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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.

Americans spend more than $2 billion a year on Halloween candy. Two. Billion.

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?

Orange you glad they make this?

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.

Sticky and icky

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.

In other Halloween news: Chipotle, the restaurant chain that tries to give fast food a good name, is sponsoring a hilarious costume contest, with proceeds benefiting Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Dress as your favorite “horrifying processed food product,” go to any Chipotle after 6 p.m. on Halloween and get a meal for two bucks. Then submit a picture of yourself (in costume, in a Chipotle) and enter to win some serious cash. Love this. Not sure I’ll do it. But I love it.

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