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October 21, 2009

So, What About All That Halloween Candy?!

I have three kids and they have been looking forward to Halloween for over a month.  My eight year-old has actually been counting down and regularly announces how many days are left.  I am secretly pleased that they're more excited about what to be for Halloween than about how much candy they'll be getting, but I can't stop thinking about all that candy.

Every year I fret about the sugar, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, and food allergens we'll have to try to avoid.  I wonder whether I should just let them stuff themselves for one day and then throw the rest out, or dole it out piece by piece until it's gone.  I wonder if it's too late to introduce the "Halloween Fairy" or the "Sugar Sprite", who will come to my house to magically transform all the candy into fairy dust and presents.

I remember how much fun Halloween was when I was a kid.  My mom would help us create whatever bizarre costume we got it in our heads that we had to have.  My sister and I were witches and gypsies, princesses and doctors.  One year I was actually the Ace of Hearts.  And the candy!  We would go out and spend HOURS walking through our neighborhood trick-or-treating.  There was the weird guy who gave rolls of pennies and the dentist's wife who always gave out toothbrushes, but mostly there was candy!

So this year I've been thinking about how to change our Halloween tradition for the better, because I want my kids to have great memories too, and I'm not convinced that wallowing in junk has to play such a big part.  Here is some of what I've come up with:

What To Give Out

After searching a bunch of websites for ideas, I found three that I thought had the most to offer.  (Thank you to Suzi Milovanovic on realmomsguide.sheknows.com, Jayne Pupek on suite101.com, and Emily's blog, PaperSeed.)  Here is a list of "treats" that you don't eat:

  • Art supplies: activity pads, coloring books, crayons, chalk, notepads, pencils, pencil toppers, erasers, play-doh, stampers, stickers, paint sets, child-safe scissors, modeling clay, markers, glitter, colored pencils, origami paper and instructions
  • Toys and activities: balls, bubbles, glow sticks, maps, mini globes, books, mini magnifying glasses, matchbox cars, toy dinosaurs or animals, whistles, yo-yos, marbles, dominoes, decks of playing cards, small dolls, coins
  • Dress-up: false teeth, temporary tattoos, bracelets, necklaces, key chains or clips, sunglasses, hair clips, ribbons, scarves, eye patches

Some of these are more expensive than others, but you can make some of them, or find many of them at a dollar store or thrift shop.  You may want a separate stash of child-safe goodies for the 3 and under crowd.

Halloween Traditions

I know that there can be much more to the fun of Halloween than just walking around the neighborhood getting candy.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  • In Fort Collins we have a fun Old Town tradition for younger children, Tiny Tot Halloween, a morning-time trick-or-treat parade around Old Town Square.  This one does involve candy, but it's always so much fun to see all the kids in their costumes, and they don't have to be out after dark.
  • Also, the Gardens on Spring Creek have a Halloween Enchanted Garden, complete with a garden tour, pumpkin painting, magic show, and stories.  Kids 2-8 are encouraged to get dressed up and come  have fun.
  • There are many other events in our area for both kids and adults.  The Coloradoan has a list here.
  • When my oldest was little, a group of friends arranged our own "trick-or-treat street" at our school.  We set up "houses" using sheets and the kids would go from "door" to "door", getting treats that we all felt comfortable with them having.  All the fun of the "real" thing, at least for the toddler and preschool bunch, without the stuff mom and dad don't like.
  • For each holiday, we try to share with our kids where the holiday came from, its place in the cycle of the seasons, and different cultural ideas and celebrations.  Samhain, All Saints Day, and Dia de los Muertos are just a few that happen this time of year.
  • One tradition that I would like to be more consistent with is taking a picture of each of my kids in their costume each year.  It is so fun to look back and remember the creativity and silliness from Halloweens past.

So, What About All That Candy!?

Now we're left with what happens when your little monsters (and ghosts and stockbrokers) DO go trick-or-treating and come home with all that sugary loot.

  • Some families have started their own "Halloween Fairy" tradition, along the lines of Santa or the Tooth Fairy.  The kids leave their candy out, and in the morning the Halloween Fairy (or Sugar Sprite or Great Pumpkin...) has left them a little present.  I personally think this is a great idea, but I have a feeling my eight year-old wouldn't buy it at this point. 
  • Which leads me to the next idea - candy bartering.  Although it misses out on the "magic" of the Halloween Fairy, it gives kids the chance to pick their own gift.  Essentially, kids trade in their bag of candy for something else - a toy, tickets to a movie...whatever you and they can come up with together.
  • Next is what I like to call the "Gorge and Purge" method.  It's an all-you-can-eat buffet of junk food - for one night only.  The benefits are that the kids get that liberating feeling of being able to eat as much candy as they want, and then they get the lesson of why that maybe isn't such a good idea. 
  • Or there's the "Trickle-Down" method.  A few pieces on Halloween, and then one a day until it runs out.  (Or whatever mom and dad decide.)  The benefit of this is that the junk is sandwiched between all the healthy food.  The biggest downside we've found in our family is that the candy lasts until the next Halloween.
  • And then there's the one that my parents instituted:  mom and dad's candy tax.  When we got home and started counting out our treasure, 10% was swiped right off the top.  Laughing  
  • Or you can mix-and-match one or more of these.

I'm going to try some new things at Halloween this year.  My hope is that Halloween can be a fun family celebration with a lot less of the junk.  We can do it!  And if any of you have great ideas for reducing the Halloween candy load, or if you would like to share your family's traditions, I would love to hear from you!

Happy Halloween!

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