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

Halloween Treat Alternatives

Reverse Trick or Treating cards with fair trade chocolate

Reverse Trick or Treating cards with fair trade chocolate

Before our children are developmentally able to focus on consequences, it’s up to us to help them see alternatives to immediate choices. We can shift focus from GIMME CANDY to things and ideas that will still satisfy in other ways.

I usually welcome my children to have a small amount of Halloween candy. My son has started to realize that he feels very emotional when he has too much sugar. He doesn’t like the feeling of being out of control, so he limits his own candy consumption. His self regulation is a step in the right direction, but I still do what I can to help out. This year, I have more ideas how to divert the candy stream without the result of sad little faces of children deprived of non-nutritive food-like substances.


1. Gifts from the Magic Pumpkin

Nature Mom recently told me the story of the Magic Pumpkin that visits her house each year.

“I had been able to swap out my kids’ collected loot for the first 2 years, but my 5-year old started to catch on last year. So, we changed our tactic and told her we had learned that if we left her collected candy out at night for the Magic Pumpkin to eat, he would leave her something else in its place.

“The idea came from another parent, and I was amazed at how well it went over. We let her pick 3 candies to keep for herself, and she left the rest out for the night. When she fell asleep, we swapped out her candy for a Halloween story book and hair ties.

“I’m hopeful she’ll want to try this again come Halloween. Last year my 4-year old was a willing participant. I think the key is to make the goodies left by the Magic Pumpkin as fun and enticing as candy might be. I love this idea because you can tailor the treats or gifts to your own children.”

Shifts focus from GIMME CANDY
to SWEET MEMORIES OF A NICE HOLIDAY


2. Candy Experiments

If you know your child will end up with a bag of candy, and you want to lower the sugar impact, consider diverting the candy from the usual hand-to-mouth race. You could teach them a little science.

Candy Experiments can lead you through dissolving, melting, baking, smashing, cracking, and otherwise destroying candy in the name of science. You can use a coffee filter and dyed candy for chromatography. Dissolve Skittles to determine color density to make a pretty rainbow of unnatural dyes. And, those with patience can watch chocolate bloom as the fats separate out into little circles. They explain not just the what and how but the why.

If you are in Washington, D.C., this weekend, join them at the USA Science and Engineering Festival to see some of these experiments for yourself.

Shifts focus from GIMME CANDY TO EAT
to WHAT IS THIS STUFF, ANYWAY?


3. Fair Trade Chocolate

I love chocolate. I don’t love the labor issues that come with chocolate. I worry about treating children with a food that other children have suffered to produce.

So, this year my family is Reverse Trick or Treating with a kit we ordered from Global Exchange. When my children go door to door, they will give an information card to people at the first 15 houses so they can learn about fair trade chocolate. There is a piece of chocolate attached to each card as well. Yes, our neighbors expect this kind of thing from us!

Shifts focus from GIMME CANDY
to I CARE ABOUT OTHER CHILDREN IN THE WORLD


4. Family Party

I have been informed by my son that not only will we be having pumpkin soup for Halloween, we will be having orange rolls and sloppy buffalo joes. After one year, this has become a requirement. I’m thrilled to see that his focus for the day is on nutritious food.

In my fantasy world, I also make homemade candy. About a month ago I made a mild, homemade licorice with fennel from our garden. It tasted great (to both adults) and looked wonderful.

That’s the good news.

I didn’t roll it in sugar or flour as the recipes all suggested. So, follows the bad news. I put some of the licorice in mason jar—and it all melted into a solid mass that is far to hard to even extract from the jars. I had saved a small jar to give Nature Mom when I saw her last week, but it is such a sad, solid, sludgy mess that I didn’t want to embarrass myself with it. (She won’t even know this unless she reads the post!)

So, I would take homemade licorice if I: 1) made it fresh, or 2) gave in and rolled it in flour or sugar. I’m thinking I’ll stick with the homemade orange bread rolls with tiny green bread stems.

This year, we will be taking our nutritious holiday food and spending the Saturday night before Halloween with a group of families who (we hope) will enjoy our contributions to a big dinner. Rather than a planned raid of the neighborhood, we’re off to have fun.

Shifts focus from GIMME CANDY
to COMMUNITY FUN