Let’s Talk about Candy

Child dressed in Halloween costume eating cupcake

For parents who prefer that their children not eat everlasting gobs of sugar every Halloween, the holiday becomes a time to take a deep breath and figure out how we will navigate the choices this year. To candy or not to candy?

Switch to Better Alternatives

Within the dominant structure of treat or treat and begging for candy, or truck or treat, or school parties, or whatever is popular in your area, most options include a lot of candy.

One option is to participate but contribute better alternatives. Better alternatives to WHAT depends on your priorities. Is your family completely sugar free? Then maybe you look for sugar-free treats or natural sweets. Are you open to candy, but you don’t want to eat conventional chocolate? Then you might want to find bite-size fair trade chocolate. Organic? Plenty of that. Local? My grocery store has a dozen local chocolate choices, some organic and some fair trade.

So, the first question is: what part of the dominant celebration are you trying to avoid? Then ask how you can do that and still participate.

Or, Limit the Candy

Some parents who generally avoid sugar or chocolate or a list of other candy issues, relax the rules on Halloween. This approach avoids creating candy as the desired thing for a child, the thing they must have at all costs as soon as you aren’t looking.

The Switch Witch and the Magic Pumpkin are two ideas you can read more about in “Halloween Treat Alternatives.” The child chooses a few candies to keep then leaves the rest out for the Switch Witch or the Magic Pumpkin, who leaves a different gift.

I just said NO to candy when my children were small, perhaps less than 5-years old. Once my children were older, I let them keep what they gathered, but I limited them to one piece per day each. I don’t love this solution, but it worked those years when we participated in trick or treating with friends and neighbors.

Or, Switch Structure

Rather than accept the dominant idea that Halloween must involve candy, switch to another structure entirely. Have a costume dinner party for adults and children. Go to a maize maze in costume. Find a fun activity that celebrates the season without focusing on candy.

This is the option we choose most years. I like that this doesn’t put our choices as an alternative to candy but just removes thinking about the candy altogether.

Resources: Thinking about Candy for Children

We’ve collected a few of our past posts that you may find helpful.

Halloween Treat Alternatives

Four ways to shift focus from “Gimme Candy” to sweet memories, weird science, social activism, or community.

Sugar: 7 Reasons to Break the Addiction

Baby eating a sugar lollipopNot sure whether there is a good enough reason to skip the sugary candy altogether this year? Read through our seven reasons to avoid sugar and the studies that back up the reasons. Sugar is addictive, toxic, leads to disease, saps energy, shortens your life, and can make you stupid. How is that for reason enough?

How Are Families Going Sugar Free?

A spiral of sugarThese are baby steps to break the sugar addiction for a whole family. It isn’t holiday focused, but there are good and important steps you can incorporate into a changed holiday if you are ready to make the break.

Dark Side of Chocolate

The Dark Side of Chocolate is a documentary about child labor and slavery in the cocoa industry. Fair trade or skip it. You won’t find chocolate so sweet when you see this story.

Chocolate — It’s About Dignity and Sustainability

Child with Chocolate

I wrote this post about the good reasons to choose fair trade, sustainable chocolate a few years ago. There are so many more choices now. If you want to make change, you do have options.

My Conscious Choices, Your Conscious Choices

Reasons to create your own candy-free Halloween traditions vary: health, social justice, environmental sustainability, and so on. Not all of us make the same choices, and that’s OK. If you want help thinking through whether now is the time to make those changes, ask yourself the five questions in this post. There are no right answers. You are the only one who knows if now is the time for change.

Image © Poznyakov | Dreamstime.com

Sugar: 7 Reasons to Break the Addiction

Baby eating a sugar lollipop

Several articles and studies in the past week give even more reason to consciously and relentlessly reduce sugar in your family’s diet, especially in the diet of your children as they grow and develop.

Sugar consumption is high, probably higher than you realize. Sugar isn’t just in cookies, ice cream, and sodas. Sugar sneaks into places you wouldn’t expect to find it: canned soup, mass-produced bread, processed meats, Kraft dinner, ketchup.

Statistics Canada reports that the average Canadian consumes 110 grams (or 26 teaspoons) of sugar a day. That’s over half a cup of sugar a day. Why not just wake up to a glass of water and pour in half a cup of sugar. Mmm. Sounds, well, terrible. Even if the number is half that, as the Canadian Sugar Institute claims, it seems high when you translate that into 44-88 lbs or 20-40 kg a year.

Just pause to visualize that much sugar. Not so appetizing all at once.

That fact is, the average North American is eating a lot of sugar.

This past week, National Geographic and TIME magazine published features on sugar, and a new study from the University of Utah suggests that the effects of sugar are far more than just weight gain.

What Is the Effect of Sugar?

1. Sugar leads to disease. Sugar overload can lead to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and higher risk of heart attack. The process of metabolic disease is clear.

2. Sugar leaves you without enough energy to exercise away the extra calories it leaves. Double whammy.

3. Sugar’s effect on your body is addictive. Sure, the immediate effect is pleasurable, as is the effect of cocaine or heroin, but most of us know enough not to slide down that slippery slope.

4. Sugar is toxic to you. To quote TIME on a new study published this week, “even safe levels of sugar could have serious negative effects on people’s health.”

5. Sugar shortens your life, at least it may have subtle biological effects that lead to shorter lives. Research is ongoing in this area, but findings point to higher mortality.

One of the researchers on the Utah study released this week said in the Salt Lake Tribune,

“I think the big takeaway is the level of sugar we readily eat and think is safe causes major health declines in mice. . . . We’re not just talking about some minor metabolic thing. We’re taking about increased rates of death and [lower rates] of reproduction.”

6. Sugar or marry your cousin? A diet high in sugar has similar effects to inbreeding—at least in a recent study with mice. To quote my local paper on this local study: “Would you rather be on the American diet … or have parents be full cousins?’ said senior author Wayne Potts, a biology professor. ‘This data is telling us it’s a toss up.’”

7. Sugar can even make you stupid, or so it appears from a different rat study. National Geographic quoted the study researcher: “‘I was very shocked to see how strong an effect these diets could have on the brain—I have high concern that the foods people eat can really affect mood and cognition,’ Gomez-Pinilla said.”

How I’ve Handled Sugar with My Children

My solution when my children were very young was not to forbid sugar, since I didn’t want it to become the desired thing they binged on away from home, but to give them no refined sugar at home and allow some away from home. I had to have grandparents’ cooperation in this, since they were the sugar pushers.

Now that my children are older and more logical, we can talk through the consequences of lack of nutritional control. We even took a college class together on nutrition to keep our discussions science based. They know how they feel when they overeat junk food or super-sweet food, and they don’t like it. I don’t have to exert MY control as a parent because they are exercising their own self control.

This is not to say that we don’t still have trouble. Having read the recent articles in National Geographic and TIME magazines, I know we have to push our sugar consumption even lower. What we think of as moderation is not moderate. It’s exceedingly high consumption of sugar, and our bodies did not evolve to handle this onslaught.

Don’t just replace refined-sugar sweets with other sweets. Get past the sugar addiction yourself and don’t let it grow in your children. I know that just makes it sound easy, and I know that it isn’t actually easy if you are stuck on sugar. But, your health and your children’s health and normal development depend on it.

Even though it can be difficult, just do it.

Recent articles on the effects of sugar

Image © Tycoon751 | Dreamstime.com