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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Candy: to cave, or not to cave?

I love Halloween. And I also can't stand it. 

Here is what I LOVE: carving jack-o-lanterns and roasting the seeds; babies crawling around in adorable fuzzy costumes; reading Halloween books with my kids; the boundless creativity in costumes for young and old; the pumpkins and bats and friendly ghosts - all the "G" rated versions of the Halloween decor make me smile. 

Here is what do not love, and this year in particular am struggling with: THE CANDY. I clearly remember, as an elementary school aged kid, hoofing it far and wide with a group of friends with our pillowcases for collecting candy. The Reese's peanut butter cups and Smarties were top of the pile and first to go; Dum-Dum lollipops and bubblegum were the last. And in between, every imaginable type of processed, conventional candy. The same stuff I won't let my kids eat. 

So here is the thing - I am very, very aware of what I will give my children to put into their growing bodies to build their bones, muscles and minds. Do I let them have treats? Absolutely - this weekend they had pumpkin cookies with chocolate chips and raisins, and they regularly enjoy things like Clif Z-bars and fruit ropes, Luna minis, and plenty of other processed yummies that don't contain artificial dyes or many artificial ingredients.

Recently, however, I have become more aware of the artificial dyes used in foods - particularly those marketed to our children - and I have not liked what I have learned. We are now trying very hard to limit our consumption of these dyes, particularly Yellow 5 and Red 40. Both of these have been found to cause behavioral changes and aggression in kids, and both of them are EVERYWHERE. (Did you ever notice that even white marshmallows have dye in them? Blue 1 is the final ingredient in the store-brand marshmallows in my pantry). 

At our first Halloween Class for Stroller Strides yesterday, there was not a single piece of candy in site and the kids had a blast. Now, these are all very young kids of course, or they wouldn't be at a Stroller Strides class. They are kids who still think that a sticker is amazing, kids who are excited about a stamp on their hand for hours afterward, kids who enjoy coloring OR chewing on mini coloring books. The oldest child attending was my own daughter, who will be 5 in just a couple weeks. 

Her age is the reason this year has been a struggle for me. She is old enough to see and want all the brightly colored candy instead of the alternatives I would have for her. The mini tubs of play-doh that were a successful substitute last year are just not cutting it anymore. The good news: We took her to a trick-or-treating event at UAA this weekend, and  discovered that she is not only old enough to want those brilliantly packaged and dyes candies, she is also old enough to understand why we pulled them out of her jack-o-lantern bucket and tossed them. (She got to keep most of the chocolate-based treats which I think made her feel better.)

Last night at the grocery store, my husband and I debated whether to buy a bag of candy to have on hand in case we get any older kids trick-or-treating at our house, kids who are past the age of stickers and play-doh. We had not planned to be home for the evening but now we will, so we did not plan ahead and stock up on any alternative treats or treasures. In the end, a bag of mini candy bars is on our counter now, staring at me. I will feel a guilty twinge when I put them in the hands of other people's kids... And the mini play-doh buckets are going to be on the top of the basket. At least the older kids will have to dig for their sugar.

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