Trick or Treat – Have a Healthful Halloween!

Do you know what the true meaning of Halloween is? I can honestly say I didn’t know until I went to write this blog and asked myself the same question. While there was food involved in the religious honoring of the dead a few centuries ago, it was a far cry from the mounds of candy children collect on today’s Halloween tradition.

I get asked every year “what do you give out for Halloween?” people are always surprised by my answer – regular size chocolate bars. I used to give out the small chocolate bars but I never gave out just one, I generally gave out 3-4 per child. Looking at the label, 3-4 small chocolate bars are equivalent in calories to a regular size bar. I then did the math on how much I spent on the little bars and realized I would spend less if I bought the regular size chocolate bars anyways. But this decision went further than just the money.

I started pondering why I gave out so many little chocolate bars and it was because they were small and it didn’t feel like a normal portion size to give just one. I asked some kids the next year on Halloween what they thought was a good treat and a not-so good treat. They said a not-so good treat was 1 mini chocolate bar and a great treat was many. I also recalled conversations I had with friends, family and clients regarding the Halloween treats and the comments were the same-everyone ate way too many mini chocolate bars at this time of the year. When asked why, the response typically was because the mini bars are small so 1 isn’t a normal size portion and before you know it they have eaten 3-6 or more and pretty soon the candy you bought to give out is gone and you have to go buy more! The invention of the mini chocolate bars has been likely one of the most successful marketing strategies for the chocolate bar industry!

So I decided to trial buying regular size chocolate bars and see what happened around my house. No one ate any chocolate bars prior to Halloween. There is definitely some tricking going on in our brain on this one!! The perception we humans have in our mind that a mini bar is much smaller than a regular chocolate bar based simply on the size. I guarantee most people are not out there comparing the calories of the regular size bar vs the mini’s – except maybe the nerdy ones like me!! – It looks much smaller than a regular bar so we perceive we can have several of them and it will still be less than a regular size bar. That’s our logic and we indulge in it. And once that box is open it’s hard to refuse the temptation because just one more will be okay…

I did a little experiment with my kids where I gave them two mini chocolate bars for a treat. They commented the bars were very small and asked for another. The next time I gave them a treat I cut a regular chocolate bar in half and they shared it. You should have seen the look on their faces that I actually gave them half of a regular size chocolate bar. They ate it and didn’t ask me for more. The irony is the total calories were equivalent meaning the portion size was the same yet they perceived half of the regular size chocolate bar as a bigger serving size. Sometimes our brain can play tricks on us!

While my little experiment is far from a randomized controlled trial it reinforced to me that we seem to have a distorted perception around portion sizes of mini chocolate bars. While I do feel it’s important to grasp this concept in the meantime I didn’t want to feel I was perpetuating the issue by giving out a handful of mini chocolate bars.

October 22, 2014