The apParent trap

One of the most important things a parent can do is plan for the lifelong health of their children.

With Halloween right around the corner, I want to just remind people about the potential consequences of incompletely thought out decisions when it comes to what you allow your children to eat.

boy and candy

It is bad enough that we have to be careful where we allow children to celebrate this holiday.  When I was young, my parents let me out the door with my friends and we went around with our baskets to all the neighbors indiscriminately.  That is no longer considered safe, sadly.

But it is also may be unsafe to allow children to eat the so called ‘treats’ manufactured by the big food companies here, and worse, abroad.

For one thing, you have no idea where these snack foods and so-called confections are actually being made. They are also wrapped and packaged for shipping somewhere. At every step of the process, ingredients and handling are pretty much left to the discretion and standards of the company selling them.  How many of us really know what goes into these items before they land in our children’s Halloween containers?

While I am on this subject, one manufacturer I have always trusted, and  makes a wonderful candy bar is Goldenberg, a family business founded in 1890 that was only recently sold to a similar high quality company.  Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews are something like Snickers crossed with PayDay but made in the USA and contain relatively benign ingredients as far as candy goes, without artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. They do contain sugar, including from cane, corn syrup (not high fructose though) and molasses.  Amazon sells them and you can get a large bag of about 225 individually wrapped bars for about $20. They are made in Philadelphia.  You can watch this video tour of the factory. They used to be sold in movie theaters back East.  If you can’t see or be confident about the way an item is made, from start to finish, I would hesitate to give it to children.

Goldenbergs Peanut Chews

At our house, we do not give out candy at Halloween.  I stopped doing that a long time ago.  Instead, we purchase small, inexpensive but safe toys that are Halloween themed, like balls with bats and eyeballs on them, or that glow in the dark, small jump ropes with orange and black designs, Halloween-themed playing cards, little puzzles, colored pencils and pens, etc.  We get them cheaply at places like Party City,Target, and Cost Plus or Pier One.  Our neighborhood doesn’t have a lot of children so we may get a couple of dozen of all ages coming to the door. Nevertheless, we dress up in costumes, have themed lighting and sounds in front of our house – lit pumpkins, harvest-scented spiced candles (from Yankee Candle Company, I particularly like their Gingerbread) and set a mood at our front door to make it inviting.

halloween house from Martha Stewart

We have never had even one child object to not getting candy at our house.  And, more than that, I have had parents who accompany them thank me profusely.   I wonder if they think that these trinkets are so much more expensive than junk food would be. But they really aren’t significantly more, since I get them in bulk and take a little trouble, too, to find things that are safe and made here in the USA whenever possible. I have a range of types of items, so small superballs, for example, I would not give to a toddler. It is actually amazing what you can find cheaply, when you really look.  In any case, we may have two year olds to seventeen year olds and I try to have something for all of them. When the night is over — and we keep at it, taking turns sitting out in our gated front patio — we feel good about contributing to the festivity of the occasion without aggravating dental and other conditions that are detrimental to a child’s optimal development.

As for what parents can do with their own children, here is what I have advised those parents with whom I interact.  Go out and get some small things that you can barter in exchange for the things that your kids pick up on their rounds.  These could be anything, from small books, to charms, to troll beads, to games, even dimes or pennies.  Let them dress up, go out and get all the things that all their friends do.  With small children, hopefully you are making the rounds with them and can oversee where they go, what they get, and what they put in their mouths en route – in fact, that is very important, as likely everyone knows.

parents and boy at halloween

When they get back, make it a little party that night or the next day and sit across the table and have them take each item out of their container and put it on the table. [You have an inviting looking container on your lap, too. ] You can then see what it is and whether you can OK their keeping it.  When you spot something that you really would rather they did not have, bring out something from your container and offer to trade. Go through each item until all they have are things that you can be satisfied are good for them.

Yes, this takes a little time.  But, do you know how many children get sick or even end up in the local emergency room each Halloween (and Easter – I would do the same thing at Easter)?   Hopefully, if you can think of ways to do this, there will be very little junk consumed in the aftermath of Halloween.  Certainly, I would also ration the eating of whatever candy you do allow so that the basket is not accessible all the time and they don’t feast on this stuff all within a few days.  Remember that this is to change the dynamic for the future too and establish healthier habits.  Who do you think turned this ancient holiday into an annual sugar fest? Your children don’t have to be their captives.

