5 Tips for Enjoying Halloween With Diabetes
Halloween sure places a lot of importance on sweets. Candy may not have played a major role in celebrations until the 1950s, but today it’s a billion-dollar Halloween business—and a source of stress for parents of kids with diabetes. But with proper planning, you can sidestep worry while your kids with type 1 diabetes enjoy the festivities (and, yes, even some sweet treats).
1. Set expectations.
Before the Halloween celebrations start, invite your kids to help plan how they’ll manage their diabetes over the holiday. “Sit down and talk to your kids before Halloween, because they’re smarter than we give them credit for,” says Meri Schuhmacher of West Lafayette, Indiana. Three of her four children have type 1 diabetes. Discuss ahead of time what activities the kids will participate in and how they’ll manage their diabetes, as well as what they’ll do with any candy or other treats they collect. Be open about the things that worry you the most. “We need to talk to them about our concerns and ask what would be a fair way to handle the situation,” Schuhmacher says. “Generally, we find that they give us very mature answers which are better than we hoped for.”
If your kids’ ideas focus on maximum sweets, not moderation, set some ground rules. “Whatever you decide to do, you need to communicate those expectations in advance,” says Rachel Head, RD, CDE, a diabetes educator with meter company One Drop and spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators.
2. Be prepared.
If you want your children to manage their diabetes well on Halloween night, start in the morning with breakfast. “Stay on the regular meal and snack schedule before trick-or-treating,” says Barbara Eichorst, MS, RD, CDE, a diabetes educator with Healthy Interactions, a chronic illness management company, and a member of the Outreach Committee of the National Certification Board for Certified Diabetes Educators. “Otherwise [children] may overeat [later] because they’re hungry.” A regular meal schedule will also help keep their blood glucose stable over the course of the day, so high or low blood glucose won’t interrupt the festivities.
High blood glucose from candy isn’t the only thing you have to worry about when trick-or-treating. “Parents sometimes find that the walking done during trick-or-treating can lower blood glucose,” says Head. “Be ready to treat lows as well.” Keep in mind: Candy with large amounts of fat, such as chocolate, isn’t ideal for treating lows because the fat slows down glucose absorption. But low-fat sugary candies such as Skittles and Smarties can be used to treat lows if you split them into portions that contain the recommended 15 grams of carbohydrate. That may be difficult to do in costume and in the dark—and, for some sweets, without carb grams listed on the package—so it’s smart to stash glucose tablets or gels in an easy-to-access location in case of lows.
3. Portion out candy.
Most experts and parents agree that simply banning candy outright isn’t a good approach. “Kids have to be kids,” says Head. “[Banning candy] sets up a lot of potential issues for children when they feel different.” And restricting candy too much may lead children to eat it secretively, without setting themselves limits on portion size or dosing insulin to cover the carbs.
Create a family Halloween plan to cover how you’re going to deal with candy from trick-or-treating, class parties, and other events. “Have them pick their favorite pieces out to eat tonight and spread the rest over a few days,” suggests Kirsten Ward, MS, RCEP, CDE, a diabetes educator and former board of directors member of the National Certification Board for Certified Diabetes Educators. To make sure that they control portion sizes and appropriately dose insulin, leave the candy in the living room or kitchen, where you can see when and how much they eat.
Halloween can also be a good time to teach kids the basics of carb counting and insulin dosing. “Let your child help you to look up the carb content for the candies that they’ve gotten, so you’re working together as a team and seeing how they can fit some of the candy in,” says Toby Smithson, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE, a diabetes educator with type 1 diabetes at Livongo Health and a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators.
4. Be fair.
Putting even moderate limits on kids’ candy intake may still make them feel left out if their friends get to eat all they want. But “nobody should be eating 10 pieces of candy” at once, Ward says. Making sure your kids are aware of that can help them exercise self-control. “When I stop them from eating candy,” Schuhmacher says, “I say, ‘I’m not stopping you because of your diabetes. I’m stopping you because any healthy kid shouldn’t eat that much at one time.’ ”
Give the same limits to children with diabetes and their siblings without it when it comes to candy and sweets. “You don’t want to treat a child with diabetes differently than other children who might not have diabetes,” says Head. So on Halloween, all of Schuhmacher’s children get to eat the same amount of candy. “That’s the healthy thing to do, diabetes or not,” she says.
5. Offer Alternatives.
There are ways to reduce candy intake without making any child feel deprived. You can offer your children the chance to trade their leftover candy for other gifts, such as toys, gift cards, or a movie night. “Each parent should individualize it,” says Smithson. “You know your kids best.” Be sure that you and your children agree to the trade ahead of time, though. “When I did it without talking to them first, it didn’t go over well,” says Schuhmacher.
Healthy holiday foods can also substitute for sugary treats: an apple with maple yogurt is a good alternative to a caramel apple, says Eichorst. “Kids can prepare these dishes with their parents and understand the benefits for their health,” she says.
As for all of that leftover candy? Smithson suggests using it for arts and crafts projects such as gingerbread houses. Or make a donation: “One year, we dropped off some candy at the homeless shelter,” Schuhmacher says.
And there are plenty of things to enjoy about Halloween besides the candy. “Emphasize costumes, dress-up, spooky makeup, pumpkin carving, and decorating with spooky decorations,” says Head. “It may be different from other people, but as long as it’s your tradition and you make it fun, kids can adjust to that year after year.”
Tricks For Treats
If you’re an adult with diabetes who is planning on handing out candy for Halloween, you may worry about the possibility of eating too many sweets yourself. One of the best ways to avoid this is to buy candy that you don’t like. “If someone doesn’t like licorice, or chocolate, or nuts, that might be a good choice to give out,” says Head.
Good timing can also help you avoid indulging in the candy you’re planning to give out. “Buy it that day,” says Ward, “Don’t have it in the house where you can start eating it the day before.”
Finally, be sure to follow your regular meal schedule on Halloween, so you won’t be as hungry when trick-or-treating starts.