It’s getting kids to eat what parents serve that causes so many problems.

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DINA ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.

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Entries in Candy (20)


Halloween Candy

The essential question about Halloween is, What to do with all that candy?

But here's a better question: Shouldn't parents just prevent the candy problem in the first place? 

(Rest assured, I'm not going to suggest that your prevent your children from trick-or-treating.)

There are three easy ways parents could lighten the candy load.

With regard to trick-or-treating, you could:

  1. Limit the amount of time 
  2. Limit the number of houses
  3. Limit the size of the bag

I gently proposed this on my Facebook page yesterday to one reader. She replied that Halloween is a social time and she didn't want to rain her her kids' parade.

I get it. And I think this reader's thoughts represent mainstream opinion. I really appreciate that she shared it. Moreover, this exchange got me thinking.

Here, in no particular order, is a look into my brain:

1) As a culture, we're psycho. Think Jekyll and Hyde. We glorify and then villify sweets and treats. Just look at how people ooh and ahh over cake and cookie pictures/recipes on the Internet. Then listen to the chatter about how sugar is the devil. Halloween is just one representation of this dynamic.

2) Another mixed message: Bigger is better; Don't eat too much. There's no question that in America we value BIG and Halloween is no exception. There is a lot of excitement promoted about getting as much candy as you can score. But then...after the fact we tell kids they can't eat it all.

3) Not setting collection limits subtly teaches gluttony. "Get as much as you can, regardless of whether or not you like that particular candy, and regardless of whether you'll actually be able to eat it all," is an unintended lesson of Halloween.

4) The Halloween Culture also teaches kids that it's more important to preserve fun than it is to prevent waste. This teaches a cavalier attitude towards food (even if we can all agree that candy isn't really food). Even sending excess candy to the troops sends a mixed message: you can't eat too much candy, but the troops can.

5) What would happen if we taught kids to collect enough? I think of this as "greed" vs "plenty." Collection limits might teach children to collect only the candy they really wanted, giving the stuff they don't love a pass. Now that's a life lesson we should all learn!

6) Why do we think kids can't have fun on Halloween if they're not trick-or-treating the entire time? Consumption limits don't automatically mean that kids have to go home when they hit their limit. The social part of Halloween remains. So why would we want to teach our children that the only way to have fun is to get more candy? Especially when more is the problem.

 7) Why doesn't our national dialogue include a discussion on consumption limits as a viable way to control candy consumption? Put another way: why does preventing the problem feel so un-American, but controlling candy consumption feel so right?

8) We already set limits in ways that can "ruin" our kids' fun. Take bedtime, for instance. Why does setting limits on candy collection, then, feel so bad? (This is kind of the same question as #6, I know. But that's how my brain works!)

I've written a lot about what to do about Halloween candy after the fact.

Most recently I wrote about this in a post on Psychology Today: 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Dump Your Kids' Halloween Candy.

My essential point, which I think you can tell from the title, is that dumping your kids' candy teaches the wrong lessons. What's more, you can actually use Halloween to teach your kids healthy eating.

But now, I'm thinking in a more complex way.

Candy is the Purpose. Candy is the Problem.

And it's this dynamic that makes Halloween a tinderbox for teaching eating habits. Halloween is a one-day event, but the lessons our kids learn are enduring.  

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Revealing The Truth in Advertising

You can offset the negative effect of advertising on your kids' eating habits.

In my experience, parents often think that the only way to prevent advertising from ruining their kids' eating habits is to get ads off TV (and all the other places where food manufacturers target ads at kids).

I'm not against advocacy. If you work to change the system, I say, "thank you," and "thank you again." Someone's got to do it.

But you don't have to wait for advertisers to get the message in order to change the outcome for your kids.

Research shows that telling kids the truth about advertising works better than either restricting access to advertising or restricting access to junky food.

How often do you tell your children the following?

  • Advertising depicts products as better than they really are.
  • Advertising does not always tell the truth.
  • The purpose of advertising is to sell products.
  • Not all advertised products are of good quality.
  • Some advertised products are not good for children.

Share these thoughts frequently. It matters and it works.

When my daughter was about 4 or 5 she asked, "What's that?" pointing to some fruit strip-type product. "That's candy that the manufacturers want you to think is fruit," I replied.

Research also shows...

1) Actively talking to your kids about advertising works even with young kids.

They understand a lot more than you think.

2) Restricing access to ads only affects eating habits when kids are young. 

Presumably restriction stops working with older kids because they don't live in a bubble. Kids are exposed to the effects of advertising in lots of different ways: Friends. School. The Internet.

And, think about this: If you restrict but don't talk to your kids about the truth behind advertising, you'll launch your kids into the world unprepared to be savvy consumers.

So, by all means restrict access to TV, but talk to your kids as well.

3) Be careful: Restricting your kids' access to junk can actually increase consumption...

...especially once your kids are old enough to make their own food choices. So instead of restricting, I recommend you consider teaching. Read The How-to-Control-Your-Kids' Candy-Consumption Con.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Buijzen, M., J. Schuurman, and E. Bomhof. 2008. “Associations Between Children's Television Advertising Exposure and Their Food Consumption Patterns: a Household Diary-Survey Study.” Appetite 50: 231-39.


"Mommy, What is Moderation?"

"Include treats in your diet occasionally." Is there a more useless dietary recommendation?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not against the idea that we eat different foods in different amounts. That's the concept behind the principle of proportion.

I've long argued that the USDA should set guidance about how much crap we can all consume. Read A Cookie a Day...

As far as I can tell, though, no one eats junk occasionally.

Unless by occasionally you mean every day. Sweets and treats: candy, cookies, chips, chocolate milk...

Teaching kids to juggle junk is one of the most important lessons they need to learn. The older kids get, the more junk they eat.

  • 10% of 2-8 yeaar olds consume 100 calories or more from candy each day.
  • 22% of 9-18 year olds consume 100 calories or more from candy each day.

So kudos to the National Confectioners  Association—never thought I'd say that— for at least trying to define moderation.

Yes, I know they have ulterior motives. They want people to think it's OK to consume candy. And they'd like it if everyone thought it was OK to consume candy on a regular basis. But let's put that aside for a moment. There's still value in thinking about this issue.

Two important questions: 1) How often should you consume sweets and treats? 2) And when you consume those treats, how big should they be?

Research published recently in the journal Nutrition Today, and sponsored by the National Confectioners Association makes the following recommendation.

These are recommendations for adults, not kids. (Sorry, the article didn't include kids, but you get the idea.)


Examples of Daily Options (50-100 calories/per day)

Even kids eat way more than this.


15-25 small jelly beans? 2 bite-sized PB cups...aren't those just appetizers? 



Examples of Weekly Options




Whatever frequency and portion size you think is right for your kids...TELL THEM ABOUT IT.

  1. Proportion isn't something you kids can just pick up.
  2. The more arbitrary the eating world is, the more likely your kids are to fight with you. Read Surprise! Surprise! and You Can't Make Me Eat It!

Every candy moment is a choice NOT to eat another kind of treat.

Let your kids choose betwen candy and...

  • cookies
  • sweetened yogurt
  • juice
  • graham crackers
  • Nutella
  • the list goes on.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Hornick, B., R. L. Duyff, M. M. Murphy, and L. Shumow. 2014. “Proposing a Definition of Candy in Moderation: For Health and Well-Being.” Nutrition Today 49 (2) March/April: 87-94.