Halloween is iconic; along with ushering in a host of fall-flavored treats, it's the only time of year when it's acceptable to dress up in kooky or cute costumes, litter your house with fake cobwebs, and stuff yourself silly with sugary delights. Kids go crazy for it, and adults have fond memories of hitting their own sidewalks on the quest for unlimited bounties of candy. It's a rite of passage for children and parents alike... right?
Well, maybe not. Whether it's because of allergies or concerns about sugar, some parents are rethinking the tradition of passing out candy to every little goblin or ghoul that traipses up to the front door. For kids with allergies or sensitivities to certain foods, Halloween can prove to be especially problematic.
But for those little ones that don't have to worry about allergic reactions, can too much of a good thing really be all that bad? Perhaps. For one thing, it's easy to overindulge with so many goodies on-hand at once, Alyssa Withee, RD, LD, CSP of Atlanta, GA, says. "For those who are good self-regulators, the excitement of Halloween can be a time when even these children may overdo it."
Coupled with the fact that most confections are low in essential nutrients and high in simple sugars and unhealthy fats, as Withee says, a night of unbridled Halloween treat-binging is just the beginning. There seems to always be an occasion to dish out the treats, whether it's for a holiday, a birthday party, a celebration, or a reward. At times, the sugar-laden parade feels like it never ends.
Some parents are saying no and chosing not to pass out candy Halloween night. Lisa Leake, blogger at 100 Days of Real Food and cookbook author, has elected to hand out non-food items to trick-or-treaters. The problem, she says, is that the candy rampage doesn't end after Halloween night; it continues for the next several months.
"I no longer see that as 'just one night' and instead as a sugar overload with (possible) negative health implications ahead," Leake says. "I think all the kids out there are going to get plenty of candy on Halloween even if a few of us decide to hand out something different."
Leake's favorite swap for candy is classic glow sticks, which are fun, safe and affordable. She also suggests coins, organic juice pouches, or small toys like witch fingers.
To help stop the flow of Halloween candy after the big night, Leake says, "I let my kids dig in freely on Halloween night, pick five or so pieces to keep, and then we get rid of the rest." She suggests getting rid of extra loot through buy-back programs at local dentist offices or health food stores or inviting the "Switch Witch" to come visit (it's a doll that "takes" candy in exchange for a gift!).
Withee also suggests taking a portion of your kids' loot into work so that coworkers can revel in some spooky treats for the next few weeks. She advises parents to serve dinner as normal before hitting the streets on Halloween night; that way, your little ones won't go door-to-door hungry.
On the flip side, other parents are saying "No way!" to messing with the sugary status quo; they think their children would be sorely disappointed with a plastic pumpkin full of crackers and plastic trinkets. Sarah Voisine, a mom of two from Brooklyn, NY, suspects that too many non-food items on Halloween will accumulate into one big pile of junk.
"I just pace my kids with the candy. They can eat a lot on the first night; it is hard to police when we are walking in the dark. Then after that I only allow them to have it in lieu of another treat that they might normally have, like dessert, and require healthy eating in order to get the candy," Voisine says.
What's your take? Would you set out a teal pumpkin and keep it allergy-free on Halloween night, or should we keep with tradition and hand over as many treats as kids can stuff into a pillowcase? And when does the trick-or-treating indulgence end?