With just a week to go before Halloween, I thought it fitting to share my take on the holiday and the answer to the question -- to indulge or not to indulge -- with candy that is! Those of you who know me, or have read any of my books or blogs, know how I feel about confections and sugars of any kind. Rest assured there isn't a cabinet in my kitchen filled with bags of bite sized Milky Way or Kit Kat bars. Truth be told, growing up on Long Island, New York in the '60s and '70s was a different time and my sisters and I did our fair share of trick or treating. I have fond memories of my sisters and I sitting on a curb tallying up and comparing our pumpkins filled with candy. Mom didn't allow us to eat anything until we came home and she inspected everything. She carefully checked to make sure everything in our pumpkin seemed safe, and then allowed us to pick our three favorite candies while she took the rest of our loot for safe keeping. I'm not quite sure where the balance of the candy ended up going, but we were satisfied with the ones we got to eat.
Fast forward to present -- my daughters, Emilia and Francesca, are 5 years old and excitingly preparing for Halloween. At last count, they have three parties to go to! Somehow I know this is the universe's way of "pay back" for letting their first four Halloweens go by relatively unnoticed and "unsweetened." I can remember their first Halloween -- 9 weeks old and on a Lufthansa flight to Munich, Germany. I remember dressing them in their matching green pea in a pod costumes, snapping a picture and being done with it. I did that for the next three years, and my sweet, unsuspecting daughters, without exposure to television and the endless barrage of glorified candy commercials, were contented to celebrate Halloween playing dress up in costumes. I know you're thinking that I am the Scrooge of Halloween! After all, I celebrated Halloween as a child and enjoyed woofing down bite size Milky Way and Three Musketeers bars. I, too, remember painful visits to the dentist office to get cavities filled.
Look, times have changed and knowledge is golden. The fact is American children consume far too much added sugar in their daily diet. We also know that excessive amounts of added sugar can suppress the immune system, can promote tooth decay, can cause weight gain and many weight-related issues.
Having all of this knowledge, what are we supposed to tell our children when they ask for candy, ice cream or anything else that looks so inviting and is full of added sugar? My gut reaction is "just say no!" I know that's just not the answer. Last week, I discovered a half-eaten Charms lollipop under Emilia's blanket when I was putting her to bed. Rather that react in a negative way, I saw this as an invaluable teaching moment. My conversation with her focused on why she hid the pop, and not why she was eating it. I reminded her that, on occasion, we indulged in a sweet snack. The important thing to me was reassuring her that she didn't have to hide things when she wanted to enjoy a treat. She should ask me, and although I wouldn't always say yes, I might sometimes surprise her with a "cup of gelato."
Now, back to the issue at hand -- how much Halloween candy do I let the girls eat (if any). As much as I'd like to prevent both Emilia and Francesca from the inevitable candy consumption and resulting sugar meltdown, I choose to be a "candy referee" and will do my best to moderate and select the sweets they end up devouring.
I have done some research and find the following candies to be the better choice:
• Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate -- This classic is easy to love thanks to the antioxidant benefits of dark chocolate. Snack on two miniatures for a total of only 88 calories and 5.2 grams of fat.
• Three Musketeers -- These fluffy bars are light enough to snack on a few minis with no guilt. But stop at two; while they clock in at less than 50 calories, the 8 grams of sugar make them more of an indulgence.
• Organic lollipop -- Stay with natural fruit flavored. It takes a while to finish, and should satisfy the sweetest tooth
• Tootsie Rolls (the candy, this time) -- They don't tack on too many calories themselves. Three minis contain only 70 calories and 1.5 grams of fat.
• Peanut M&Ms -- It's hard to stop at just one handful of this irresistible peanut-chocolate combo, so choose a snack-sized bag (about 7 pieces) to limit intake, and dive in! Plus, Peanut M&Ms boast protein, fiber, and even some calcium with just 93 calories, 4.7 grams of fat, and 9.1 grams of sugar. (Full disclosure, this used to be my favorite in the movie theaters!)
This is not an exhaustive list of the "healthiest" candy options available. Rather, it should give you an idea of what my "go to" choices will be for Emilia and Francesca as I warily guide them through the sugary maze of Halloween week! The key is to try to find the most healthful candy with some nutritional content. The phrase LESS IS MORE will never seem truer or be more appropriate.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy Halloween.