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Why I Monitor My Child’s Candy Eating

Why I Monitor My Child's Candy IntakeI’ve always loved Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Once, when I was twelve or thirteen, I came home from school and tore through half a family sized bag of the confections. I ate easily a dozen cups, maybe fifteen. Clever me, I hid the wrappers under the topmost layer of rubbish in the trash can, not realizing that a simple shift of garbage, like from someone throwing something wet and heavy on the pile, would uncover the evidence of my binge. (And besides, anyone who picked up the candy bag would realize that someone had gorged themselves on it.) Of course my parents found out and confronted me — Brian, do you have an eating problem?

I didn’t. In part, I wanted to find out if that old saying was true, that if you eat too much candy you get a tummy ache. I kept thinking, will one more cup hurt my stomach? But my belly never grumbled. I finally quit not out of a physical feeling of fullness, but because I felt bad about eating too much. (This was at the height of my growth spurt, when my body shot up so fast I have stretch marks on my back! So I probably could have easily eaten the whole bag.)

On Thursday night, your child is likely to come home with a load of candy. How much depends not just on where you live but the age of your kid. In middle and high school (Yes, I trick-or-treated till I was seventeen, when people would say, “aren’t you a little old for this?”) I saw trick-or-treating as a competitive sport, pushing myself to stay out later and hit more houses, determined to fill my pillowcase to bursting.

No matter my age, one thing never changed: my parents only allowed us to eat a few pieces of candy a day. And so I never ended up eating most of my Halloween haul. Christmas would roll around with its cookies, and in the new year the candy would be stale, or seem so old that I imagined it stale, and I’d toss a lot of it.

Now, as a parent myself, I enforce on my four-year-old son Felix the same candy eating rules that I lived with as a kid: two pieces each night for dessert, after eating dinner, and one after lunch. That’s assuming Felix has behaved himself well — because dessert is a privilege, he can lose it. (This doesn’t often happen these days, thankfully.)

Last year, it took Felix a couple of months to polish his Halloween candy off, and he saved some of his favorites (M&M’s) till the end — they seemed so precious he didn’t want to eat them. Instead, he loved to count them, stack them, and fondle the little M&M bags. The anticipation of eating gave him far more pleasure than the eating itself. Isn’t that often the way? Waiting can be hard, but also more fun than the actual getting.

I’m all for this disciplined approach to sweets, just as I also monitor and restrict Felix’s television diet, which is like mental junk food (at least, the kind of television Felix enjoys watching). However, on The New York Times’s Motherlode blog, KJ Dell’Antonia writes about how she simply lets her kids eat their Halloween candy whenever, with little monitoring. If they want to chomp it all down in one night, that was ok. Or eat it for breakfast. Whatever.

But after an article by Sarah Pinneo about her family’s struggle with diabetes, Dell’Antonia wonders if this is the right approach. Pinneo’s children are at high risk for Type II diabetes, and so the candy in her house is whisked away by a “sugar sprite” who takes it to her forrest home to consume, leaving behind in its place a toy of some sort. I kind of love this, but wonder what Pinneo will do when her kids realize the sprite’s a made-up story.

Whatever the case, or however you go about doing it, I think that setting limits on candy eating is a good thing. (I’m almost always for setting limits with kids.) Remember, it wasn’t my body that told me to stop binging on Peanut Butter Cups, it was my mind, which knew it was wrong to pig out like that. I had internalized my parents’ rule, and so felt bad about breaking it, which was great. Too much sugar isn’t good for adults or children, and many of the mass produced candies given out at Halloween contain strange dyes, high-fructose corn syrup, and other chemical additives for flavor and preservation that have no place in anyone’s diet. That’s why, for the most part, we don’t allow these products in our house at all.

How do you handle your kids’ Halloween candy?

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