When you blog about kids and food, people ask you questions. Especially this time of year, when sweets flow like lava and the sugar high carries you from trick-or-treats to Easter baskets. What do you do about the candy?
So here it is. The post about the candy.
Our Halloween night strategy is pretty simple. After trick-or-treating, costume silliness, and the obligatory ritual of dumping the haul and comparing it with friends, we divide and conquer. Anything with trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors or gelatin (it’s a veg thing) gets tossed. Right in the garbage. (Though last year we kept a bunch to use for decorating gingerbread houses, and that was fun.)
What’s left goes in a candy jar. Tess gets a few pieces that night, but then the jar is stored out of sight. After that, if she asks for something from the jar, we decide case by case. If she’s had other junk that day or it’s close to bedtime, no go. Otherwise we let her pick a piece. But we might dip into that thing once every month or two. It’s out of sight, so she just forgets about it.
When Tess was in preschool, and we visited just a few neighbors’ houses, we’d let her pick a piece, dump the rest and call it a night. Now she helps me sort and toss. We talk about why the ingredients are bad, how they affect our bodies, and how there are better (and tastier) alternatives anyway. We do the same with birthday-party goody bags. She’s first and foremost a chocolate girl, so we’re fortunate that most of the candy doesn’t even appeal to her. Except for Smarties, which I give a pass for food dye because they’re so pastel I figure it can’t be that much. And she eats, what, like a roll a year?
But if your kids are more likely to balk at the loss of a Tootsie Pop, you can always have alternative treats on hand for trades. YummyEarth makes great-tasting lollipops. Or swap gummy candies for Annie’s fruit snacks. It’s all still sugar-sugar-sugar, but at least you avoid the other nasties.
I’ve been hearing a lot lately about Great Pumpkins and Halloween Fairies and Switch Witches and other magical creatures who come in the night and swap candy for toys. I’d rather have Tess involved in the process than avoid the conversation by letting some nighttime sprite do the deed. But I suppose the swap fairy could be fun if your kid understands why the candy goes poof. The more that children understand the reasons behind food choices, the smarter the decisions they’ll make on their own. That sounds pretty self-help cheeseball, I know, but it actually works.
So what if Tess wants to eat something we’ve put in the toss pile? We let her. Because the surest way to get a kid to appreciate real food is to let her taste the opposite. Usually a bite or two is all it takes. Which may be why I have a budding chocolate snob on my hands. Drugstore chocolate is no match for the good dark stuff.
And what do trick-or-treaters find at our door? (No, not toothbrushes. Though a dentist in my neighborhood did that when I was a kid. Bad idea.) For years we’ve done small tubs of Play-Doh, temporary tattoos, bouncy balls, pencils and notepads, that sort of thing. Last year we gave out the YummyEarth lollipops, too, if only to tip the balance in the treat bags. I know others who do mini raisin boxes, or small bags of nuts, crackers or pretzels (though you still have to label-read for crazy ingredients). Our local food co-op sells bulk ginger chews and mini fair-trade chocolate bars (also available here). And a reader, Karen, alerted me to an organization called Green Halloween that has a terrific list of treat alternatives. Love (love!) the nature items. Or you could get really radical and give away junk-food carrots. (See my previous post on that here.)
Now. Wait. Listen. Someone, somewhere, is saying some variation of this: “Sheesh. It’s Halloween. It’s one day a year. Lighten up and let the kids have their candy, already!”
But, see, that’s the problem. It’s not just one day a year. It’s Halloween night and class parties and community events and then the winter holidays and Valentine’s Day and Easter and birthday parties and swimming class and soccer games and the bank and the shoe store and restaurants with kid menus and the grandparents’ house and anyplace else kids set foot, including, of course, school. The sugar culture is so strong, the highly processed foodstuffs so epidemic, that we no longer have the luxury of viewing these things in isolation. It’s not just a few Halloween treats or one blue cupcake. It’s a crushing pile of chemical-laden pseudo food. And at some point we just have to make it stop.
So yes, I say boo.
What do you think? Do you have a sweets strategy? Treat tales? Tell me how you plan to handle all that candy on All Hallows Eve.
This post originally appeared on Spoonfed last Halloween, and we had quite a discussion about the candy onslaught, non-food alternatives and the ethics of throwing candy away. Then I followed up with this post about the days after the big night. (Hint: Limiting candy does not ruin childhood.) Then, in December, we used the Halloween stash to decorate (non-edible) gingerbread houses.
Copyright protected by Digiprove © 2011 Christina Le Beau
We’ve tried the trick or treating, we’ve skipped it altogether, we’ve also done the trunk or treat at church and passed out bracelets and rings. Every year we end up dumping 95% of the candy.
This year we are changing things, and I’m so proud of my 6 year old ASKING for the change based on something she read in her Highlights magazine. That’s right, mom didn’t put a bug in her ear this time.
This year we will go out on Halloween and pick up trash along some roads around town. Yes we’ll probably be purchasing rubber gloves to protect little hands, but she is opting out of candy this year. My 3 year old has a wonderful older sibling to look up to!!! I couldn’t be more proud.
Love this, Kelly. Your daughter sounds like an independent thinker, and that’s always good.
