With Halloween less than a week away, the question on many parents’ minds is: what on earth to do with all that candy?!? In the past two years, I’ve done Switch Witch with my three kids (ages 7 and 4 x 2). Here’s the gist: They eat as much candy as they want on Halloween night and then pick 10 more pieces to save. Then, while they are sleeping, the Switch Witch comes and takes the rest in exchange for an awesome new toy.
My children like the concept of Switch Witch and do it voluntarily (in other words, they can chose to keep the candy…but then no toy.). In my mind, it seemed like a good alternative to consuming obscene amounts of sugar and all sorts of artificial yuck. But as it turns out, there is a potential downside: Switch Witch solves the immediate problem, but it doesn’t teach them how to manage all the candy and other treats that they’re bombarded with almost everywhere we go.
That’s what Ellyn Satter, R.D., a renowned expert on feeding children, pointed out to me when I consulted her on the topic. She then referred me to her website, where I found a telling passage from her book Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming:
“Halloween candy presents a learning opportunity. Work toward having your child be able to manage his own stash. For him to learn, you will have to keep your interference to a minimum. When he comes home from trick or treating, let him lay out his booty, gloat over it, sort it and eat as much of it as he wants. Let him do the same the next day. Then have him put it away and relegate it to meal– and snack-time: a couple of small pieces at meals for dessert and as much as he wants for snack time. If he can follow the rules, your child gets to keep control of the stash. Otherwise, you do, on the assumption that as soon as he can manage it, he gets to keep it. Offer milk with the candy, and you have a chance at good nutrition.”*
You may find the idea of allowing a child, especially a young one, to eat all of that candy a little hard to swallow. It certainly is for me! And perhaps you’re questioning Satter’s advice right now. But she isn’t alone in her thinking. Other experts, including Dina Rose, Ph.D., of It’s Not About Nutrition: The Art and Science of Teaching Kids to Eat Right, agree that it’s important to teach children to how to deal with candy overload—and not by taking it away from them or secretly dumping some in the trash.
For starters, Rose says, you should talk to your gobblin about how Halloween candy and other sweets should fit into his overall diet. Explain how fresh, natural foods (like apples, broccoli and fish) will help him grow; they’re the ones that we should eat most often. “Fun” foods are more processed and come from a package or contain added sugar or salt (think Goldfish crackers, chocolate milk and yogurt tubes); we should eat them less frequently–maybe once or twice a day. Treats like ice cream and candy aren’t so good for your body and should be eaten only once or twice a week or saved for special occasions (like Halloween!). Mind you, this is a conversation that you should have with your child on a regular basis, not just around the holidays.
Then, after trick-or-treating is all said and done, Rose has a cool idea: Instead of just gobbling it down, encourage your child to taste test his candy. “The ‘hidden’ problem with Halloween is that it teaches kids to eat what they have, not what they want, ” Rose explains. To combat this eat-everything-in-sight mentality, have your child take a small bite from any (and every) candy that looks appealing to him. Then, ask him to compare the way the different candies feel in his hands, mouth and tummy. The ultimate goal, she says, is to help him find his favorites. Then, you can urge him to hold onto his favorites and toss the rest. With her own daughter, Rose has even gone so far as to buy her more of her favorite picks in exchange for dumping her least favorite. Yes, it sounds a little crazy, but it also makes a lot of sense: Don’t just eat for eating’s sake!
Chris of the blog Spoonfed: Raising Kids to Think About the Food They Eat has another interesting strategy. After bringing home her haul, she helps her daughter sort through it and weed out anything with trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and gelatin (because they are vegetarians). The reject pile either gets a one-way ticket to the trash or is saved and used to decorate gingerbread houses at holiday time. (In case you’re wondering, the gingerbread houses ultimately end up being tossed, too.)
Whatever you decide, it’s a good idea to let your children know the game plan ahead of time, so they know what to expect. I haven’t figured out our plan yet but we still have a few more days to decide. Last week, I told my kids that I didn’t think we’d be doing Switch Witch this year. Then I asked them what we should do with all that Halloween candy. Their unanimous response: “Throw it in the garbage!” Which made me laugh because it isn’t something that I’ve ever suggested. And somehow, I think they’ll be changing their minds on that one.
If worse comes to worse, I figure we can always use some of it to do some science experiments.
What’s your plan for handling Halloween candy this year? Keep it? Dump it? Use it for a gingerbread house? Science experiments? All of the above? Please leave your thoughts below!