion AT ALL, rather I guess my question is basically one about restriction from a different angle. I don’t want political restriction to turn into food restriction that ends up messing with my kids’ head, but ethical food choices do matter to me. I’m obviously not sure how to handle it.

    • katja

      This is something everyone has to answer for themselves. I am not a huge fan of some industrial farming practices, but I do eat at McDonalds on road trips because I want M to learn to handle the food environment they live in. I’d love to hear what readers think about this. One thought is, can you go with halloween for this year, and maybe make a contribution to a charity that works for fair labor practices etc? I know that living our ideals is important, but weighing that against potential harm/struggles is difficult. Is him skipping out on a pumpkin full of candy going to matter? That is another thing, we use one pumpkin container, not pillow cases. You can limit some of the quantity just by choosing your container, and how many houses you go to. You can also ask, if he likes to go to lots of houses that he just take one at each house. Just a few ideas, but yes, it’s tough.

  4. Samantha C

    Halloween candy was such a theft opportunity for me…my brothers and I each got to pick ten pieces that were just for ourselves (but only to be eaten at the designated sweet snack time) and all the rest went into a giant jar in the kitchen (also only to be eaten at designated sweet snack time). I learned really early on that the more of anything there was, the easier to steal. It was so simple to just grab extra candy out of the jar and hide the wrappers in the trash.

    I don’t know where I’m going with this exactly. Maybe if I didn’t feel like there was a giant stash of candy taunting me that i wasn’t allowed to have, I wouldn’t have stolen so much. Maybe it’s just a memory.

    Nowadays, I’m too old to trick-or-treat by myself and no one will go with me, so I’ll just be happy on Nov. 1 for candy sales =D

    • katja

      I wonder if they just had it in a bowl in a cupboard if that would have helped. If M sees candy, she wants it, if it’s out of site, she doesn’t pester for it so much. It is not restriction, because those items are part of meals and snacks on occasion, but no need to have it sitting there where there instant gratification selves have to see it all day long.

  5. jaed

    My parents did something similar: the rule was that we could eat as much candy as we wanted on Halloween, and then a limited amount per day thereafter. We could pick out two pieces a day, something like that.

    (They also did this weird inspection for holes in the candy wrappers, because everyone just knew that the neighbors were longing to poison Halloween candy or stick needles in it. Every family did it, and we all took it for granted. Then I grew up and found out that there are [last I checked] no recorded cases at all of trick-or-treat candy being poisoned or otherwise tampered with. Yet all the candy had to be industrially wrapped – nothing homemade, no cookies, no fruit – and we had to do the inspection ritual.)

    If they took anything out, though, the rule was also that it must be replaced piece-for-piece with another piece from *their* trick-or-treat bowl, so we didn’t lose by it. It meant we didn’t feel anxious about the wrapper inspection.

    • katja

      Ha! I remember those days. Looking for needles and razor blades. We are at times a sick country, seemingly addicted to fear…

    • AmandaL

      Does anyone else remember putting Girl Scout cookies under a metal detector? This made a huge impression on me, a Scout under 10 years old, as we carried box after box to the dad in charge of testing them because someone had literally spiked the cookies with staples.

    • Anne

      I have to admit my safety check is more of an inventory. 🙂

  6. Anne

    I’ve never really limited the Halloween haul (though I admit when we do the safety check, I will toss anything that’s “junk” – in a quality context as opposed to nutritionally – like those candies that are basically wax covered sugar blobs. Sorry, it goes in the trash – I’m a candy snob) Anyway, my son has always been allowed to eat as much as he wants on Halloween. Then it goes into the cupboard to be doled out like any regular sweet snack – for example, I’ll tuck a piece into his lunchbox every day (I’m sure school food police love that). It usually lasts until Christmas – then again, my son has always been more of a salty crunchy snacker (like me) so it’s probably easier for me.

    Wait, I do have one rule: Any Almond Joys have to go to Mom 😉

  7. Erinn L

    This does not seem to be a problem for two of my children, but my middle and pickiest eater, is sugar obsessed. I have been trying the Division of Responsibility for over a year now and he still will only eat 5 things: fruit, cereal, yogurt, peanut butter on crackers, and apple sauce. The other two are doing great with DOR, but they weren’t a problem before. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

    • jaed

      he still will only eat 5 things: fruit, cereal, yogurt, peanut butter on crackers, and apple sauce

      I wouldn’t assume that’s a problem healthwise. If you had to pick five things, that’s not a bad mix of nutrients, particularly if he likes a wide variety of fruit.

    • katja

      You may be right that he is getting his nutrients, but if a little one truly only eats five things that is hard for mom and dad. I can’t comment much because I don’t know his history, or how you are offering foods, but this is a problem I help families with commonly, selective eating, that it. I’d be happy to talk with you if you are interested, feel free to email me privately at Sometimes parents don’t want to pressure, but they also need to have a supportive environment that is just challenging enough so that he can push himself along. Many of the kids I see like this have already “failed” feeding clinic therapy.

      • jaed

        Yes, definitely tough at mealtimes! I’m sorry, Erinn L, I didn’t mean to sound dismissive – just that it may not cause any immediate health problem.