Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love helping my children with their costumes and love seeing the excitement and joy on their faces when we go trick-or-treating. Then they come down from an all night candy high -- which I don't love for many reasons. As a health-conscious mom, I am worried for my kids to consume lots of candies filled with refined sugar, trans fat, preservatives and especially petroleum-based food dyes. Studies have shown that synthetic additives and petroleum-based food dyes may trigger hyperactivity and attention deficit in children. Jane Hersey, Director of the Feingold Association that helps children with attention/learning issues and is a resource for parents and chemically sensitive adults, says "If your children become little 'monsters' after Halloween, they are probably reacting to synthetic food dyes, artificial flavors or certain preservatives in the candy that they collect." In the Spring of 2011 an FDA panel acknowledged that chemicals (food dyes) can cause problems for some children, including those who already have hyperactivity disorders. Hersey, on the other hand, maintains that "Humans were not meant to eat petroleum, and many of us have problems when we do... Young children are especially prone to having reactions, such as tantrums, because of their small size."
So what is a Halloween-loving mom to do? Do you say no candy and become the witch who ruined trick-or-treating? For my family, I have tried to come up with some strategies and compromises that keep Halloween fun while keeping the Halloween candy hangover to a minimum. The first thing that I do on Halloween night is give my kids their favorite dinner with some extra veggies, because if their bellies are full of real food, there is less room for candy. I would not let any of my children under 3 eat their trick-or-treat candy. Trick-or-treating is more about the experience for them than eating the candy. It is usually easy to distract them and dump the candy. If your toddler/preschooler won't have it, maybe one of the strategies below will do the trick.
In my experience, this strategy works best for younger trick or treaters (3-5-year-olds). Let your child help you pick out healthy goodies or treats that you will hand out on Halloween. Make a deal that they can swap their candy for these more wholesome treats.
This is also good for the younger trick-or-treaters. Some of my friends even call it switch witch and have their children leave the candy by the front door and in the morning the switch witch leaves them a toy like the tooth fairy. For older school age children, it is better to make a deal ahead of time and let you switch their candy for a toy or video game that they want. I have had real success with this when I have also let my kids pick 3-5 pieces of candy that they can have on Halloween. This way they are happy to switch the rest for that coveted game or toy.
The Buy Out
This is my least favorite strategy, because I do not like to use money to bribe my children. This does work for a lot of families and is probably better for the kids than the candy. You can offer to buy your child's candy from them. You can set it at a monetary value you are comfortable with like 10 cents a piece or $5.00 a pound. I have heard that some dentists have buy-back programs in their offices. If yours does, it is probably worth a try.
This is my favorite strategy for older children. Buy a dozen prizes of varying value and assign a number of points to them like 100 points for a video game, 50 points for a doll or 5 points for a matchbox car. Every piece of candy that your child collects becomes a point that they can trade in for the prizes. It becomes a fun game like collecting tickets at an arcade. This works especially well if you have more than one child, because they can compromise and compete to get the points they need for the prizes they want. Again, I find this works best if you allow your child to first choose 3-5 pieces of candy to enjoy on Halloween. I have two teenage sons now, so their candy is going to be traded for Microsoft points for the Xbox.
No matter what strategy you use, I think that your kids can have a fun Halloween without ending up with the candy blues.