Halloween may kick off a series of sugar rushes and crashes for your family. Many parents approach trick-or-treating with mixed emotions, partly excited for all the goodies while dreading the fallout from too much candy.

Implementing flexible structure, plus educating children and ourselves, can make Halloween and the following days and weeks much less scary and set the entire family on the road to becoming competent eaters. Eating Competence, a term coined by Ellyn Satter, a Registered Dietitian, family therapist, and author, is “being positive, comfortable, and flexible with eating as well as matter-of-fact and reliable about getting enough to eat of enjoyable and nourishing food.”

As a Registered Dietitian specializing in a non-diet, “all foods fit” approach to eating and a mom of two, I’ve learned that helping kids manage Halloween (and other) treats happens all year long.

Start teaching your children how to handle candy and other goodies in all situations.

Have conversations about the benefits of choosing whole, minimally processed foods that provide fuel and nourishment for their growing bodies. Assure them that candy and other sweets can be planned in and enjoyed periodically at meals and snacks. Remember: Children often learn best by seeing a balanced approach to food modeled by their parents.

On Halloween night…

Make sure your children eat a balanced dinner before trick-or-treating. Make it fun by planning a potluck with neighbors and friends! It’s a win-win…Parents get to socialize and take fun photos of everyone in costumes. Kids have fun with friends while eating a nutritious meal.

Don’t let the gobs of Halloween candy scare you!

Have your children sort through their goodies, keeping only their favorites. There’s no point in eating treats that don’t do the trick for their taste buds! Store candy out of sight. Toss, donate, give away, or repurpose the leftovers. Today’s Halloween rejects could be award-winning Christmas gingerbread house decorations in December!

Remember: Feelings of deprivation often lead to overeating.

The more unique and rare a food, the more the brain will fixate on it, promoting intense cravings and a stronger drive to eat more of the forbidden food. Research shows children who do not have access to sweets or whose caregivers label them as “forbidden” or “bad” end up eating the treats when not hungry and potentially sneaking food. Allow children to taste and eat as much candy as they want on Halloween and the following day before storing their stash out of sight to be saved for future meal and snack times.

In the Halloween aftermath, help your kids explore, learn about, and take responsibility with eating by giving them a plan to manage the rest of their candy.

Here are some examples of general boundaries and strategies:

  • Satter also created a Division of Responsibility with feeding children: Parents are in charge of what foods are served and when and where they are served. Children are responsible for whether and how much they eat.
  • Sit down at the table for all meals and snacks.
  • Every so often, allow kids to have as much candy as they want at snack time with a glass of milk or another protein-containing food. At least you’ll have a chance at a little balance!
  • Allow a couple of pieces of candy with meals here and there. No seconds on sweets at meals so candy doesn’t compete with the other nutritious foods served at the meal.

If you or your child struggle with this approach, consider consulting with a non-diet Registered Dietitian to address any food-related concerns. For more information on Ellyn Satter’s work, visit Ellynsatterinstitute.org.

Blair Mize, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN is co-owner of Memphis Nutrition Group, a nutrition & lifestyle counseling practice operated by registered & licensed dietitians/nutritionists. Memphis Nutrition Group believes in a non-diet approach that promotes overall health and optimal performance without compromising the enjoyment of food. For more information call Memphis Nutrition Group at 901.343.6146 or visit www.MemphisNutritionGroup.com.