Halloween is upon us and the zombies, ghouls and 3-foot-tall Darth Vaders are ready to hit the streets. But the real terror comes later – in the form of wild, sugared-up kids.
The question is – how do we let our children take part while prioritizing their health (and our sanity)?
First let’s take a look at the cumulative effects of a high-sugar diet. (Remember, Halloween is the first of many sugar-laced holidays to come.)
- A high-sugar diet suppresses the immune system. One study showed that eating 100 grams of sugar significantly impaired the function of phagocytes – cells in our bodies that overtake and absorb bacteria. Negative effects were seen up to 5 hours after ingestion. (1)
- It throws gut bacteria out of balance, leading to a host of digestive issues.
- It contributes to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. This condition now affects 3-10% of children (40-70% of obese children). (2)
- It leads to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
- It is highly inflammatory, aggravating asthma, eczema and allergies – increasingly prevalent childhood conditions.
- It can be addictive for many people, including children.
The good news? Halloween is a great opportunity to teach your children moderation. One way to do this is to set up a sugar budget!
How to Set Up a Halloween Sugar Budget
1. First, determine your child’s daily sugar budget.
A good average I recommend for children in my practice is 40 grams of added sugars per day (tops) and it should have some nutritional value. This adds up quickly – a little raw honey on their waffles and a small flavored yogurt gets them there.
Note: This number is a general guideline for parents to use – don’t burden young children with too much “food math”.
If they are adding candy to the mix they will have to make some choices. With virtually no nutritional benefit, candy should be limited to about two small pieces per day (roughly 20 grams of sugar). For a trade-off, sugar can be reduced during meals and snacks. Talk about substitutes with your children. If they ask for waffles in the morning, suggest eggs instead, pointing out that they will be having candy later in the day.
Better yet, have them come up with ideas on how to shape their own meals. Teaching kids to pack a balanced school lunch is a good start. Here is a list of mix and match kids’ lunch options (protein, healthy fats and good carbs) to give you some ideas.
2. Figure out how much candy your child gets to keep.
Even if you are doling it out slowly, no child needs 100 pieces of candy in his or her foreseen future. Let your child help decide how much they will keep.
For smaller children, ask them to choose. They may call out a lower number than you would. (7! 10!)
Older children may not be so easy. You can suggest that they keep enough to have two per day for two weeks. Have them do the math to give them a sense of ownership.
3. With your child, decide where the extra candy will go.
Donate the extra candy to the troops or to a charity. If your child has a hard time letting go, offer a small toy in place of their sugary bounty.
4. Choose who will ration out the remaining candy – parent or child.
Once you have whittled down the stash, it’s great to let your child take responsibility of rationing out their own candy. Of course, if your child isn’t ready it’s fine to hang onto it yourself. But then who will keep an eye on you?