The Post About the Treats

Every year around this time, as people’s thoughts turn to Halloween, I see a lot of questions floating around the internet.  What should we do about the candy?  Do we let our kids have candy?  Why can’t Halloween be done without candy?

I used to worry exclusively about answering the Halloween question in and of itself.  But this year, it’s become part of a larger issue for me, and one that I have come to a very deliberate decision about for our family.  It’s not about one day for us, nor should it be for anyone.  It’s about the treats.  It’s about what you do, what you believe, fundamentally, about the treats.  Not on Halloween, per se, but in LIFE.

There’s no one right way to do this.  Let’s get that out of the way with right off the bat.  Some people don’t really do treats, either on Halloween or in life, and that’s fine.  If that works for you and your family, more power to you.  Some people do lots of treats and think it’s just about short of criminal to deprive kids of their birthright to trick-or-treat and pass out in the delirious sugar coma that most of us enjoyed when we were children.  And you know what?  I’m okay with that, too.  Then there are, of course, various stances along the spectrum between the two.  All of which are basically fine by me.  Unless, of course, you’re being inconsistent.

What do I mean by that?  I mean this: If you don’t really do sweets and treats, ever, and you decide to allow your kids to enjoy Halloween to the fullest, you may be sending the kind of mixed message that will not only confuse the kids, but make your life harder later on when you try to rein it all back in.  On the other side of the coin, if you are a person who tends to be relatively lax about treats, but you decide to clamp down and start rationing the Halloween candy because it feels like a lot of excess, you are probably setting yourself up for a battle there, too.  Kids want to know where we stand on things, and the more power we give to a single day (like Halloween) or a single item or group of items (like treats), the more power that day or that item will have over them.

J. and I have struggled with the treat thing, to be honest.  We both grew up in households where treats were available to us on a daily basis, no big deal, though to varying degrees; J.’s brothers still joke about a “three-cookie limit,” which I guess felt restrictive at the time to a bunch of teenaged boys, while in my house there was an infamous “treat drawer” stuffed with all manner of dessert items, and my sister D. and I were allowed to choose something from that drawer twice a day.  Regardless, we both — J. and I — turned out to be people who, yes, enjoy sweets, but don’t feel the need to binge on them and don’t feel deprived if we don’t have them.

With our own boys, however, as we’ve endured struggles with L.’s weight throughout his early childhood (this is a problem that seems to be resolving quite a bit as he gets older; hopefully I’ll have conclusive updates about that soon), we’ve had a harder time figuring out just what to do with the treats.  Do we allow a small treat item each day, provided it’s in proportion to the rest of their diets; or do we try to limit treats to once or twice a week?  Or not at all, unless it’s a birthday or holiday?  Will a cookie a day set L. up for a lifelong weight battle?  Or will restricting things do more harm?

We’ve experimented with all of this, obviously, and we’ve realized the following truths that apply in our household.  They may not resonate for everyone, but they make sense for us.

1) If we restrict treats and only allow the boys a dessert item occasionally, they seem to value the dessert more.  They want it more.  They fixate on it, even.  And then if it’s just a cookie, it’s a huge letdown, because they’ve waited ALL WEEK to get a sweet treat.  Somehow, the amount of negotiation and obsession that happens around that one treat doesn’t feel worth it to me, nor does it feel like a healthy relationship with food.

2) If we let a small sweet treat be a part of their daily routines, it can truly be small.  A square of dark chocolate; a short mug of homemade cocoa; a single-serving packet of Annie’s bunny fruit snacks (which, yes, are a dessert in our house — they’re fine, but they’re just glorified candy, and we treat them that way).  These are not enormous desserts nor major compromises, but they do the trick.  Moreover, the boys are satisfied with a few little bites of something, they don’t ask for nor crave more, and there’s no drama.  There’s no POWER to the treat.  Thus, if we ask them at any point in time to forego a treat — because there will be a party the next day, or because we’re planning an outing where there may be an extra snack opportunity, or whatever — they’re generally okay with that.  They know that treats are regularly available to them, so they don’t feel the need to fuss about the issue.

3) So when it comes to consistency, Halloween doesn’t have to be a hard call for us.  We allow treats.  We have no reason NOT to allow treats on Halloween.  Our boys are used to small portions of dessert at a time, so they won’t be looking to gorge on their haul — they’ll be happy with a couple of little pieces of candy, and then we’ll put it away until the next day.