When I was teaching, I showed my class how to make chocolate drops and little “ghosts” made from a mixture of dried fruits and nuts, rolled in coconut, with a white paper over them, tied with an orange string and a lollipop stick inserted into the bottom.  On the white paper that made the ‘ghost’, we glue two black dot eyes.  When they were arranged to stick out of styrofoam, in a black and orange-crepe paper covered jar, they looked very cute.  I used these to barter with my niece one Halloween, along with chocolate truffles I had made and covered with orange foil.  By the end of the night, she had handed over all her junkiest candy, seemingly quite contented with the items I traded for them instead.  Afterward, I discreetly discarded the bartered candy.


This process take attention, preparation and some expense, I realize that.  I also know that people have very busy lives, trying to make ends meet and keep all the balls in the air.  But many parents who wake up one day and find an adolescent they barely understand, much less communicate with or control, wonder how that happened. Doing this right, from the very beginning is hard work.  It is important to think about what you need to do, before you have kids.  To plan for their arrival and how things will unfold thereafter! It is important to plan for them financially, yes, and to start a college fund, especially these days when school is so expensive.  It is just as critical to map out a plan for how you will care for and raise your kids, if you can. You need to study up! If it is too much work to do that, or if you think it is unnecessary, then you will bear the full responsibility for however their lives unfold, because the practices you employ during those first critical years, will impact them for their entire future.

At some point, I hear parents say, “S/he won’t eat anything else”, “S/he will only eat …”.  Really? Who is in charge?  You are an adult and your family is not a democracy.  It is your responsibility to find a way to run the show — especially when your children are small.  Fair, firm, friendly, affectionate.  That is your role.

healthier halloween treats

One of my nieces comes to visit us regularly.  She spent one summer with us when she was eight or nine. One morning, as I put breakfast out, she announced that she only ate some particularly unhealthy boxed cereal from one of the big ‘food’ brands.  I listened to her for a minute and then said.  “Oh, really?  OK, well, we don’t have that here, we have these items (and I showed her some things in the cupboard).  Today you can eat what I put out.  Tomorrow, you can choose one of these things in the pantry.”  She thought about it and said, no, she wanted xyz.  I said, “Well, when you go home, you can have that.  Here we eat … so tell you what, you can skip eating today and we will see how you feel at breakfast tomorrow.”  The whole scene repeated itself all day — at lunch and at dinner.  By dinner she was hungry and willingly ate the delicious meal I put in front of her. It was no problem whatsoever after that – I held firm because I really believe in good nutrition for life, but I did it calmly and with a smile.  It can be done, believe me.

Don’t fall into the mindless trap of allowing advertisers to defeat your better judgment.  Do the right thing for your kids, with love and attention and you will have an easier time when they get into their teens, and so will everyone who deals with them later on.



13 Comments on “The apParent trap”

  1. I can’t stand all the kids knocking on our door, it drives our dogs nuts. So every year I put a sign up that says we don’t celebrate Halloween for religious reasons and tell them to have a safe and blessed night. Around here, it’s a pretty common thing for people to consider Halloween sinful and inappropriate for children, so they always buy it and leave us alone. 😉 My husband says it’s horrible of me, but I can’t stand the constant knocking on the door and calming of the pets, etc.


  2. Well, I can understand living in a neighborhood that frowns on this holiday and that is actually a great reason for avoiding it. When we first moved here, being a teacher and used to small kids in NYC, I always made a point of decorating the house and welcoming trick or treaters. We used to put up ghosts and witches. Little did I realize that Evangelicals consider this demonic, so I quickly switched to pumpkins and candles – more harvest than Halloween related.

    I don’t believe in giving children sugar at all, so in some ways I would be happy to forego the entire exercise. The problem is that now we are one of the only places parents can bring their children in the neighborhood and we have sort of created a yearly obligation for ourselves. I think you are smart to do what you are doing. If parents had more time, the thing to do is have little parties at home and leave the neighbors (scary ones as well as the nice ones alike) in peace!


  3. We used to do Halloween but then when we got dogs it got to be annoying. So now my parents will either go out and ill stay home with lights off or they will park the car in the garage and leave the lights off at the front of the house.

    Though I do have to say yes healthy treats is good however there is something called being a overprotective parent. I say let them collect all the candy they want but don’t let them sit with their bag or container to pig out. They may have one or two things its all about portion control.

    They did halloween and never died I did halloween as a child and never died. I think some people go to the extremes. However not everyone has to give out candy and its nice that you’re doing what you’re doing. Candy gets eaton toys and games and such get played with.


