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Candy insanity: Halloween here we come

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.

This post is linked into Real Food Wednesdays, Fight Back Fridays and Vegetarian Foodie Fridays.

  Copyright protected by Digiprove © 2010 Christina Le Beau

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{ 43 comments… add one }

  • Adrienne October 20, 2010, 11:26 am

    Thank you, Christina, for a fabulous post. You are spot on when you talk about how Halloween candy is not just about the one day – it IS all year, all the time. At my son’s school, they collect candy for the troops. Not entirely sure how I feel about that – do I want the people who are out there fighting to be eating HFCS or artificial colors? Hmmm…We also sort and I let my kids pick their favorites (which usually amount to the mini Twix and Snickers bars) and we “save” the rest. They ask for some occasionally but we still have 2 bags full of candy from LAST Halloween that they haven’t eaten yet! We don’t make it taboo but we also talk about why some candy is worse than others. My kids have also had the unfortunate experience of eating too much junk and getting sick from it. That feeling stays with them for a long time!

    • Christina October 20, 2010, 12:04 pm

      Adrienne, I’ve read about collecting candy for the troops and think that’s a crazy idea. I feel the same way about bringing leftover candy into the office or donating it to homeless shelters or any of the other things people do to get the candy out of their house.

      Just. Throw. It. Away.

      People get so hung up on the idea of “wasting” candy. But really? We should waste our health instead?

  • Bettina at The Lunch Tray October 20, 2010, 11:40 am

    My post on this topic – a hot one for us parent/food bloggers! – will appear next week, but I’ll be sure to link to yours as well so others can read about and learn from your strategy.

    For us, the “hide-it-away-til-they-forget” ploy worked for years but now the 8- and 10-year old are totally on to us! Time for a new plan!

    – Bettina at The Lunch Tray
    kids and food, in school and out

  • Michelle (What's Cooking) October 20, 2010, 1:25 pm

    Spot on, as usual. It is never just one day. That’s why I was trying to fight treats for every student on every birthday IN class. You know they are getting treats later and at home too – so why do it in school too? We let our kids pick some of their favorites and then take the rest away and give the kids a book. This year, I am being especially careful of what the kids get to keep because I am suspecting that HFCS and artificial colors affect the way that our son behaves…in a very BAD way. I can always replace his loot with something that is more suitable for his body… It’s all about teaching balance.

    • Christina October 20, 2010, 1:50 pm

      Michelle, I’m so with you on birthdays in school. I even ran into kids this summer who brought birthday treats to camp. Hello! They don’t even know most of the other kids. So what exactly are they “celebrating”?

      As I mentioned in your Halloween candy post (’tis the season!), we limit the candy not because Tess would eat it with abandon if given the chance. We do it because the candy culture has gotten out of hand, and this is an opportunity to educate her. The whole “moderation” argument doesn’t fly with me. Moderation is just a buzzword the food industry uses to make people feel better about eating junk.

  • kristi October 20, 2010, 2:28 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this, and I like your philosophy of letting Tess taste the nasty stuff (if she asks for it) to notice the difference in quality. My oldest is 4, and hopefully will have a very short memory again this year when I ditch 99% of her candy (she’s already forgotten about the lollypop the teller gave her at the bank two days ago, which I promptly stuffed in my pocket after I dropped her off at school). And the other two are still way too young anyway. Two-year-olds and candy do not mix, especially considering one of them has only 4 teeth.

    So, yes. I say “Boo!” too.

  • Kira October 20, 2010, 8:11 pm

    I stopped at the Victor farmers market today on my way home from the farm… It was the last market of the season and there were children dressed up and trick-or-treating at each vendor. Most vendors had fruit, fresh veggies, and all sorts of delicious offerings, but what did they give the children? Store-bought candy! How sad…
    I know last year at the South Wedge each vendor gave out samples of their produce instead. Why stuff candy into the bags when there’s such a variety of goodness to offer? It was refreshing to watch little boys and girls grinning from ear to ear to get a bulb of garlic, a miniature pumpkin, or a pear as their “treat”.

    • Christina October 21, 2010, 3:21 pm

      Love the South Wedge market at Halloween. And the Brighton market, too. And the farmers/vendors who do give candy are usually sensible about it; i.e., no chemical ingredients.

