For years, Maryland author Cara Via fought what felt like an epic battle of wills.
Every November 1, the mother of two found herself staring down towering mounds of Halloween candy piled atop her kitchen counters. They were the spoils of her children’s trick-or-treating adventures.
“We were inundated with candy,” Via said.
Via is not alone in that frustration. Across the country, parents everywhere find themselves in a tug-of-war with their kids (and themselves!) over what to do with so much candy.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans eat more than 7 billion pounds of candy each year. Let that sink in: 7 billion pounds of candy. That’s enough to fill about 60 USS Iowa battleships.
Not surprisingly, Halloween is the number one holiday for candy sales.
Public health experts estimate that the average U.S. child gathers up between 3,500 and 7,000 calories worth of candy on Halloween night. Donna Arnett, head of the department of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, said a 100-pound child who consumed 7,000 calories would have to walk for nearly 44 hours or play full-court basketball for 14.5 hours to burn those calories off.
“It’s insane,” Via says.
“I’m literally staring down these mounds of candy and saying to myself: who’s going to win? Me or the candy?”
Turns out, Via did.
In a moment of desperation two years ago, she had a flash of inspiration
To distract her two boys from diving headfirst into a heap of sugar and fat, she whipped up a tale of a fairy who sweeps through neighborhoods all around the world collecting candy to feed Santa’s helpers. The candy, she told her kids, gave the elves energy to keep making toys. The more candy they ate, the more toys they could make.
And thus Halloween Holly was born.
Via placed a red bowl on the counter and asked her kids to pick out 10 pieces of candy which they could keep for themselves, and to donate the rest to the elves.
She about fell over when the boys grabbed their loot and dumped it in the bowl.
“I was in utter shock,” she said.
The strategy was so successful, Via self published a children’s book detailing Halloween Holly’s adventures in the hopes of inspiring other parents facing similar struggles.
“Once I realized I wasn’t the only one in the boat, I felt like I had to share it with everyone,” she said. “This is a great alternative to a healthier Halloween.”
So what are parents to do if they want their kids to have fun this Halloween without getting swept up in a scary sugar stampede? Here are some tips to avoid the candy craze:
Set boundaries, but don’t get emotional
Ashley Palmer, a new mom and nutrition expert based in Salt Lake City, Utah, knows first hand the importance of creating healthy habits early on in life to avoid the sugar temptations that plague us later on.
Palmer recommends setting boundaries with food but not getting emotional about it.
“There’s research that shows that adults whose parents (restricted) what they ate, struggle with overeating. On the other end, kids whose parents let them eat whatever they wanted tend to feel guilty about what they eat,” says Palmer, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in nutrition who coaches clients on healthy eating choices.
Seems obvious, but moderation really is the key to success.
“I’ve seen the backlash at both extremes,” she says.
Contact local dentists about ‘cash for candy’ programs
To avoid the temptation of gorging on sugar, Corrine Lanza, an educator in New Jersey, lets her kids participate each year in her dentist’s “candy buy back” program which gives kids cash in exchange for their unopened candy.
Lanza’s dentist at Monroe Pediatric Dentistry pays kids a dollar a pound for up to five pounds of candy. The sweets are donated to Operation Shoebox New Jersey, a grassroots organization dedicated to collecting donated supplies and shipping care packages to U.S. troops abroad.
Lanza, who has four boys ages five to 12, lets her kids choose if they want to keep some of the candy or if they want to sell it.
“They usually just want the cash,” she says, laughing.
Don’t let kids go trick-or-treating hungry
“It’s like going grocery shopping when you’re hungry,” says Palmer. “If they’ve had a good meal they’re not going to eat half their candy on the way home.”
And if kids are really hankering for something sweet, eating a homemade caramel apple is a way better option than a bag of chocolate.
Don’t buy too much candy ahead of time
Instead of buying Halloween candy weeks in advance, buy it a few days before – that way you won’t be tempted to eat it before Oct. 31, Palmer says.
“I swear there’s a person who sits in a chemistry lab and whose sole job is to figure out how to make it as appealing as possible to get you to eat one more M&M,” Palmer jokes.
“If it’s in the house, you’re going to eat it.”