Is a healthy Halloween possible?


In the Halloween episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 that aired on October 31 1991, Mrs. Walsh offers raisins to the trick-or-treating kids knocking on her door. To her children’s clear embarrassment she adds that raisins are the candies of mother nature. Twenty five years later, in our health-conscious society, such an approach for Halloween may not be as absurd as a quarter of a century ago. But is it good for your family?

Halloween entails an intricate play with our values and identity. On the one hand, this holiday celebrates one’s ability to disguise, pretend to be someone else, and associate with a mischievous alter-ego. At the same time, just as we teach our kids – you always want to maintain your abiding values and boundaries even at the most playful, zestful times. For many parents, trick-or-treat is the least pleasant aspect of Halloween. While parents work hard in developing healthy eating habits in their children and educating them to make informed choices about food, there comes one night in which society encourages a total reversal of all parental efforts and messages. At the same time, many parents have fond memories of their Halloween celebrations as children, do not want to disappoint their own kids, or just do not feel comfortable being a killjoy. And yet, so much unhealthy sweets and snacks in one night?

Parenting is all about flexibility. Just as you plan on going on a trip, but something happens and you find yourself modeling to your children how you adapt to a changing environment, Halloween is not a challenge most parents have not dealt with thus far. You have probably spoken in the past with your child about how your habits and preferences as a family may be different from their friends’; you have likely taught them about the food pyramid and how different foods affect their bodies; and you have already experienced making decisions that your kids did not like.

A possible approach to Halloween is comprised of first knowing your limits – how many sweets and candies you think would be OK for your child? The answer may change according to your child’s age. For younger children, providing smaller baskets, allowing only a few treats during Halloween and saving a few treats for the following weeks would be acceptable. With older children, you can discuss their ideas and understandings how to go about the sweet celebration. However, it is better to have a focused, clear discussion about the specific night, and refrain from long educational lectures. Try and let your child first suggest their ideas of how to go about the holiday, and use this discussion as an opportunity to model healthy problem solving.

When you and your children have a clearer understanding of your approach to Halloween, take this external opportunity to have fun! Wear a costume, extend your “persona” boundaries, and enjoy the non-food parts of this wonderful celebration. After all, isn’t this what Halloween is all about?

Shiri Sadeh-Sharvit, PhD, is a psychologist and a researcher at The Eating Disorders Research Program at Stanford University. Dr. Sadeh-Sharvit is now recruiting mothers with histories of eating disorders whose children are between 1-5 years old, to a new parenting program study. Parents who are interested in this program are invited to contact her at or 650-497-4949 for more information.

Discover more about our Center for Healthy Weight or call (650) 694-0600.


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