  • Melodie October 20, 2010, 11:43 pm

    I do things pretty similar to you. My kids go trick or treating and get candy and get to eat a couple pieces. Then we go through and take out the candy and leave the chocolate and anything that’s not full of food dye. We talk about it too. They get to eat their chocolates a bit at a time but eventually they forget about it and we pass it on to someone else or it gets thrown out. We’ve handed out raisins and organic chocolate. A friend of mine does what you do but last year handed out glow stick bracelets. I think we might do that this year too.
    One thing I want to share here, if I may, is even if readers do buy candy please please please don’t buy Nestle. Annie at PhD in Parenting has all the information you’d ever need to read on why, but basically they are an unethical company that have been shown to contribute to infant deaths through their marketing of formula in developing countries, not to mention here, but most of the horrible things they’ve done have happened abroad. Feel free to google this to find out more. I tell my kids why we don’t buy Nestle when they see something they want (like Smarties for decorating cupcakes). For me it is just important as telling them the good things about good nutrition as well as the bad things about the companies who want to sabotage our health and the health of others.

    • Christina October 21, 2010, 3:26 pm

      Thanks, Melodie, for the scoop on Nestle. I’ve heard about the Nestle boycotts before (seems they’ve been going on forever, if that says anything about the wheels of progress). But I hadn’t really paid much attention since we don’t buy Nestle products or most other conventional food brands. So I hadn’t realized the scope of the problem. But now, wow. I’ll definitely have to do some more reading on this.

      • Melodie October 22, 2010, 3:59 pm

        Thanks for posting this on Vegetarian Foodie Fridays. To follow up the Nestle matter – it is a big topic among the breastfeeding and natural parenting blogs. It isn’t a huge deal in my life because we also don’t buy the processed foods that Nestle is famous for, but it is a good thing to know for anyone who happens to only buy their products this time of year. Oct 25-31 is actually International Nestle-Free week and bloggers are doing posts on them to raise awareness of the issues. On Twitter they even have their own hashtag #boonestle. The other world of blogging that I occupy has its own campaign site this year: http://boonestle.blogspot.com/ and I just read a good little post on the main points about Nestle here: http://birthingbeautifulideas.com/?p=2438

  • the urban baker October 21, 2010, 9:16 am

    Since my oldest was around 3 years old, we told him about the “switch witch”. Our tradition is that all three of our kids get to choose and save 10 pieces of candy. The rest of the candy (last year it was something like 23 lbs.) goes outside, in a big bag, and the switch witch comes to our house and takes it away and replaces it with something they really want. One year it was art supplies, another year it may have been a thomas the train. Whatever it is, within reason, gets swapped out. My kids seem perfectly happy with this plan. Generally, I end up finding an organization that either gives the candy to the local hospitals or recently, I have found a place that sends it off to the troops! I just can’t have all that candy around…i eat it, they eat and it is bad all the way around! Great Post!!

    • Christina October 21, 2010, 4:15 pm

      Love that you weighed the candy, Urban Baker. That’s a lot o’ junkola.

      As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I don’t love the idea of sending candy to soldiers. And giving it to hospitals, well, that seems to almost beg for a punchline, you know? But I do understand the desire to send it off. Next time maybe the Switch Witch can poof it right into the trash can.

  • Nipa October 21, 2010, 9:36 am

    Two billion dollars worth of candy for Halloween? Wow.

    I try to take the focus away from Halloween = collecting candy to Halloween = dress up and play in character. Our town has many parades, competitions and celebrations that the kids look forward to them as much as “candy night”. If I had a little more time on my hands I would emphasize the “make your own costume” that once used to be a Halloween tradition but since my boys are 7 and 4 that requires a little more hands on time than I have. My quick and easy Halloween activity is to take out a lot of Halloween books from the library. We also like to flip through the magazines and pretend we have the time and energy to make haunted houses out of crackers and dip and eyeballs out of grapes!

    Having said that, we still go trick or treating but try to limit long we go out for and how much candy the kids actually take. Like you Chris, we sort and toss, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could reduce the need for candy? If people stop buying so much, the candy companies wouldn’t have the demand for it. If we could all cut back a little it would add up to a lot less candy going around.

