If you have signed up for our online toddler course course (specifically the step on Sugar, Candy and Desserts), you know that our approach to Halloween candy may be a bit different than you would expect for people concerned with healthy eating. Sure, candy is not a "health food," and we know that excess sugar in the diet is less than ideal. As with most things parenting-related, it's all about balance and seeing the big picture. We want our kids to have some exposure to sweets and treats so that they don't binge on them, because when we restrict our children's access to sweets they tend to overeat when they're not hungry and have weight regulation issues.
Halloween is a fun holiday that should be low stress for everyone - including parents who want what's best for their kiddos.
So, what's a health conscious mama (or daddy-o) to do? Do we just let our kids have unlimited access to candy? Not quite. Follow these guidelines to make Halloween a wonderful exploration of food and sweets.
1. Offer a filling, high-protein dinner and plenty of water before trick-or-treating. Hangry kiddos will have a tough time listening to their bodies around candy. Before you head out, offer a whole grain pasta dish with diced turkey and veggies, Pumpkin Chili (vegetarian if desired), or veggie pizza.
2. Decide if your kiddo is old enough for candy. Most babies aren't ready for many types of candy because it's difficult to chew, plus babies don't quite understand what they're missing. One- and two-year-olds may be very aware that they're receiving candy and may want to try it. As the parent, it's your choice whether or not to start exploring candy with your young toddler. (In our home we allow our kids to try Halloween candy once they're one year of age, but this is a decision you'll have to make.) If your child is going Trick-or-Treating, it may be difficult for them to understand why they can't eat the candy.
3. Once you get back home, sort it! Remove any choking hazards or candies that may be difficult to chew like taffy, gum, or hard candy for kids under 4. (Use this opportunity to put together a Mom or Dad Stash of your favorites! You know, for safety and all...)
4. Allow your child to sort, explore and eat as much candy as he wants when you get home. Try not to comment on how much he is eating or pressure him to stop. Also, avoid overexcitement about candy - remember, we want our kids to see all food as food, not "something special." Let him feel his own fullness and decide when to stop. If you haven't been doing this with your kiddos, they may test you and overeat - which may lead to a stomachache. Try not to take the "see, I told you so" route with them; rather, gently discuss what happened and explain that sometimes if we eat more than our belly is hungry for, it hurts. If you start this approach young, you will likely be very surprised by how little your little actually eats!
5. You provide, child decides. Decide how often you want to serve Halloween candy again for the next few weeks. This doesn't mean that your child gets candy whenever they ask for it - see more below.
When you do serve it, let your child decide how much to eat and avoid tying it to behaviors ("You must finish your vegetables to get candy" or "No candy if you don't clean up your toys"). Rather, serve it with or after meals without making a fuss about it. You can do it once, five times, with every meal, or never again - this is up to you. If you remain neutral about it, oftentimes children lose interest.
Important caveat: this does not mean that we offer candy with every meal and snack or whenever our kiddos ask for it. Remember, you provide food of your choice at regular meals - they decide how much to eat.
6. Keep it out of sight until you decide to serve it again. A child who sees the candy in plain view will ask for it often. Put it out of reach, and if your child asks to have some when you weren't planning to serve it, explain that "We aren't having candy right now. Maybe tomorrow."
Need more help with mealtime? Check out our video-based online course, which has helped thousands of parents raise happy eaters!
You probably know that you're supposed to involve your baby or young child in safe sensory play, but you may not understand the importance of sensory integration or how it relates to your child's feeding and general development.
In short, your child's sensory system dramatically impacts how he perceives the world, how he learns, and even how he eats. When it's functioning as expected, you may not even think about sensory processing. However, when sensory integration goes awry, it can affect many facets of your child's life.
We want to share with you some background regarding sensory integration so you can understand why your child may react to certain sensory inputs, how to best support your child's sensory system, and how to know if your child needs help with sensory processing.
Sensory integration/processing helps people “make sense” of the world around them.
Think of all the sensations you experience while dressing, bathing, walking or even driving a car to the airport.
Sensory Integration is the process of using our senses to:
We usually think of five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch (tactile), and smell.
We also receive information from our body position sense known as proprioception, and balance and movement sense known as vestibular sense.
Touch Sense - Tactile
The tactile sense gives us information from our skin, including inside and outside our mouths. Every time you touch something or you are touched, your skin provides you with detailed information; this comes from the tactile sense. It allows you to tell the difference between a friendly touch versus to the uncomfortable feeling of a bug biting you on the arm.
Think of a child licking ice cream from a cone as it drips down their arm. Does the child continue eating the ice cream and lick off the drips, or is the child bothered completely by the drips, drops the cone, and becomes very upset? This is the tactile system hard at work, it is either seen as pleasurable or averse. As you can imagine, when a child perceives certain tactile sensations as very averse, it can dramatically affect their success with feeding.
Body Position Sense - Proprioception
Proprioception is our body's position sense. Proprioception is the ability to know where a body part is without having to look, and it helps us know how much pressure we need to do certain things. We use this sense when we pick up a paper cup filled with water without spilling or holding it too tightly.
For example, have you ever watched your child pull a wheeling suitcase or push a play shopping cart around the house and then change the weight of the suitcase or cart? Her proprioception changes when she realizes she must push or pull the object harder. This sense is automatic and happens without much conscious thought, and it is a result of your proprioceptors hard at work within your joints. Pretty cool, right?
Movement/Gravity Sense - Vestibular
The vestibular system is our balance and movement sense. The vestibular sense allows us to move smoothly and balance while engaged in activities. We use this sense when riding a skateboard or sliding down a slide at the playground.
Watch a toddler as they practice their balance on uneven surfaces at the park. He may struggle at first, but it usually improves with each trial.
When Our Senses Unite
Integrating and processing information from the tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular systems, along with the other senses (sight, sounds, taste and smell), makes it possible to successfully participate in everyday activities.
For example, visualize a six-year-old boy holding a baseball bat and trying to hit at a T-ball.
The tactile (touch) sense helps him hold his bat correctly. Proprioception (body) sense helps him know his body is in the correct position. Vestibular (balance and movement) sense helps him stay upright while swinging the bat. His vision (sight) and hearing (sound) are also key to his success in the game.
Our bodies are truly amazing when they work as expected. However, what happens when things don’t work automatically?
Some kids struggle with sensory integration, which can affect their success with feeding. These behaviors may include:
If you notice any of the above behaviors, which may affect your child's home or school environment, talk to your healthcare provider. Ask to be scheduled for a full assessment that includes a Sensory Processing Evaluation. Therapists trained in Sensory Integration utilize a play-based, child-friendly approach.
Children improve their ability to process and organize sensory information in a setting where the child can engage in a variety of fun sensory experiences. Therapy can help kids simply be kids, playing alongside friends, and fully enjoying their young lives while learning to respond to a sensory-rich world.
Want to help support and develop your child's sensory system? Utilize the following activities on a regular basis, and make sure to never pressure a child to do something he's not ready for yet (e.g. touch a texture he's averse to).
We wish you fun and playfulness on your sensory development journey!
Megan and Judy, co-owners of Feeding Littles, bring you helpful info on food, nutrition, picky eating, and feeding young children. Megan McNamee MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Judy Delaware, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist specializing in feeding therapy with children 3 and under in Boulder, Colorado. Megan and Judy are both moms of two and love helping families develop a healthy appetite for all foods!