Is Allowing Free Reign of Sweets a Trick or Treat for Your Child?

At birth, a baby determines when he or she is hungry…and full. Parents decide what to feed. As a child grows, he or she begins to learn what its palate likes…or doesn’t like. Then the child determines how many green beans he or she will eat…OR NOT! As a parent, you determine whether a battle the Battle of the Green Beans will ensue or not. “When dinner is served and what is offered at the table is determined by the parent. What parents need to realize is the rest is up to your child,” Inés Anchondo, DrPH, RDN, LD, CSP, MPH, assistant professor and pediatric nutritionist in the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso Department of Pediatrics, explained.

This may contradict everything you ever learned (especially if you were the one who finally downed that serving of green beans or stuffed them under your mashed potatoes so you could finally get to dessert or watch your favorite TV show!). “Your child needs to create a good relationship with food. You just need to provide the good foods at regular times for your family to eat.”

What happens then at the peak of “Sugar Fest” – Fall Harvest, Halloween, Dia de los Muertos? “First, parents need to decide which holiday festivities the family will take part in. If it’s going trick or treating, decide on the length of time your family will be out, which route to take – and when to return home. “At that point, and only on that day, you relinquish control of the candies to your child. Removing the stigma of the ‘forbidden food’ is important for children.” Anchondo continued, “Once you get home, allow your child to sit down and examine his or her candy, look at it, touch it, divide it, etc. Children love to look at candy, they don’t necessarily want to eat it all at the same time, but they may eat more on Halloween.” Once they are done divvying up their sweet stash, and eating from it, Anchondo says to offer three or four candies with (not after) the meal after school until the candy is gone. The child may eat the candy before or after the meal, but the parent decides when to offer it – and it doesn’t have to be every single day after Halloween. “If you place four candies down, and all are eaten, it was his or her decision – and that’s it for that day.”

It’s important to let your child know where you are placing the candies so they are comforted by knowing the location. Some children may want to test the limits by going back to eat more candy. To help with this, the parent first needs to make sure that he or she is offering meals and snacks at regular times, and that the child is not hungry. Then the parent needs to be vigilant and remind the child of when they can have candy.

“Studies have shown that a child knows how to regulate, even when it comes to sweets. Girls who were allowed to eat regular treats learned to eat them moderately and maintained their weight,” said Anchondo. “Don’t let a battle over candies ruin the one day kids crave most – or their future relationship with candy. You’re only young once.”