    Occasionally someone will give out little snack packs or healthy treat bags (crackers or Annie’s fruit snacks) and I make sure to point out what a nice change that it. I rarely buy them myself because we try to use reusable containers but I like to keep them in my purse for “emergencies”. The sticker/silly bands/pencils are nice too, but honestly, that’s another trend that seems to be out of control. I’m guilty of buying a lot of them for birthdays and other events, but I am trying harder to scale back and focus on giving out one nice gift rather than a dozen cheap ones.

    You’re right, if it were one night, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal, but we’re finding that it’s not limited to holidays any more. Enter our bank, have a lollipop. Do your homework, pick out a prize. Come to an appointment, have a sticker. It’s tough to fight it all the time.

    • Christina October 21, 2010, 4:49 pm

      Nipa, I’d far prefer that we collectively cut back on candy and trinkets. (And I go that route with our own birthday goody bags — no candy, and usually just one special item.) But I realize that’s a battle I’m not going to win anytime soon. So in the meantime, I strategize on the homefront. (Though that definitely does not include peeling grapes for eyeballs.)

  • jenna Food WIth Kid Appeal October 21, 2010, 9:58 am

    where have I been? never heard of the switch witch, she must not live in TX. We’ve done the put the box away and forget about it thing for years. I was surprised when this year my 4 yo and 6yo asked for treats less often. When they got nasty candy and offered to share with me, I’d read the ingredients and say, “hmm Red 40, that has nasty brain poisons, no thank you.” I didn’t ask them to toss their junk, but i started suggesting that the kids throw the food colored, HFCS junk out this year with bday party bags, and will do the same at halloween. I also have a stash of dye free gummy bears and annie’s snacks that i will trade for the nasties if they want to. i may offer a shopping spree at half price books for anyone who dumps the lot. not sure my 4yo would take me up on that, but big kid might…

    hate junk in school! Pre-K teacher gives M&Ms to kids when they are quiet at nap time. What?? I complained so she started giving the mini-M&Ms. Double What?? There are 2x 22 kid pre – K classes. That’s 44 snacks of blue topped cupcakes during the school year. Moderation? Not hardly. On my list of things to do is write a letter to parents and ask teacher to send home with kids requesting parents bring in white topped cupcakes to avoid food dyes during the school day. kids need a chance to learn without toxins in their head.

    i’m with you. throw out the nasty candy. i do not want to waste my family’s health, that of the armed forces or economically disadvantaged kids. i’m going to buy pencils to hand out, still gotta find some. my kids still love getting pencils as treats, neighborhood kids might not, but that’s not my problem.

    • Christina October 21, 2010, 9:17 pm

      Wow, Jenna, that is some crazy M&M situation. Apparently, as the teacher sees it, the problem isn’t that she’s giving kids candy. At naptime. As a reward. No, nothing wrong with any of those things. The problem is that the candy is too big. Yikes.

      We’re fortunate that our daughter’s school is pretty progressive when it comes to food (no candy allowed ever, even at parties, and wholesome birthday treats are encouraged). But it drives me nuts when some parents still bring in neon cupcakes or packaged sweets from the grocery store with ingredients lists so long they wrap around the box.

