When I was a kid growing up in the ’80s, there was no better time of year than Halloween. Dreams of snack-sized Snickers, Milky Ways, and 3 Musketeers filled my mind for the weeks leading up to the night of trick-or-treating. When October 31st finally rolled around, I grabbed my orange plastic pumpkin and skipped through the neighborhood collecting my delicious loot.
I returned home, dumped my candy on the living room floor, and began the sorting process. Yet the thrill and joy of the holiday quickly faded when my father entered the room and declared, “Scoop up the candy and give it to me. I’ll give you $5 for it.” My spirits were quickly deflated, as the decision to part with my Halloween candy was not a choice — it was an order.
I grew up with a father who was very strict about not allowing sweets — especially candy — in the house. Of course I enjoyed a slice of birthday cake or a scoop of ice cream as an occasional treat, but for the most part, the only dessert allowed was one Fig Newton (if those were even in the house).
I know that my dad was not trying to punish me. In his mind, he only wanted to keep his daughters from gaining weight. Yet dad’s “concerns” came with consequences. Instead of thinking of candy as something to avoid, I desired it even more. It led to me developing a habit of binging on sweets and hiding candy around my room because I constantly felt so deprived. It took many years for me to break this habit and understand how to make healthy choices when it came to food.
So when I became a parent eight years ago to my daughter, Sophie, I knew that I did not want her to have the same relationship with sweets that I had as a child, and that is why I’ve chosen not to make candy forbidden in my house.
Over the past few years, the idea of eating Halloween candy has shifted more towards Sugar Witches and the Switch Witch, both whom magically appear in the middle of the night and swoop up your kids’ candy, leaving toys or coins in return. (Sounds like something Linus van Pelt dreamt up in the wake of the Great Pumpkin.) I certainly understand the need to ration candy to protect teeth and avoid childhood obesity, but the reality is that making something forbidden only makes it more desirable, especially in the eyes of kids.
I’ve chosen not to forbid candy in my home because I want to help Sophie understand how to make healthy choices. She sees that her parents don’t gorge on candy; instead we practice moderation, enjoying a piece here and there. The candy is not being taken away; it’s in the pantry and can be eaten after a healthy dinner. By making the sweets attainable and not forbidden, the relationship to candy changes. It’s less about wanting it now because it won’t be there tomorrow.
One of the best gifts I can give my daughter is to help her make healthy choices. Does this mean I let her eat candy and ice cream whenever she asks for it? Of course not! But instead of telling her that certain foods are “bad,” I explain why our body needs fruits and vegetables more than sweets. And while pasta and bread is fine to eat, the body also needs protein to keep it healthy and prevent illness. We do talk about sugar and how it will cause cavities, which has become a great segue to the importance of dental care and teeth brushing.
With Halloween fast approaching, Sophie has her pumpkin candy holder ready and is planning the neighborhood trick-or-treat route. She knows that when we return home, she can eat two pieces of candy and the rest will remain in the pantry, where it will be slowly consumed throughout November.
There will be no Sugar Witch visiting our house anytime soon.