So, I just found out from this blog that The Switch Witch is actually a thing. It’s a Halloween thing, and it’s kind of a horrible thing, but not in the fun Halloween way.
What’s The Switch Witch? Apparently it’s the Halloween version of The Tooth Fairy, except in my opinion way weirder. After kids have finished collecting their Halloween candy, The Switch Witch (presumably a well-meaning parent) comes along, takes the candy and replaces it with toys, thus sparing the kiddos from being exposed to all that sugary, evil (sarcasm!) candy.
I can only imagine that this started sometime in the last 15 years during the meteoric rise of the obesiepipanic and subsequent food fear hysteria. All that sugar can’t be good for our little ones right? Not when there is so much obesity out there, just waiting to get them! Won’t someone please think of the children!?
I get it. It’s hard enough as a parent to get your kid to eat a regular meal with some vegetables without the specter of all that Halloween booty hanging around. I know that many parents are constantly worried that their kids are going to end up nutritionally deficient and it will be all their fault. It’s a big responsibility to be a parent and everyone is trying their best.
But this Switch Witch thing. At best, it’s misguided. At worst, it has the potential to kick off a lifetime disordered eating, especially around candy which – hello! – exists even after childhood ends. That’s right, your child is going to grow up and continue to live in a world where he or she is confronted with candy practically on a daily basis (especially if they work in an office). And you know what food tastes best? Forbidden foods. So when your adult child is eventually faced with that most forbidden of foods, candy, and there’s no fun toy being offered in its stead, what do you think is going to happen? They simply will not be prepared to deal with the barrage of sweets the modern world presents.
Kids know when foods are being restricted. They become experts at sneaking food. Some become little food hoarders. They go to school and find ways to get it. Research has shown that when highly palatable “fun” foods are restricted, kids eat more of them (and also end up larger than they might be otherwise). Your kids are smart – just like you are raising them to be! They won’t be fooled by this kind of restriction, and in fact it will end up doing exactly the opposite of what you hoped to do, which is to make them into healthy eaters.
My suggestion? Use Halloween candy as a way to teach kids that all foods can fit into a healthy diet. This takes away the power sugary foods (or any particularly desirable foods) might have and allows kids to explore all foods freely (because that, after all, is what learning to eat is all about).
Here are some ideas to try:
- Give your kids some control over when they eat their candy. Use the Division of Responsibility and choose meals and snacks when your child can include some of their Halloween booty. It doesn’t have to be every meal, but it also doesn’t have be so infrequent as to feel the food is being restricted. When your kids are very young, you can limit their control and choose when to include the candy, and then gradually give them more responsibility as they get older.
- Does your kiddo seem especially sugar-obsessed? When including candy (or any sweet) in a meal, consider serving it at the same time as the main meal, rather than saving it for after the meal. Saving certain foods for the “reward” after a meal teaches that the other foods are merely to be tolerated to get to the special reward food. If this is a new practice in your home, at first your kids will probably gobble up the candy before the rest of the meal. But over time, they will tire of that and start to explore the other foods available. If you choose to do this, just make sure they know there are no seconds on dessert (unlike the other foods served).
- Don’t let your kids graze all day on candy – or any food, for that matter. Grazing will lead to children not being hungry at meal times, or may lead to overeating. Kids need structure around eating; generally three meals a day and three snack opportunities between meals works well.
- Teach kids about the differences between foods without labeling them “good” or “bad.” Messages such as, “We get vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables that help our body to run,” and “Candy is a fun, tasty food that we can enjoy but we don’t need it for our body to grow” teach about nutrition without judgement.
Read more about incorporating “forbidden” foods from the guru of childhood nutrition, Ellyn Satter.
So while The Switch Witch is not nearly as mean as this:
…it does teach the wrong message about “forbidden” foods and eating. Happy Halloween!