  • Bri October 21, 2010, 1:55 pm

    I have to admit, I may not be quite as vigilant as some on Halloween! We do distribute candy, though we tend to choose only chocolate-based candies and we do try to be responsible about reading the labels for the truly nasty ingredients; a rule of thumb for me is that if I wouldnt feel comfortable letting my children eat a piece of it, I won’t buy it to distribute. Our kids are little — 4 and 18 months — so obviously, it’s really a no-brainer with the baby (we might let him have a small piece of plain chocolate this year, for a thrill), and for the 4-year-old, we do the following:
    1) Limit the trick-or-treat route. Fewer houses, less candy.
    2) Refuse the “more than one” offers at houses. We politely tell them, “No thank you, one’s fine!” when they try to let him pick a handful of treats.
    3) Go through the candy with him and let him keep whatever will fit in a small cup we have just for such an occasion. We don’t allow him to keep gummies or super-chewy items, most lollipops (we may stash away two of his choosing for very rare treats), or anything that immediately sets off “UGH!” bells in my head. Usually he ends up with a small stash of chocolates, most of which he won’t eat, but we let him have the excitement.
    4) The rest of the candy is fated for either the trash, if it’s really nasty stuff; or, if it’s relatively benign, I put it into our candy bowl and let the 4-year-old spend the evening on the porch with me, handing out candy to the bigger trick-or-treaters. He loves “sharing” his candy with the neighborhood kids. I know it might be passing the buck on to somebody else, but it shows my kid that you only keep what you “need” and then pass on what you don’t, which is a non-food lesson I like to reinforce every once in a while.
    And just for the record: I’ve worked in places where people are super food-insecure, or where mothers can’t take their kids trick-or-treating on Halloween because they are living in a domestic violence shelter and it’s not safe to take them out. As “evil” as donating candy might seem, there are few, rare instances where people who are used to doing without and whose kids are dreading not having the fun that the other kids have might actually benefit SPIRITUALLY from a donation of candy. Letting those kids in shelters attend a safe Halloween party where they receive a few Snickers bars may not be the most nutritionally valuable thing, but it feeds their self-esteem — and let’s face it, gathering them all up and handing out pencils and play-doh on Halloween doesn’t make them feel just like everybody else. It’s a dignity thing.

    • Christina October 21, 2010, 9:32 pm

      Bri, that’s an interesting point about how candy, donated to the right places, can lift spirits, at least for a little bit. I suppose if people actively seek out those kinds of opportunities, that’s different from just donating it randomly to get it out of the house. Hadn’t really thought about that before, so thank you for mentioning it.

  • Bevie October 21, 2010, 9:07 pm

    I chose this year to sidestep the “what to do about the candy” issue. Instead of trick-or-treat my daughter is planning and hosting a Halloween costume party with a bonfire, hot wings, pumpkin cake and caramel apples. My reasoning is only partly to save us from the sugary deluge. In reality when kids trick or treat it supports the sugar culture just as much to get the stuff and throw it away, because someone has already bought it and if kids come to the door for it they will get it again next year because that’s just the thing to do. I doubt if the candy makers care what happens to the stuff after they get their money for it.
    I hope that by providing an alternative that is still exciting and social I can create and support a better model of Halloween tradition.

    • Christina October 21, 2010, 9:38 pm

      What a great idea, Bevie. You’re right, of course, that we all fuel the industry even if we don’t eat its wares. With our daughter, we do what Bri mentioned above (limit the route, and decline handful offers), so I like to think that helps keep things in check. But of course that’s not the same as opting out.

      Not sure I could persuade my daughter to skip trick-or-treating, unless we got all her friends on board. But you’ve got me thinking for next year. Curious to know: How old is your daughter?

      • Bevie October 21, 2010, 10:31 pm

        My girl is 12 now, but we did have a successful year when she and her step-sister were about 6 or 7 doing a Halloween party. We did still do some candy then, but nowhere near the trick-or-treat loot bags they would get. I would find it very encouraging to see another community or group of friends get into a tradition that focuses on exciting activities instead of candy. We are trying, but facing challenges because many of her friends cannot grasp the concept of a loot-free Halloween. She is still excited and hopeful about the event though. Who wouldn’t be with the promise of a big fire, permission to run around with a HUGE toy sword and the opportunity to stick her face in a big tub of ice cold water to try to catch an apple with her teeth?

        • Christina October 22, 2010, 7:56 am

          Hmmm. Pretty sure the bonfire wouldn’t fly in our urban neighborhood. But the wheels are turning… Thanks so much for sharing your story. Hope to see you here again.

  • Karen Renzi October 22, 2010, 10:39 am

    Have you heard of Green Halloween? (http://greenhalloween.org/) Lynn and Corey are great!

    • Christina October 22, 2010, 11:01 am

      So cool, Karen, thanks. I hadn’t heard of this, but I love the idea, and the list of treat suggestions is terrific. Going to add it to the post now.

  • peg October 22, 2010, 2:44 pm

    Good for You!! Hooray!! I am grandmother age now, though I don’t have one yet, there is one on the way!! Anyway, every time I see young mothers like you, waking up to all of the horrible “food issues” that we face, I have renewed hope. It has to stop somewhere, and you young mothers are on the right track. Continue to be the messengers. So proud of all of you. Take care.

