What to do with the Halloween Candy? Guest Blog by “School Bites”

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!

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