Better Off Well


14 Things To Do With Halloween Candy

My son is trick-or-treating tonight and I couldn't be more excited for him. This may sound strange coming from someone who's always touting the benefits of real food and filling up jars with sugar to show how much we get in just one can of soda. But Halloween is an experience. It's one I loved as a kid, and I really wanted my son to experience that, too. For the past few years, for whatever his reasons were, he wasn't interested in dressing up and heading into the dark among the witches and Ninjas roaming the streets.

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But tonight, he has the Force with him, so he's ready to take it on.

The down side to this experience, of course, is the candy.

I can hear the voices already. "C'mon. Get over it. Halloween is ONLY once a year."

Yep, that's true! And if this time of year were the only time of year our kiddos were gorging on sugar, I'd say have a ball. Hell, I'd throw in a couple pieces myself.

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Halloween is only once a year. And so is Thanksgiving...and Christmas...Hannukah...New Year's...Valentine's Day...Easter. And then there are the birthday parties, the sleepovers, the school cupcake celebrations, the snack shack at the baseball fields, the treats from Grandma and Uncle Jim.

If that weren't enough sugar strangulation, there is the sugar that seems to be in everything today, from ketchup and salad dressings to breads and peanut butter.

The American Heart Association recommends our kids get no more than 4-6 tsp of added sugar per day, yet many are getting upwards of 30. All that sugar tires out the pancreas and little bodies gradually become insulin-resistant, setting them up for Type II diabetes, obesity, and other ailments. We're seeing signs of heart disease in children as young as 12 now, so this is a big deal.

I'm not out to be the Food Nazi, but most of us have no idea because if everyone else is doing it, it must be ok. What we don't realize is how much our food and food habits have changed over the past few decades.

I'm still thrilled my son will be out tonight, but I've devised and researched a few ideas to help use up some of that candy so it doesn't all end up in his growing body. Some of these will work best for little ones, while others are best with older kiddos.

1. Eat some. Duh. Banning your kids from anything will do the same thing banning adults from anything tends to do. Let them choose a few of their favorite pieces to enjoy. Have a "slow contest" to see who can eat their candy the slowest and ask them to describe that process after. Did it taste different doing it that way? Better? Sweeter?

2. Have a taste-testing. This idea comes from Nina Manolson, author of Feed Your Kids Well in a World That Doesn't. Set up a chart, have kids take one bite of each piece of candy, and rate the taste and texture. Toss the rest of each piece.

3. Set up a candy exchange. Call it "Candy Buy Back" or use a Switch Witch approach. Either way, the idea is that kids turn in a set amount of candy in exchange for money, books, toys, bowling, indoor rock climbing, a favorite movie or restaurant, or any other attractive incentive. Add a little math by having kids count out the pieces for each exchange, having them line up the candy end to end to create a measurement (i.e. one foot = $1), or have them weigh the candy and make an exchange per pound.

4. Make a trail mix. Okay, so your little goblin won't give up the colored M & M's. Why not add them to a trail mix she can bring to school. Include nuts (if allowed), seeds, and coconut flakes and you can at least feel good that some nutrition is going in with the sugar. Note: in our home we taught *how* to eat trail mix, which means by the handful and not picking out pieces.

5. Perform science experiments. As a former science teacher, this is my favorite idea. The easiest and the one that can really start up a conversation is the one where you put candy into one jar and real food (think apple peels, grapes, avocado, etc.) into another. Label the jars and record what happens through photos over the course of the next few weeks. Use this teachable moment to talk about the difference between "real" food and "pretend" food and why the first is okay for always, while the latter is okay for sometimes. For more experiment ideas, see this cool Candy Experiments page.

6. Freeze it. Glacier style. Kids will get a kick out of this one. Just like we're advised to freeze our credit cards inside a block of ice to avoid impulse buying, so too can we avoid impulse sugar binges by freezing candy in a block of ice. It looks cool and kids actually have to work at getting a piece of candy if they truly want one.

7. Create a scavenger hunt. Have the kids pick out a few of their favorite pieces then turn over the rest. Over the next couple weeks, pick a day or two of the week that kids can come home and search for their candy pieces. Leave clues or simply do the "hot-cold" thing.

8. Make a board game and use the candy as pieces.

9. Use the candy to decorate the holiday gingerbread house.

10. Put small candy pieces into a jar and have grandparents or aunts and uncles guess how many pieces are in the jar. The one with the closest guess gets to keep the jar.

11. Turn hard candies into stained glass ornaments.

12. Save candy to stuff birthday goodie bags or a pinata.

13. Make crafts. Paint a sturdy piece of cardboard in a bright color and then use small, colorful candy to spell out your child's name. Hang on his door. Purchase a wooden frame at a craft store and use the candy to decorate. Add a photo and you've made a sweet little gift.

14. Build a Candy City, complete with roads, tall buildings, stop signs, people, etc. Turn it into a family or neighborhood competition and send photos to your local newspaper or post on Facebook.

With candy out of sight, kids tend to forget about it after a while, so after they've picked out a few of their favorites, hide the stash. If having the candy in the home is tempting you, then put it into a place you will forget about it. One client of mine stashed it in the trunk of her car. The cold temperatures are enough of a deterrent that she doesn't go after it at night when she might be most tempted.

You may wonder why I haven't included the whole donation idea here. I understand our hearts are in the best places when we do this, but I don't love the idea. Donating sugar and chemicals to kids in a hospital who are trying to heal their bodies doesn't make sense to me.

And lately I've been reading about our military troops and how obesity and bone fractures due to dietary practices are becoming a real issue. (Read a report here.) Same with police and fire personnel. These are people who need to have the highest degree of focus and energy levels , as well as physical stamina, and feeding them a bunch of sugar won't help with that.

Bringing to the office isn't so helpful to all the people there trying to make best choices.

But we each have to make our own decisions. May the Force with be you, too. :)

Please feel free to comment with any of your candy thoughts and ideas!