    • Christina October 22, 2010, 9:54 pm

      Well, Peg, your comment just made my day! Thanks so much for taking the time to visit. Hope we’ll see you again. And congrats on your pending grandparenthood!

  • Melissa Graham October 23, 2010, 8:46 am


    I take a very similar tact when dealing with Halloween, which I wrote about for Kiwi last week http://kiwimagonline.com/kiwilog/healthy-food-choices-lifestyle/5-ways-to-have-a-healthy-halloween. It’s amazing how excessive the day has become, but then what hasn’t these days. I was happy when his school stopped the Valentine’s day celebrations as the sugar loot was almost as bad. That was the first year that we instituted our trade policy: if Thor gave up his bagful of candy, he could have 2 handmade artisanal truffles from our favorite chocolate place. He was happy to do it. You’re absolutely correct that if you give kids real food, they’ll usually make good decisions. We had a fascinating discussion at dinner last night when our son proclaimed that fast food companies cheat by manipulating their food to make it more appealing to kids. They get it, as long as you’re honest and up front about it.

    • Christina October 23, 2010, 11:10 am

      Melissa, we have a trade policy like that for school treats. If there’s a birthday treat (or, occasionally, the rare other treat) offered during the school day that is clearly something we’d normally skip (obvious food dyes, for instance), then Tess has the option of declining and, after school, coming with me to our favorite bakery (local, organic) for a treat.

      It’s entirely her choice. And it hasn’t been invoked often, since, thankfully, her school and most of the parents are fairly progressive. But when she’s had the choice, she’s picked the bakery every time. (Smart kid. It’s a very tasty bakery.) I’ll be writing more about this strategy as part of another post soon. Hope you’ll chime in then.

  • Gina October 25, 2010, 2:48 am

    If I were to write another post on Halloween it would be this one…word for word! It’s almost eerie.

    But we do the same things: buy healthier treats like the Yummy Organic lollipops and Annie’s fruit chewys. The kids can trade their loot in for the better stuff, for books or money for their piggy banks. Since this is what we’ve always done, there’s no complaining or push back. They don’t know any different.

    So many holidays have become all about the candy, it’s sad. We do our best to keep holidays about the meaning behind them and the special festivities. Even our youngest at four doesn’t complain when there’s no heart-shaped box of chocolates at Valentine’s day. For them, it’s not about that. And I love my kids for that.

    Thanks for sharing this. We need to be talking about these issues.

  • Rachel October 25, 2010, 3:00 pm

    I really did get hung up on the idea of wasting the candy–we are wasting the resources to make that candy and in my opinion we don’t have resources to waste. I also didn’t want to pass it along to anyone else because I don’t want to be contributing to someone else health problems. So when I decided to eliminate candies with corn syrup, artificial colors, and artificial flavors from my I sought ideas for trick or treating that would mean that my kid was not getting candy from trick or treating that would simply be wasted.

    Some years we have collected food for our local food pantry on Halloween. When we did that, we put notes on our neighbors’ doors and let them know ahead of time that’s what we were doing and pulled a wagon behind us to carry the cans in.

    Other years we have done what we call reverse trick or treating. We carry natural candy with us and pass it out to the houses we stop at. It’s always fun to see people’s reactions and after a couple of years, people began to expect us and would say “Oh, it’s that kid who gives *us* candy” and would call people from other parts of the house to come talk to us.

    Another thing that we have participated in the past but that was not my idea, was get togethers at a park or other outdoor space where there would be locations for the kids to stop at and listen to a story while getting a small treat (often a toy or some small thing). These are also a fun alternative.

    • Christina October 25, 2010, 3:54 pm

      Rachel, what great ideas. Love the concept of “reverse trick-or-treating.” What a neat idea not only to spread the word about natural candy, but also to share the joy of giving with your child. Though we limit the trick-or-treat route and decline handfuls, we’ve let Tess collect candy knowing a lot of it will be thrown away, and yes, the waste bothers me. But not enough to eat it or pass it on to other people to eat. So it’s just been one of those imperfect solutions.

      But you and other readers are giving me all sorts of new ideas. This year, I think we’ll save a bunch for gingerbread houses again. We did that last Halloween, and it worked really well. And going forward I’ve got a lot to think about.

