Avoid a Candy Overdose
By: Deena Waisberg
You can’t have Halloween without trick-or-treating. After all, it’s so much fun for your little princess or superhero to collect treats from all the neighbors. The problem is loading up on candy isn’t good for young tykes. “Plaque bacteria eats sugar and turns it into acid, which can lead to cavities,” explains Dr. Scott Hamilton, an orthodontist at Drs. Hamilton & Wilson in Topeka, Kansas. Too much candy also means too many calories. “Excess calories contribute to obesity. And, if your child is eating the candy instead of healthy foods, he’s missing out on essential nutrients,” says Dr. Marilyn Swanson, national program leader for maternal and child health at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas. But there are tricks that allow kids enjoy the treats and avoid overload.
Incorporate other fun activities into Halloween, so it’s not all about the candy. Take the kids to a family-friendly costume party or harvest festival to celebrate before going trick-or-treating. When you do go trick-or-treating, make it more about the occasion. “We usually meet up with other neighborhood families and walk together in a group. We spend so much time socializing, admiring decorations, adjusting costumes and taking photos that the kids don’t have the chance to accumulate all that much loot,” says Jenny Lauck, Three Kid Circus blogger and mother of three in Santa Rosa, California.
“Have the kids eat a meal before sending them out to trick-or-treat. If the kids aren’t hungry, they’ll be more likely to bring all the treats home,” says Dr. Swanson. Making sure the kids eat a good dinner will not only ensure they aren’t skipping healthy foods, it will minimize the amount of candy they eat after, due to a full stomach. And for Halloween, it will help prevent snacking on the road.
Before older kids dig into their stash, you may be able to get them to part with it if you offer them something equally attractive, such as pocket money. Dr. Hamilton offers his own kids cash for candy: $2 per pound. “My kids are eager to give up the candy for the money,” he says. He extends the same offer to young patients in his practice, but in addition, at work he’ll donate a matching amount of money to a local children’s charity. Check with your local dentist or do a search online to see if you can trade candy for cash near you.
For kids who don’t wish to give up their candy, you’ll need a strategy to ensure they don’t eat it all at once. Tamar Wagman plans to go through her son’s loot bag and remove all the easy-to-tamper-with sweets: any unwrapped candy, candy with a twisted wrapper at either end and apples. Then she will allow her son, who is almost three, to choose a few sweets to eat that night, and dole out the rest on special occasions. Lauck also inspects her kids’ loot and puts the approved sweets in a communal bowl. “Over the next week or two, I’ll allow the kids to choose a piece or two after lunch or dinner, until it gets down to the candy that no one likes,” explains Lauck. If temper tantrums occur over wanting more candy, Lauck takes it away. “It isn’t the most popular decision I’ve ever made, but it ended the demands and made an impact.” Remember to get the kids to brush soon after eating sweets, too. “Then the sugar doesn’t have an opportunity to feed the bacteria,” says Dr. Hamilton. For more information, visit our Dental Guide.
And what about storing the candy? Follow the adage, “out of sight, out of mind.” “I hide the candy bag in a cupboard that is far out of reach from my son and I move it around, so he doesn’t always know where it is,” says Wagman. Kids won’t be as tempted to raid the candy bowl for a treat if it’s inaccessible and that means less chance of overindulging.
Finally, candy does go stale, so set an expiry date and then get rid of the remainders. After three weeks, Wagman donates leftover candy to a local community centre, which distributes it to families that can’t afford sweets. Dr. Hamilton advises parents to get rid of the excess before Christmas rolls around.