Halloween, in the US at least, has come to be synonymous with treats, not tricks. And that can pose a problem for those of us who want our food simple, good, and tasty, as most candy is not actually food. Yet most of us also harbor happy childhood memories of coming home from a night of trick-or-treating with a pillowcase or plastic pumpkin full of goodies. The enjoyment was extended by sorting candy, trading it, and slowly (or not-so-slowly) consuming it over the next several days. It's good to remember that there is joy in this candy-centric holiday that can easily get stifled by well-meaning adults.
My kids always look a little sad when they find packets of raisins or carrots in their bags. Are these better than no-name, dubious-origin, high-frustose corn syrup options? You bet. But my kids are allowed to have fruit and vegetables anytime. And so there's nothing treat-like about raisins or carrots, or other non-candy options like pencils, stickers, or tattoos. What my 6 and 9-year-old boys get excited about on Halloween is candy, and lots of it. So at Halloween, I try to give unto others as I would have others give unto my boys. The fact that I give out candy on Halloween doesn't mean I endorse a month-long sugar binge and doesn't mean that I allow my kids to eat just anything. But I am happy to allow candy, even some conventional kinds, as an occasional treat. I think there's a happy medium that can please conscientious parents, thoughtful treat-givers, AND greedy, delighted children.
For those of you who haven't yet decided what to hand out on Wednesday, I'll offer my advice on some of the less-objectionable conventional candies, and also share suggestions from some of our local grocery co-op staff on what some better options might be. Finally, I'll share some post-game strategies for parents on what to do once that candy crosses the threshold. There are many ways to make it disappear, not all of them straight into your children's stomachs.
Pre-Trick or Treating
What to give depends on several factors, including how many trick-or-treaters you get every year and how much money you want to spend. We live on a popular block and always run out of candy before we run out of kids ringing our doorbell, even after we turn off the porch light. (Maybe not this year, however. "Researching" Halloween candy for this article somehow resulted in my buying rather more Halloween candy than I have in the past. LOTS more, as evidenced in the picture to the right.)
If you need to hand out large quantities of inexpensive candy, plain chocolate is probably your best bet. Some of my favorite conventional items are the Hershey's Kiss and Hershey's miniatures. Their ingredient list is short and their size is small. Plus chocolate creates less of an acid attack on teeth than other candies. The longer a candy stays in your mouth the longer teeth are exposed to the sugar. Gooey and sticky candy, like Dots and Laffy Taffy, can lodge and stay on the teeth for some time. Fruity and especially sour candies contain citric or malic acid, which are stronger than other sugar acids. (This article from the Minnesota Dental Association details sour candy's effect on teeth.)
But better choices abound. They'll cost a little more than what you can buy in bulk at the big-box store, but they have better ingredients and better business practices. The most popular and widely available are Yummy Earth lollipops. Liz from Mississippi Market, Tom from Seward and Brandi from Eastside co-ops all recommended these treats, which are made from real fruit extracts, naturally flavored and colored, certified organic, gluten-free, corn-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, and have no high fructose corn syrup.
Liz from Mississippi Market also likes the kids' Clif Z Bars in Full Moon Brownie, and packs of little Endangered Species chocolates to hand out. For treats at home or at a party, Mississippi Market has popcorn balls, bat cookies, and caramel apples in the deli. There are also several larger, fair-trade, organic chocolate bars made exclusively for co-ops in honor of the Year of the Cooperative.
Tom from Seward also offered a long list of treat ideas. Some of them wouldn't pass muster with my kids, but the range of options has something for everyone:
Snack-size boxes of organic raisins
Annie's Organic Bunny Fruit snack packs
Energy bars and granola bars (such as Clif Kids, Annie's, or Nature's Path Enviro Kidz); these contain fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals
Equal Exchange mini Chocolate Bars and Geo Bars (made with fair-trade grains, fruit, and chocolate)
Grass Run Farm beef snack sticks (locally made)
Single-serving packets of kids gummy multivitamins (such as Rainbow Light Gummy Power Sours)
Organic and natural candies, such as Yummy Earth and Surf Sweets gummy bears
Post Trick or Treating
If you have kids returning with candy, it's best to be prepared. Decide in advance what the candy consumption for that night can be. Remember to look for loopholes and be specific: does a full-size candy bar count as one piece of candy? If I'm not precise, I can guarantee my kids will be. After they go to bed, I remove or at least thin out the most tooth-unfriendly items, like Pixi sticks, War Heads, Sprees, Smarties, and Laffy Taffy.
Then I decide the limits for the days following Halloween. I choose how many pieces of candy a day the kids can eat, what time of day the candy can be eaten, and even how long we'll keep the candy in house. One mom friend lets her kids have 2 pieces a day for a week, then buys the rest of it back from them for a lump sum, which they then take to Target to spend on a toy. Another friend offers her kids a penny for each piece of candy they'll sell to her. I tend to take advantage of my kids' forgetfulness. They are all about the candy for about a week, then they forget about it and I throw it away. I've only been caught at this once, but tears were involved, so it is not my proudest moment of parenting. (I plead good intentions.)
Some grownups take extra candy into the office to share with co-workers. One of the sites I read while researching this article recommended giving unwanted candy to a food bank. I don't like this advice. Every year, I take the unwanted and excess candy and throw it in the trash. If it's not good for my kids, then it's not good for anybody. When I donate to a food shelf, THAT is when I give carrots, apples, and other healthful food items.
Whatever you choose to give this week, I hope you and yours have a happy Halloween. Give treats. Enjoy treats. In moderation. Have fun!
Kristin Boldon is an occasional contributor for Simple, Good, and Tasty. She also writes for the Eastside Food Cooperative's newsletter, Minnesota Monthly's food blog TC Taste , and her own blog Girl Detective. Her last post for us was a review of Jennifer Reese's Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.