There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to how much Halloween candy parents should allow their children to have, according to one expert.
“Halloween is a treat, that’s all. As such, we should think of it that way,” pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Murray tells PEOPLE. “With any treats, they are not an ongoing, never-ending experience, but instead a finite event.”
Dr. Murray, who is a member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad, went on to explain that how much candy children should be allowed to have depends on their age and “how your family usually handles things such as dessert.”
“For preschool-age children, it is relatively easy to limit their candy haul as they don’t really have any expectations,” she explains, adding that at home, “They can be special helpers handing out candy to others.”
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With children who are a little bit older, Dr. Murray recommends finding a middle ground between heavily restricting how many pieces they’re allowed to have and giving them free rein.
“The message should always be about listening to your body and respecting what your body tells you. Eating all of your candy at once will make you sick and being told you can only have one or two pieces will likely lead to conflict, so the balance will be somewhere in the middle,” she says.
Parents should also set up a timetable for when all of the trick-or-treating candy will be eaten by. “I think the most important thing is to not let this holiday drag on for days and days,” Dr. Murray tells PEOPLE.
“Set a time period — likely no longer than a week (unless your child brings home bags of candy) during which the candy is consumed and then done,” Dr. Murray adds, adding that “candy should not replace a meal, nor should it be consumed before a meal.”
She goes on to note that it can actually be “more harmful than helpful to make your child eat a certain quality of ‘good’ foods” before they’re allowed to have a treat.
“Food is meant to fuel your body; candy is a bonus that provides the wrong type of fuel,” Dr. Murray says. “It’s okay to have fun. A few days of extra candy will not do any damage in the long run. Just be consistent with how your family handles meals and fueling your bodies.”
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