As a mother of three and a dentist, I’ve got some counter-intuitive but good advice when it comes to dealing with those bags/buckets/pillowcases full of Halloween candy.
I’ve even got some insights for grown-ups who might like this time of year as much as the kids! So, even if you’re reading this days (or weeks) after the big night, there’s sure to be a little nugget of information here for you.
First, my kids have always had to face a giant candivore’s dilemma every Halloween: both their dad and I are dentists. This is a serious accident of birth for our poor kids! So, the question is, do we try to force them to enjoy fresh apples on Halloween? Or do we let them save it for a month, eating a few pieces at a time?
As it turns out, neither! Here’s a better idea:
Long ago I came up with a novel solution that has worked just fine for everyone. On Halloween night (or even days later if you are just finding this article) we let our kids spread every piece of candy out on the kitchen table, giving them a chance to truly appreciate their bounty.
While they snack away, we encourage them to really savor each morsel, and while they do, we have them sort their favorites and swap the candies they don’t want for those they do. (This is a little added economics lesson! Two tiny packages of sour patches do not equal a full-sized Milky Way… but maybe a few boxes of Nerds can even out the trade! Have fun with it!)
How long do we let this go on? Well, eventually even the most sugar-crazed youngster will naturally lose interest, unable to eat another piece.
This is biology. Once the trigger in their brain says they’ve had enough, most kids will just wander away from the table. And when they are sick of the whole scene, we have our kids set aside two pieces for the next day and…
The rest goes into the garbage or compost bucket. No questions asked.
Believe me, if you play this one right, your kids will gladly walk away from the table after they have a full belly and their blood sugar is maxed. While our older brains might not help us in the same situation, their brains are still hardwired to walk away from the table when their blood sugar is high. (But of course, you know that if you’ve ever tried to get a child to eat a good dinner after you’ve let them drink a big glass of chocolate milk a half hour earlier!)
If you give this advice a solid attempt, I think you’ll find this is a good strategy for both their autonomy and teeth, and I’ll tell you why on both accounts:
Why This Halloween Candy Tip Works—The MOM Side of the Story
If your kids don’t get candy or otherwise sugar-sweetened foods and beverages very often, giving them an hour to truly relish this kind of youthful bliss is a little celebration of the abundance that is in our lives. If they are otherwise healthy kids, one big splurge in a year will have no lasting consequences.
Let’s not take everything so seriously! Well-disciplined kids need some bliss once in a while.
Why This Halloween Candy Tip Works – The DENTIST Side of the Story
Cavities are caused by daily, repeated doses of sugar which feed the bacteria that cause tooth decay. So if you let your kids have sweets day after day—Gatorade, Sweetened Teas, Sodas, other bottled drinks, and sugary snacks—those cavity-causing bacteria will thrive from the constant, recurrent source of sugar, leading to bad news at your dental check-ups.
But getting all this sugary goodness out of the way in one night, rather than over the course of a month is actually the better option. In other words, one isolated night of sugar overload will have no effect on their teeth!
That’s all there is to it gang: Halloween in one night; fun and done!
An Alternative to “In the Trash”
For simplicity, I recommended tossing all the candy at the end of the night straight into the trash or better yet, the compost bucket. But on second thought, there’s actually a better way!
First of all, there’s always the option of not collecting enough to throw away. In other words, instead of a pillowcase or shopping bag full of candy, why not stop by only five or 10 houses?
We make a point to stop at about six houses, chat a few minutes, and my children are completely satisfied with their evening’s fun.
It’s also a good idea to make the most of the quality of your time with the friends and neighbors you visit.
In short: instead of fixating on the quantity of candy, consider looking at the quality of the visits you make. Perhaps just stop at the houses of seniors you know. We always called ahead and they always had something special for our kids. Then, we took the time to enjoy them admiring the kids’ costumes and they had all sorts of questions for our kids to answer. Everyone felt special, which made much better memories!
Bottom-line: letting your kids eat a few pieces each day for a month after Halloween is actually going to be the worst thing you can do for their teeth. Get the candy out of the house as quickly and easily as possible, after letting them enjoy a little abundance.
And how does this relate to the grown-ups?
Well, our busiest time in the dental office is through the holidays because people tend to eat some riskier treats. But about 2 weeks after Halloween is the worst, because all the adults start dipping into the left-over candy, breaking teeth and pulling off crowns. Some even store the left-over candy in the freezer and then have a treat periodically. Now THAT’s a real recipe for a Halloween inspired dental nightmare!
Happy Halloween! Stay open, curious and hopeful!