      I have to say, in the run-up to Halloween, it’s been refreshing to hear so many thoughtful responses about this subject.

  • Lindsey October 27, 2010, 12:51 pm

    Love Love Love this post. I completely agree – they need to actually taste and enjoy real food. Real sweets are equally yummy! I think it is a matter of just being the parent and setting those boundaries that help them grow into a good, independent adult. If we continue to teach them it is ok to eat these gross chemicals in moderation, they will. These foods are trash and not a nice way to treat your body – ever!

  • Jean October 27, 2010, 1:18 pm

    I totally support your efforts to keep the gross stuff from your children…I just keep thinking, though, why accept it in the first place?? Why not trick or treat for unicef or for the local food pantry (as one of your readers suggested above), or only trick or treat only at friend’s houses where you know that they are offering what you will allow. I just don’t know if I like the underlying message of ‘it’s okay to take gifts that others have generously given and then just throw them away because we don’t like them’ – even if it is for a good reason…I would rather my children learn how to graciously decline or how to enjoy alternative celebrations.

    I love your blog and how you are teaching your children, I am hoping that you understand that it is not my intent to be critical.

    Last year we gave out pencils.

    • Christina October 27, 2010, 1:48 pm

      Hi, Jean, and welcome. As I mentioned in another comment, our strategy is indeed an imperfect solution. But I’m learning a lot from readers and will be rethinking things for next year. And this year we’ll keep candy for gingerbread houses again, which worked out quite well last Christmas.

      My daughter has learned the art of the gracious decline (well, mostly learned it, anyway), and we do employ that as needed. But Halloween is a tricky thing. The fun for her is dressing up, running around in the dark, crunching through leaf piles with her friends, and letting herself be scared by goofy neighborhood ghouls. So I don’t want to throw a wrench in things by policing every candy bowl along the route. It’s simply easier to take it and deal with it later. (And, honestly, I’m not sure I’d equate Halloween candy with other sorts of gifts, though I do see your point!) But the wheels are definitely turning for next year.

  • Melissa Graham October 27, 2010, 2:26 pm

    I would agree, Christina. My son’s learned to graciously turn down sports/school snacks that will only be destined for the trash can, but Halloween is just not the setting to do that. Kids need to live in the real world, while we try to change that world, and making people feel badly about what they’re handing out, in my view, isn’t going to change any minds, but harden hearts against those of us fighting for a healthier future for our own and other people’s kids. We all tell little white lies in our lives that save people’s feelings and I think that this is the lesson to be learned in accepting the small package of Nerds and discarding it later.

    Re. giving candy away. We don’t go to too many houses so we don’t get too much and most people tend to give the Snickers, Milky Ways, and Reese’s, which at least resemble something you could make, so we do give what’s remaining from our triage system to my husband’s office.

  • Karina October 31, 2010, 10:21 pm

    A friend of mine in the Midwest helped save our candy insanity problem by introducing us to the Great Pumpkin.

    You see, in the few days following Halloween, the Great Pumpkin travels around to all the houses and takes all the candy that kids are willing to give away in exchange for a present. The more candy given away, the better the present.

    One year my daughter got a highly-sought-after hardbound Disney Fairies book–quite expensive!–because she got rid of a LOT of candy.

    This evening, we hadn’t even gotten home from trick-or-treating before my girls were asking if we had time to sort candy before bed. When I said not tonight, they asked if the Great Pumpkin would be coming or did they still have a couple days?

    The good news is that my daughter usually forgets about her Halloween candy. When we moved recently, we found two years’ worth of candy tucked into bags in the pantry.

    And that candy the kids give away? Sometimes in the trash, sometimes dumped in the teacher’s room where we teach… because after dealing with kids hyped up on sugar all day, sometimes we all need a little sugar ourselves! ;)

    Try the Great Pumpkin. You’ll never regret it!

    • Christina November 4, 2010, 12:41 am

      I think the Great Pumpkin would be mighty disappointed at our haul this year, thanks partly to the weather and partly to the fact that my daughter and her friend wanted to hurry home and dig out the popcorn bags a neighbor gave them. But we did fine with our usual strategy, with a twist. Just put up a new post about that called Halloween post-mortem. Candy recalls. And why teachers hate the day after.

