10/14/2015 05:22 EDT | Updated 10/14/2016 05:12 EDT

Why I'm Against Giving Fitness Passes Instead of Candy on Halloween

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Children wearing costumes sitting on hay with sad faces

A small town in PEI is encouraging parents to give fitness passes to a local community centre to trick or treaters, instead of candy. The Directory of Community Services wants to "change the mindset to try and encourage a little less consumption of sugars and a little more consumption of physical activity."

As a dietitian, I believe 100 per cent that this is the wrong message to send to kids.

It seems like every Halloween, I end up writing a blog post about this very thing. Let your kids eat candy, and stop spoiling their fun. Think back to when you were a kid. Even getting an apple or *gasp* a toothbrush in your candy bag was a total letdown. A fitness pass? What are we trying to tell kids?

I completely agree that kids eat too much candy, so before you write me comments about how you think I'm encouraging candy-eating, let me say this: kids eat too much candy. They eat too much sugar. But is taking away a holiday that they look forward to all year going to change that? You know it's not.

Telling kids that they can't eat candy at Halloween is not going to improve their diet. Teaching your kids how to make healthy choices all year round will. Changing someone's mindset shouldn't include taking something away from them that they look forward to. That's not changing anyone's mindset, it's just going to make them upset. Mindset-changing happens over time, with proper education.

Taking Halloween away from kids is teaching them that there is something wrong with celebrating and having fun with their peers. It's saying that candy is "bad" -- which it's not. Candy is unhealthy, yes. But a better way to handle Halloween and other celebrations is to teach your kids that all foods can fit into a healthy diet. Normalizing candy along with other foods can ensure that kids don't overconsume it on a regular basis. What happens when you take something away from a person? They tend to want it even more.

Giving fitness passes to kids on Halloween is a poorly placed message. It's using fitness as a punishment which is replacing the candy that pretty much the entire rest of the country will be handing out. Want your kids to be more active? Don't take away something they want. Add fitness organically into their (and your) life.

Don't mess with kids' fun. Halloween is a time that kids look forward to, and it's the origin of so many great childhood memories. Kids can have fun without candy, yes - but for one night of the year, let them get the full effect of the holiday with their peers. I promise you that nothing bad is going to happen if you let your kids indulge every so often (except they might get a stomach ache). Making choices about candy and other foods is an essential part of self-regulation that kids need to learn.

In our house, my girls have been freaking out about Halloween for a month now. We take them trick or treating (and yes, we hand out candy!) and let them gather all the candy they can. Once we're back home, they go through their treats, trading them and generally admiring them for a while. We let them pick a few treats to eat right then.

In the days that follow, we allow them a few treats at a scheduled snack time. It never becomes a free-for-all because the kids aren't forbidden to have candy. We allow them to choose in advance how many treats they will have each day (usually two) and when they're going to have them.

There are usually a few treats left by Christmas because the novelty wears off eventually. But by giving our kids a bit of control over when, what and how much they eat, we are teaching them how to self-regulate. We're also teaching them that candy is just another food -- it's not "toxic, it's not "bad," it's not "harmful" or something to be avoided at all costs.

In little bits, it's okay as part of a healthy diet.


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