Halloween has never been my favorite holiday. I don’t enjoy being scared, and I definitely don’t enjoy the movies and stories of the season. Growing up on the farm, we never went to town to trick-or-treat—we hopped in the car and drove around to our neighbors’ houses instead. I was always so envious of my classmates who got to stroll around together, all dressed up in their Halloween costumes. Our costumes were always something we threw together the night before the school party. Not much surprise there—I’d just go to my dad’s closet and pick out my hobo outfit for the year. In fact, I think I must hold some kind of record when it comes to how many consecutive years I dressed up as a hobo for Halloween. And I wasn’t even sure what a hobo was.
Now that I’m a parent, I dread Halloween for other reasons. The main one, of course, is sugar. It would be nice if I still had the childlike innocence of sugar-effect-ignorance-bliss. But I’ve educated myself enough about nutrition to know better, and reading a book like William Duffy’s Sugar Blues helped yank me from that stupor. In this brief, inexpensive classic, Duffy illustrates how the historical, political, and health implications of our addiction to sugar is a fascinating—and destructive—part of human history. Reading it will help you educate your family about the horrors of Halloween candy, and make it that much easier for them to make their own good choices.
In the past, I’ve attempted to lure my kids away from trick-or-treating by bribing them with other activities. You can try some of the following:
- Let your kids dress up in their costumes and pick out a special place (within reason) to go for supper that night.
- Treat them to a movie—and take them in their costumes, of course.
- Make them their favorite dessert. In our house, we rarely have dessert after a meal, so my kids know this is a special treat.
- Some local dentists give money in exchange for candy after Halloween. Why not suggest to your kids that they turn in every last piece of their loot for some cold, hard cash?
You may be asking, what’s the big deal about sugar anyway? Just for starters, it’s an anti-nutrient. In other words, when we eat sugar, it actually sucks other nutrients from our bodies to deal with it—including B vitamins, calcium, and potassium—and it does this without providing any nutrients of its own. Sugar also weakens our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to catch whatever bug may be floating around. Not exactly an outcome we want to encourage as we head into the cold and flu season.
In “Sugar and Sugar Products–Their Use and Abuse,” written in 1950, Dr. Royal Lee writes persuasively about the ills of refined sugars. He highlights the role they play in the onset of diabetes—from overtaxing the pancreas to secreting large amounts of insulin—and also links sugar to dental disease and arthritis. And that’s just to name a few. The link above will take you to the Selene River Press Historical Archives, where you can learn more. You can also find this article in Dr. Lee’s collection of published works, “From Soil to Supplement,” compiled and edited by Mark R. Anderson.
While I’d love to say that my boys share my disdain for Halloween candy, and they immediately buy into a different activity every year, I must admit that my efforts to avoid trick-or-treating altogether haven’t been entirely successful. Compromise was needed. My husband and I came up with the following guidelines to keep us from totally freaking out every time our boys ring a doorbell on October 31st.
- We let them enjoy the trick-or-treating, but only for a couple of blocks in our neighborhood.
- We don’t let them keep all the loot—only a handful of their favorites. The rest is taken to the local dentist in exchange for a little money, or simply thrown away. Candy is something I don’t have a problem tossing in the trash.
- We appoint ourselves the “candy controllers,” keeping tabs and doling it out as we see fit. We don’t always say yes when they ask, and often they forget about it after just a few days.
- We lighten their stash. Unbeknownst to our boys, I may snag a piece of their loot here and there—and make it disappear.
I know, I know—we’re the parents. Ultimately, we must decide what our kids can and cannot do. And if we don’t want them to go trick-or-treating, all we have to do is lay down the law. But. Halloween, and the trick-or-treating that comes with it, is one of those truly fun, memorable parts of childhood. We want to celebrate that—and not the sugar. So we’ve learned how to emphasize the social aspect of trick-or-treating to our kids: being with their buddies, getting compliments on their cool costumes, pointing out all the other creative costumes they see on the sidewalk, and checking out the super elaborate lawn decorations the neighbors put up. That’s what it’s all about! And that’s what they’ll remember. My boys still talk about the dad they saw four years ago, totally decked out as a real-life clone trooper from Star Wars. Seeing a grown man that into Halloween, not to mention dressed as a character from one of their all-time favorite movies, left quite an impression.
Because we make sure our children get the kind of food their bodies need every day, we don’t have to get all worked up about the candy they get one night of the year. The compromises we’ve established let our kids experience Halloween without putting undue stress on their bodies and their health. In all honesty, when I finally put it all in perspective and started letting them enjoy the festivities of the holiday—it felt good.
What childhood traditions do you struggle to keep in balance with a healthy lifestyle? How do you handle trick or treating?
Photo from iStock/Sadeugra