Halloween Heresy: Just Let Them Eat the Candy (Ellyn Satter Returns)

[Ed. Note:  Earlier today we talked about what treats we give out on Halloween.  Now, a discussion of managing all the candy that comes into your house.]

When my kids were little, dealing with the Halloween candy was easy.  I let them eat a fair amount on the night of trick-or-treating, then some more after dinner for the next few nights, and then the rest was relegated to the now-defunct Treat Basket where it was soon forgotten.  Everyone was happy.

But now that I have a savvy 8- and 10-year old who have a photographic memory of their respective Halloween inventories, I need to rethink my whole candy philosophy.   I recalled that respected kid-and-food expert Ellyn Satter had written on this topic, so I tooled around the Internet to see what I could find.  It turns out she has an entire article about Halloween candy on her website and what she wrote was somewhat surprising to me.  I think you may be surprised as well.  Here’s an excerpt:

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.” [Emphasis mine.]

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.

. . . . Maintain the structure of meals and sit-down snacks, with parents retaining their leadership role in choosing the rest of the food that goes on the table. With that kind of structure and foundation, candy won’t spoil a child’s diet or make him too fat.

Usually I’m totally on board with Satter’s advice, but I just can’t wrap my head around piles of candy (glass of milk or no) as an afterschool snack.  On the other hand, I do have vivid memories of being alone in my room as a child with my big bag of Halloween candy, free to eat it — entirely at will — for weeks after Halloween.  (I know! And this is my carob-and-brewer’s-yeast, 1970’s, Prevention-reading mom we’re talking about!)

Whether that was the result of lack of parental oversight or deliberate parental strategy, I have no idea (Mom, if you’re reading, feel free to comment), but I will say this:  I was neither overweight nor sugar-crazed as a result, and as an adult, I love candy and eat it often, but I rarely over-indulge.  And maybe that wouldn’t be the case if, as a child,  my candy had been carefully doled out (or entirely withheld from me).  Maybe then it would be such tempting forbidden fruit that I’d go candy-crazy whenever I had the chance.

It’s impossible to say, but I do agree with Satter’s general principle that kids need to learn how to navigate an abundance of sweets, as they will surely encounter it in the real world.  I’m just not sure how best to go about accomplishing that.

What do you think, and what do you do with your own kids’ Halloween candy?


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