    • I hear you. You make some valid points and I would bet this is the reaction of a lot of people when they read what I wrote (or others who write about this). Take a look at this: pediatricians believe in scaling back on Halloween and Easter:

      This is one group in the child care field that I work with a lot, so I am thinking of things I read that they send me.

      I wish I thought this was merely a matter of being over-protective. In fact I think parents these days are far too hands-off. When I was raised, my parents paid much more attention to me than I see parents doing today — and both of them had full time demanding careers. It just mattered to them and I am really grateful.

      If we think about the long term, there is a cumulative effect of poor nutrition practices that has different impacts on different children. I am sure there are some kids raised on nothing but what I would consider to be junk food and they do just fine. The problem is, the negative effects of the wrong foods can take years to show up. So, we are gambling on the idea that just a little poison (because that is what a lot of this stuff really is, for our bodies) never hurt anyone and that would be true if it were just a little bit! (Of course, I would say, why eat anything that is bad for you, when with a little effort, you can change eating habits. I have done it. I was a big candy eater as a kid – and I have a wicked sweet tooth, but I have retrained it and now if I even eat an m&m, that I used to love, it tastes almost anesthetic to me now -truly not tasty at all and I used to live on them).

      Also, we need to remember that the ingredients have changed since we were kids. This stuff is not made from the same things that went into our candy even ten years ago. A lot of it comes from places like China – they were poisoning our dog food just a few years ago. I would not trust my kids to manufacturers in poor countries like those in Asia where they cut corners and then send the junk to us. We just don’t know what we are eating or giving our kids.

      Also, not only can sugar be bad for kids’ teeth, it has other negative health effects. Sugar is a big contributor to degenerative diseases and some behavior problems. It can lead to obesity and diabetes, and a number of nerve disorders.

      So, not to say you aren’t right about moderation. After all, kids do live in our culture and their peers have a lot of influence on them. I wouldn’t expect parents to go to extremes as that would be socially harmful and maybe the cure would be worse than the disease.

      I guess I just want people to think about the options. Not to just mindlessly give kids what advertisers tell them they just have to have or we think they want. I think we can be in control and make wise choices without being too protective or too restrictive. I just think we are nowhere near having enough good nutrition and need to get back on track.

      My grandmother told me that when she was small, her parents gave her two small pieces of chocolate after dinner each night and maybe once a week a small ice cream cone or piece of pie if they went out to eat. That was it for sugar just, what, 90 years ago? She wasn’t miserable and she had her teeth when she died!

      Thank you Lana, you made me think this through and consider your points because I am sure lots of people would agree with you more than with me, so I need to consider these things the next time I rant on this, LOL! 🙂


  4. I remember when Halloween was safe and fun. Yes, we got too much candy but our parents doled it out. It was edible and it was mostly made with ingredients that were not concocted in the Frankenstein labs of corporations. Some excellent ideas here for parents and other trick-or-treat participants!


    • Yes. What a shame that now a lot of this has to be curtailed. And your point is what I was aiming at exactly. That is one reason that those Peanut Chews are a good transitional product – they are made with pretty much ingredients that were used in the 1930s to the 1970s. And they taste wonderful. The reason corporations don’t do the things that Goldenberg did and still does is money. Hidden factories, fillers, chemicals, artificial flavors, synthetic dyes. You are so right. Our candy comes from labs not nature any more. And frankly, I can tell because I stopped eating commercial chocolate about ten years ago and the last time I had a few m&ms at a party, I was struck by how tasteless they were! If I am going to take a chance on dental problems and other health risks, I want to do it with pure candies, not that stuff.

      Thank you Vera!


        • Nope. Not as far as I know. I have a “tin” — 1 lb — here: Peanuts; Corn syrup; Sugar; Molasses;Dextrose; Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Cottonseed, Soybean); Cocoa Powder; Soya Lecithin; Salt.

          Corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil aren’t exactly ideal, but this is pretty benign, relative to other stuff, I think.

          Did I forget to thank you? Thank you for all your comments and support! I really look forward to the things you say.


  5. Wow. Thanks for these helpful ideas. I am going to prepare my own Appealing Bucket this year and do the barter…seems to me like it would be fun and keep the kids from overdosing on sugar and God only knows what else. Love this!


    • Thank you Kim. We both posted on similar topics this morning! I have a lot of fun trying out my ideas on the kids in my life. I am going to post on my great lunch and breakfast (well, I think they are, anyway, LOL) ideas at some point. I see all this as a happy challenge.


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