Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Taking Candy from the Baby

Halloween and its association with sweets in excess is tough for a mom like me. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder and makes an effort every single day to teach my kids to be at peace with their bodies and to practice what’s known as mindful eating – eat when they’re hungry, don’t eat when they’re not, I find the readily available heap of goodies puts me in a bit of a quandary. I want my kids to enjoy their treats without feeling guilty, but I don’t want them to fill up on so much junk that they stop eating healthier foods until they have eaten their way through their sweet stash.

Now Madeline is only 3 (almost 4!), and she wasn’t out trick-or-treating all that long. Still, she made quite a haul of sweet stuff for such a tiny stomach, and the girl loves candy. What kid doesn’t? (Don’t tell me the apple of your eye prefers carrot sticks over Pixy Sticks). I’ve tried hard to not be a no-junk-food-ever-fascist and to let her know that all those delish treats are fine in moderation, but when she has access to such a huge pile of candy, it seems to whittle its way into her conscious so that all she can think about is when Mommy is going to let her have another taste of chocolaty goodness.

When I really start to think about her eating habits though, I realize that I don’t give her enough credit. Sure, she’s excited about her loot. However, one thing I’ve noticed about both my kids is that they do seem to practice mindful eating for right now and it’s my job not to mess that up. Just this weekend we were enjoying homemade peanut butter cupcakes we made for my mom and while the adults stuffed the big things down their throats, Madeline stopped when she was full. “I can’t eat anymore, Mommy,” she told me, pushing a large chunk of her cupcake away from her. “Can you save it?”

“Of course,” I replied.

So we put her leftovers in a plastic baggie and she’s forgotten about them for now. I hope she’ll always be like this. I really have to work on not making food an issue between us. I’ll sometimes hear myself telling her that she can’t have a snack when she says she’s hungry because it’s almost dinnertime (I can bet most moms have been guilty of this same thing at some point). Then when it’s dinner, I tell her she needs to eat. What I’m doing is teaching her to not listen to her body. I’m telling her to eat by the clock instead of eating when she’s truly hungry. If she wants a snack 15 minutes before dinner, I should offer her something healthy (which on a good day, I do). If she asks for a cookie, I don’t always have to say no. If she’s not hungry at dinner, that’s okay. She won’t starve.

As for my toddler, she starts chucking her food off the highchair when she’s finished, and I know not to ply her with more carrot slivers or cheese cubes. She’s finished and she knows it. Sometimes she eats a bigger serving than I do; other times she chews five raisins, spits one out, and calls it a meal. Again, that’s okay. Just like her big sister, she’s not going to starve and she won’t stuff herself until she feels sick. That’s what adults do because we’ve stopped listening to our bodies. We don’t know how to eat anymore. Food too often either triggers either guilt or a sense of longing. We’re either depriving ourselves or eating like it’s the last meal we’re ever going to have.

So how do we teach our kids to have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies?

In my own experience as a parental unit to two girls, teaching kids nutritious eating habits is a lot like so many other aspects of parenting. We can’t force our children to sleep, for example (I know this all too well having one insomniac under our roof), but we do have the responsibility to create the conditions for sleep, including a safe and comfortable sleeping environment and a soothing bedtime routine. As far as food goes, I don’t want to be a controlling mommy who’s always saying “no, no, no” and dividing food into good or bad categories. But I don’t want to be the mom who lets her kids eat Twinkies every day for an afternoon snack and makes excuses for my children when their BMIs are no longer within a healthy range (“Oh, she’s just really big boned.”). I have to walk a thin line (pun intended, I suppose) to teaching my kids to respect their bodies and to love them for their own unique shape and for encouraging them to make the most of what God gave them. We’re not all fashioned to be wispy thin, but we shouldn’t be so afraid of ruining our kids’ healthy body image that we constantly allow them to nosh on junk food, afraid that if we tell them to put the Oreos away they’ll have a complex for life. Really, we shouldn’t even be buying the Oreos – at least not on a regular basis. I aim to keep our pantry stocked with healthy eats, so they can pretty much choose anything they want and it will be an acceptable snack.

So, yes, I may end up taking some Halloween candy from my babies (and giving it to my husband who has a mutant metabolism and never gains a pound no matter what he eats), but not before I let them take pleasure in a few prized selections of their loot (Madeline is like her mommy and seems to favor Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups).

Here are some other creative ways to make sure your kids don’t gorge on their Halloween candy:
• My aunt freezes some of the candy that would make good embellishments for the gingerbread houses she makes every Christmas with her kids.
• I give my preschooler the option of using her candy to “buy” a toy. In other words, she can trade in some of her loot for a small trinket (maybe a book or a puzzle). Last year she wasn’t as in to candy and quickly decided on “buying” a toy. This year, she’s considering her options.
• Along this train of thought, I’ve heard of some families who have a good witch come and take some of the candy and leave a toy in its place.
• Last year we took most of the chocolate candy and mashed it up. We then added the pieces to a basic chip cookie recipe. We shared the cookies with friends – they were delicious. Every cookie was a surprise since some would have a Butterfinger crunch and others would be chewy with caramel or peanut butter.
• Since Halloween, I’ve been allowing Madeline to choose one piece of candy to eat every day. She can eat it whenever she wants, but once she’s had her daily allotment, that’s it.

What about you? How do you keep your kids from turning into real “sugar babies” after Halloween or any holiday where junk food is in easy access?


sharon said...

For the past two years, we have donated our halloween stash to a local dentist who then ships it to the troops overseas. My kids have pick out some favorite pieces, but the rest gets donated. They feel good about helping the soldiers. I'm thrilled that it goes to a good cause, but also that I won't be eating pieces until the new year! If you google "donate halloween candy 2008 or candy for the troops " you may find a dentist in your area.

Cathy Adamkiewicz said...

You let Madeline have ONE PIECE of candy a day? And she doesn't pester you like crazy? You are an amazing woman!!! :)

I am a terrible mother. I have no idea how much candy they've been eating. I just know it's a lot, judging by the candy wrappers I keep stepping on. I've just made sure they've been eating some nutritious food first, hoping they'll have less room for junk.

It occurs to me that since I have been so influenced by our culture, I may not be so concerned about their consumption for a simple reason: they're boys.

Sexist thinking? Absolutely. I'm trying to remember if I was harder on my girls, and I must admit I was. Shame on me.

My former sister-in-law used to allow her kids to stuff themselves with candy on the day after Halloween and then she threw out what was left.

I like your thinking better.

My mom used to say "All things in moderation." Actually, she still says that. Maybe I should listen!