Rolling my cart past the high pile of candy bars — miniatures in 5-pound bags — I realize it’s that time of year. For a few Halloweens I’ve handed out colorful pencils and stickers, but I succumb to the temptation and buy the candy.
Who knew that the “trick” in trick-or-treat might just refer to the sugar-laden items we shamelessly pass out. Most schools have prohibited sharing sweet snacks for birthdays and holiday parties. Given all the warnings about children’s obesity and diabetes, I decided to do a little research on how much sugar is safe for kids. All the online articles quote 2009 guidelines published by the American Heart Association. They say a preschooler who consumes 1,200 to 1,400 calories a day should have no more than 4 teaspoons (16 grams) of added sugar a day. It’s less for ages 4-8. Based on a 1,600 calorie diet, only 3 teaspoons or 12 grams per day. For perspective, keep in mind that a 12-ounce can of soda has 10 teaspoons of added sugar.
This is pretty alarming. Preteens and teenagers eating 1,800-2,000 calories can safely handle 5-8 teaspoons of extra sugar but you’re not likely to exercise much control over what they eat when they’re out in the world. Assuming that your little ones are going to return home Halloween night with bags of candy, what can you do? Studies show that most kids consume seven times the recommended extra sugar intake. So start by looking at what your kids are already eating.
If your child has cake, cookies, ice cream, sugared drinks and cereal on a daily basis, you really need to make some changes. Limit sugary desserts to once a week. Restrict soda consumption. Get your kids to appreciate the sweetness in fruit. Use this occasion to spark a family discussion about how to eat healthier. Study the labels of their favorite snacks. Help your children to understand the harm that can come to them if they eat too much sugar.
If your family is already restricting sweets, then you can figure out how to consume that Halloween candy in a responsible way. Each of those miniature Babe Ruths, Milky Ways and Butterfingers, which weigh less than a half ounce, average four to five grams of sugar. So for an early elementary-aged child, that would allow for two or three a day, assuming he is not already having other sweets. Would he trade that sugary soda for a few of his Halloween treats? Have a couple of candies instead of dessert? If nothing else works, you can dispose of some of the bounty while the kids are asleep. Use some method other than eating it yourself. Or you can dole it out one a day. The treats will last a long time and if you’re lucky, the kids will lose interest before long.
So now that I’ve opened my big bag of candy, my job is to hide it until the 31st and hope that I get enough trick-or-treaters so that there is nothing left in the bowl when I turn out the lights.