Great post. Last year, we did the bait & switch, which went over well. She was young and accepted the popcorn balls and fruit leathers over the suckers and tootsie rolls. Now that she’s older and has grasped that she cannot eat any gluten, I’m hopeful that explaining why she can’t have certain candies should be easier. We also have some of the Yummy Brand suckers and gummies on hand and I’m sure grandma will deliver the popcorn balls again (which were a hit and haven’t been available since last Halloween).
I agree with you when people get all “It’s just one night.” It’s not. And we have the right to limit the pseudo food if we choose as parents and educate our kids as to why we are limiting it so they can also make educated decisions.
Yes! Great article. We do the Switch Witch (and keep our own high quality candy stash to trade up to as well) but a.) my kids now know it’s me and they couldn’t care less and b.) they know exactly why the candy is going bye-bye. “Just one night” my behind. It’s never ending, and that is why the education must continue. Going to check Green Halloween now…
I think you’re right that denying your child will make the candy more desirable, and making them go “poof” in the night isn’t the right solution either. Last year I proposed a better-buy-back for my daughter. She pulled out all the candy she doesn’t love and I gave her cash to replace the sub-par stuff with her favorites. My thinking? Better to eat what you love then to eat what’s in front of you.
Dina, that’s exactly what I tell my daughter about choosing candy and other occasional foods. They don’t do anything good for our bodies, so they’d better taste damn good! Our school-treat swap strategy is based on that same premise: If a classmate brings a birthday treat that we normally wouldn’t eat, and Tess declines (it’s her choice), she gets something more wholesome (and more tasty) after school. That teaches her that the good stuff is worth waiting for, and also to listen to her body. Because, as you said, just because it’s there, doesn’t mean she has to eat it.
You’ve got me thinking.
Our street is Halloween central, the door goes non-stop from 4pm until about 9.30pm. My girls are almost 5 and they love the buzz and to not participate would be impossible. They eat so well, everything home-made lots of real food, never eaten at a fast food outlet and ice cream trucks are verboten. So Halloween does terrify me – all that coloring, processed bad stuff – so I need to get my strategy together. Quite like the idea of candy swap or witch switch. Thanks for reminding me to get my act together!
I feel exactly about Halloween as you do! Thank you for this great write up! I allow my daughter (she’s 10) to fill one Ball jar with candy to keep. The rest gets thrown away. She’ll eat maybe 5 pieces over the course of several weeks, but what she loves to do the most with this crap is science/kitchen experiments. She mixes, mashes, crushes, dilutes, cooks, and otherwise destroys the candy in a fun session of experimentation. I love it! (Of course she doesn’t eat the end result…it looks as nasty as it should.)
Carla, my daughter loves doing science experiments like that, too. I wrote about that in my follow-up post. And I really should follow up on that follow-up! Here’s a great website: CandyExperiments.com.
Now that we are a food coloring free family (daughter is highly sensitive) I’ve been thinking of strategies this year. Thinking that after the sort we will go the route of keeping some things for gingerbread houses and the for rest that they can’t have they can choose to swap for an array of ok treats, coins to spend or one thing I know they have been pining for (which can just go under the x-mas tree if they don’t pick it). She knows that she can’t eat food coloring without feeling awful and she often turns down really tempting treats and tells people why (not just that she is sensitive but that it is poison for your brain). It always impresses me that coming from a 6 year old, adults actually listen to the message but coming from me I can feel the mental eye roll. The art of being matter-of-fact like only a kid can be.
Great write up and comments. I love the science experiment idea!, that’s innovative!
My children have food allergies to dairy, eggs, seeds and soy. Although allergies are not an advantage they avoid a lot of the garbage issue as they just don’t/can’t eat it. They go trick or treating with their UNICEF boxes. Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun but they actually love the night, getting dressed up, going out after dark… they don’t seem to resent the lack of candy so far.
I totally agree with your statement about “it’s only one night” I hear that excuse for everything. Every holiday, every birthday, every special dinner out, being on vacation, parties, etc. Yes Halloween is one night, but it shouldn’t be isolated in peoples minds as a singular candy event for the year when it clearly is not.
I’m with you – we give out pretzels and donate our candy. Also, the Halloween Fairy can come and take the candy and replace it with something else – a stuffed animal or something.
For the “it’s only one night a year” thought – I say the same thing that I do with sugary treats at school. If you’re going to feed my child without asking my permission, it needs to be healthy. And I won’t feed your child whatever I want them to eat either.
Hi, Thanks for this perspective, about getting the kids involved in the decisions instead of just taking the junk away and switching. We will try that this year. My daughter is like yours, she has heard everything from me over and over and is now able to decline dye-laden treats from friends, knowing that we have great alternatives at home.
I wanted to add one thing. In my search for dye-free kids’ stuff, I checked the ingredients of temporary tattoos. Turns out they contain FD&C dyes. Just a heads up about this ubiquitous goody bag go-to! 😉
I totally agree with you, fortunately, I grew up not celebrating Halloween and so my husband and I decided that our children will not either…after all, we can dress up EVERY day, and don’t need all that candy!
And we’ve also saved junk candy from birthday parties and such just to decorate a gingerbread house with for fun (then we throw it out)!
Several local pediatric dentists did candy swaps this year, children could bring in their candy to switch for toys or money for weight. I think this is great because if you need a way to start talking to your child about why so much bad candy is, well, bad, what better opportunity than when they are handing over their ‘goodies’ for something better! If they opt for cash it opens up talking about being responsible with money too 🙂 I hope this is a trend that spreads!