The Trick to Treating

by Together Counts Partner | October 28, 2013 at 6:29 pm | comments

Costumes, spooky music, being out after dark and your favorite candy…there’s a lot for a child to love about Halloween.  For parents, many are looking for ways to strike the right balance when it comes to the treat part of trick or treat.

Although Halloween costumes may be scary, parents should not fear Halloween, it is the perfect time of year to begin practicing moderation and mindfulness in eating treats.  At the end of October, beyond the pumpkin patch, the treating season continues with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s right around the corner. The holiday season is a great opportunity to teach kids about the Together CountsTM program and the importance of achieving energy balance – balancing the calories you eat with the calories burned through physical activity.

Parents may believe that restricting treats is the best option; however, behavioral research tends to disagree.  The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics encourages a policy of the total diet, which includes treats in moderation.1 Food restrictions, whether self-imposed or imposed by another, can often result in the unintended consequence of increasing the desire for the restricted food and the likelihood of overeating.2-4

Here are a few tips about how to allow kids to have treats and teach behaviors that reduce overeating:

  • Don’t make foods forbidden.  It only increases their desire for the forbidden foods and increases the likelihood of overindulgence and more thought about how to obtain the food.5-7
  • Practice moderation in food choices and portions.  Allow highly palatable foods, such as candy, in 50-100 calorie portions—four HERSHEY’S KISSES Chocolates, most snack size bars or half of a standard candy bar.
  • Teach kids to eat mindfully. Turn attention to the food being eaten—and have them pause and experience the taste, aroma, texture and not gobble it down without appreciating the treat that it is.9
  • Avoid distracted eating.  Discourage children from eating treats while doing other activities such as watching TV, texting, reading, or while on the computer.  It makes knowing how much you’ve eaten harder to judge.8
  • Feed children a wellbalanced meal before Trick or Treat time.  Allow them to enjoy their favorite treasure of the evening as their dessert after trick or treating or after a nice walk or run around the neighborhood in the evening.

Luckily, almost all of our favorite candies and treats are available in snack or fun size and most are <100 calories per piece.  Don’t be tricked to think a kid can’t enjoy a treat and still have a balanced diet.

Debra Miller, PhD is Director of Public Policy Development, Nutrition, Health & Food Safety at The Hershey Company, a founding member of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation. The Hershey Company believes that well-being is a matter of balance, the ability to make informed choices and enjoying the goodness of every day moments.

  1. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Total diet approach to communicating food and nutrition information. J Am Diet Assoc.2007;107:1224-1232.
  2. Fisher JO, Birch LL. Restricting access to palatable foods affects children’s behavioral response, food selection, and intake. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999a;69:1264-72.
  3. Fisher JO, Birch LL. Restricting access to foods and children’s eating. Appetite. 1999b;32:405-19.
  4. Cameron JD, Goldfield GS, Cyr M, Doucet E. The effects of prolonged caloric restriction leading to weight-loss on food hedonics and reinforcement. Physiol Behav. 2008;94:474-80.
  5. Myrseth KO, Fishbach A, Trope Y. Counteractive self-control: When making temptations available makes temptations less tempting.
  6. Anzman SL, Birch L. Low inhibitory control and restrictive feeding practices predict weight outcomes. J Pediatr.2009; 155:651-6.
  7. Temple JL, Chappel A, Shalik J, Volcy S, Epstein LH. Daily consumption of individual snack foods decreases their reinforcing value. Eat Behav. 2008;9:267-76.
  8. Wansink B, Sobal J. Mindless Eating:  The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook. Environment and Behavior. 2007;39:106-23.