  • lucy November 9, 2010, 11:53 pm

    Why trick or treat then if you know you are going to throw most of it away! I think it is extremely rude to go door to door asking for candy when you know very well that you will going home to throw it out. Get together with a bunch of organic types and throw yourselves a halloween party with all your organic treats and whatnot. Problem solved.

    • Christina November 10, 2010, 9:18 am

      Lucy, I actually addressed that already, in comment No. 35. But I’ll reprint it for you here:

      “As I mentioned in another comment, our strategy is indeed an imperfect solution. But I’m learning a lot from readers and will be rethinking things for next year. And this year we’ll keep candy for gingerbread houses again, which worked out quite well last Christmas.

      My daughter has learned the art of the gracious decline (well, mostly learned it, anyway), and we do employ that as needed. But Halloween is a tricky thing. The fun for her is dressing up, running around in the dark, crunching through leaf piles with her friends, and letting herself be scared by goofy neighborhood ghouls. So I don’t want to throw a wrench in things by policing every candy bowl along the route. It’s simply easier to take it and deal with it later. (And, honestly, I’m not sure I’d equate Halloween candy with other sorts of gifts, though I do see your point!) But the wheels are definitely turning for next year.”

      • Karina November 10, 2010, 10:28 am

        I agree. The fun is to go out and collect the candy and see friends in costume and get dressed up themselves. This is a tradition that is ingrained in this country. Expecting the kids to not go out, or to only trick-or-treat for a short time, then to eat every piece of candy they get when we all know they won’t like some, is unrealistic. It’s like when little kids take too much food at dinner; we teach them how to take less, yes, but we also don’t expect them to clear their plates. I personally am happy that my girls are capable of sorting through candy and picking the ones they truly want. Yes, there is a “prize” waiting at the other side if they do that, but that’s part of teaching them a new habit–the positive reinforcement. I don’t see a problem with it.

        If anyone is truly that concerned about giving away some candy that might go to waste on one night a year, they can simply do as others do–turn off the porch light. That’s the “universal” sign for “we aren’t giving out candy”.

        Halloween is one of my girls’ top favorite holidays, next only to Christmas or their birthdays. And their focus is the costume and trick-or-treating–days later, they barely remember the candy, but yes, they are eating a piece now and again for dessert as we all remember it’s there.

  • Jean November 10, 2010, 1:54 pm

    It seems like quite a few comments have mentioned the notion that the tradition is in the dressing up and trick-or-treating at a bunch of houses, seeing friends and such. I want to take the opportunity to point out that this tradition is really a cultural phenomenon of suburbia – having grown up out in the country, Halloween didn’t include a ton of trick-or-treating. We had a blast dressing up, went to a party, the parade at school, then that evening we hopped in the car and drove to a few houses (friends and close neighbors) to trick or treat.

    WE make trick-or-treating the focus…and if we can imagine (rightfully so) that our children will not suffer to forgo the cotton candy at the carnival, happy meals, Lucky Charms in the morning, and the plethora of other unhealthy, but culturally established rites of childhood then surely we can change our traditions about Trick-or-Treating. Lets put a dent in that billion $$ halloween candy industry, by enjoying our costumes and visiting a few selected friends, knocking on their doors in the dark and such…but not go crazy in the amount collected so we don’t need to invent artifical “switch witches” (as if our kids need more instances to get presents) or figure out another way to dump our ‘unwanted candy’…lets just not get to the unwanted part.

    WE tell our children what is fun and what a particular holiday means and WE CAN make changes!

    • Christina November 10, 2010, 9:03 pm

      Jean, I’d love to collectively reach a point where mass candy accumulation falls out of favor. In the meantime, those of us who’d like alternative celebrations can certainly choose them. And those of us who want to keep trick-or-treating can use other strategies to reduce the waste (i.e., going to fewer houses, giving out useful non-edible treats, finding creative uses for the candy we do take).

      Personally, we got so little candy this year that I don’t feel in the least bit bad about throwing away a few pieces. But most of it is being saved for gingerbread houses and candy experiments (which I mentioned in this follow-up post). And that’s been a fun way to participate without the unhealthy part. Sort of like still going to the carnival, but skipping the cotton candy.

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