4) However, just because we “do” Halloween doesn’t mean there aren’t some limitations.  For P., obviously, being a dye-free kid will mean that we’ll have to have acceptable items to trade for his unsafe candy.  And for both boys, we generally limit the overall amount that they collect (by keeping a short-ish trick-or-treat route); and the amount that they KEEP of that haul (by letting them each sort through what they’ve collected and fill a jar or dish we provide to them with the ones they truly want to keep — when that’s full, they’re done).  Anything they don’t keep goes into the big candy dish and is “regifted” to the rest of the trick-or-treaters who come to our door throughout the night.

It’s a system that works for us.  And it works, frankly, because it doesn’t involve stress, negotiations, bargaining, or any kind of freaking out about treats.  We do choose, yes, to provide treats that we think are more moderate and slightly more wholesome, on a general daily basis.  But I’m not fooling myself, or them — a treat is a treat, and just because it’s “less bad” than a Twinkie, doesn’t mean it’s a health food.  So when an occasion like Halloween arises, and a moderate amount of mainstream candy comes into play, I feel okay about letting them indulge in small quantities.  Nothing’s forbidden, it’s still just a treat, and in the end, the “damage” that may be done by eating a few days’ worth of 3 Musketeers bars each year, without parental comment or freak-out, is probably far less than the “damage” we might do if we outright banned them from finding out what those 3 Musketeers bars are really all about.

The bonus of this arrangement happens to be, by the way, that while my kids are kids — and they certainly like all those Halloween sweets — they actually tend to PREFER the kinds of things we offer them more regularly.  They like their chocolate darker, their candies slightly less sweet, and they LOVE a good home-baked treat like these miniature pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins.  They greet these things with the same enthusiasm they’d show for a big fudge brownie or an ice cream cone.  I feel good because offering treats like these more often means that I can say “yes” to occasions like Halloween; they feel good because they’ve got chocolate chip muffins.  For now, it works.


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5 Responses to The Post About the Treats

  1. Pingback: Treats at School | Red, Round, or Green

  2. I always enjoy your well thought out and balanced posts. I also struggled with the Halloween candy issue. And what is really nice is that as my kids are now in their late teens early 20’s it is not an issue any longer. But here is what we did…
    We would go through the candy and get rid of the junkie stuff-the no name candy, hard candy, and the stuff that really didn’t taste good. If you are going to enjoy sweets it should be the good stuff. Then it got combined into a treat bowl and they would enjoy it for the next 2 months….They would get a small one in their lunch, then maybe two after dinner (remember these are usually the bite size, if it was a regular candy bar it got cut into bite size pieces and enjoyed by everyone).
    If you put too much emotional, stressed out energy into “what should I do?”, your kids pick up on it and it will come back to haunt you. Keep things simple and easy going so that your children do not interpret what you are doing into deprivation. No one wins that game.

    So set back enjoy the season, shift the emphasis from candy to home made goodies, and activities. Enjoy life.

    • Thank you, Rachael! 🙂 It sounds like your approach was really similar to ours. I totally agree with you that if you’re going to have sweets, they should be GOOD ones, but somehow my kids just can’t get over the allure of the lollipops — ugh! Nevertheless, if they’re only keeping a few, then it’s fine by me. They enjoy the candy whenever there’s a “treat” opportunity for as long as that lasts, and then they’re done; and usually we find that they forget about the candy or lose interest in it before the last piece has been eaten.

  3. Lisa D says:

    This follows pretty closely to what I believe too. Sounds like we do a bit larger treats on a daily basis, but honestly part of that is because of the amount of dessert that my husband eats. He is very fit and just has a large appetite so he can eat a large portion of ice cream or cookies or what have you without gaining weight. I still don’t think it’s healthy, but I have a hard time telling my son he can’t have a dessert when dad is eating a portion built for three.
    I like you idea about having a jar they can fill with candy to keep and getting rid of the rest. We may do that rather then have to keep candy around until it can be mixed with Christmas candy.

    • I can imagine that it would be really tough to limit your son’s desserts if your husband is modeling something completely different! J. and I usually wait to have dessert, if we have it at all, until the kids are in bed — so even though we don’t often indulge in something larger or more glamorous than what they’ve had, they still have no yardstick by which to measure what we’re eating vs. what they’re allowed.
      The nicest thing about the jar system is that it really gets them thinking about which pieces of candy they truly WANT. They have to prioritize a little bit. It also usually gets the really junky stuff out the door and leaves more of the chocolates and things like that. They’re in control, but it’s not a free-for-all environment.

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