The frightening reality of banning sugar at Halloween
Trick or trick
Every October I am reminded of the frightening reality of banning sugar at Halloween. It’s always the same thing: my Instagram feed is flooded with posts about the danger of sugar and how society has tricked our kids into becoming ill.
I am reminded of the daily sugar recommendations for children, of dental health, which “candies” are the best for blood glucose control or even hormone balance. My-fitness-not-so-my-pal, loves nothing better than detailed info-graphics on the sugar content of sweets. I even saw this woman advising to start taking electrolytes in October so we don’t crave sugar. Like people eat sweets at Halloween because they crave it!
Then you have the camp of people who let their kids trick or treat but then witchcraft takes place… Either the sweets disappear overnight and are replaced by raisins and pumpkin shaped tangerines (nightmare), or the kid is allowed one handful and the rest is “donated” (i.e., dad eats it at the office). The worst case scenario, and I have heard it from many people, even an ED practitioner: you tell your kids to eat as many as they want on Halloween, to the point of them being sick, and then throw the rest away, that way they, apparently, understand that sugar is bad for us and that we shouldn’t be eating it. How messed up is that?!!
Tricks or traditions?
I didn’t grow up with Halloween, not least because I lived in the sticks and I would have had to walk for miles on muddy roads to get anything and it probably would have been some toffee that tasted like socks. When I left France, bars were starting to get on it and decorate for Halloween but that’s it. For me Halloween only really started when I had children, or more exactly when my oldest was old enough to walk and not get freaked out by it all. We’re talking knocking on a few neighbours’ doors with a sheet with eye holes here; nothing much and it was all very age appropriate.
When they were little I never bought sweets as part of the weekly shop but I also didn’t ban them. They happened at parties and special occasions and that’s because sweets aren’t things we need on a daily basis but they are fine to have in small quantities. I didn’t buy the kids sweets to give a chance to their taste buds to develop a certain range: try and tell a kid a carrot is sweet when they have only ever been used to Haribos. It wasn’t part of their daily diet but it was also not excluded or put on a pedestal, they were just things we ate sometimes.
It never occurred to me to ban my kids from trick or treating. I don’t see it as begging for sweets, especially since we give plenty out too. I see it as fun: those who want to partake, partake by putting a pumpkin out and those who don’t, just don’t. I have loved getting to know people in my neighbourhood thanks to trick or treating and I’m looking forward to bumping into friends this evening and seeing the kids dressed up and having fun. This for me this is what Halloween is all about: a celebration of the dead that is full of life. Like spiders we have created webs of memories based on traditions such as Halloween and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Yes kids are hyper but it’s not just a “sugar high”, it’s mostly the fact they are allowed out in the dark (when you’re seven, you’re never out at night!), that they bump into their friends and that everyone, even some silly adults, is dressed up. They are hyper because, unlike silly adults, they embrace the moments and they are feeling it all in and screaming it all out. This is perfectly healthy behaviour to me.
Trick or teach
We all know sugar is something we can overeat and that overeating sugar in the long term can be detrimental for our health but is the solution banning sugar? Of course not, it’s teaching kids how to eat sugar, how much and why.
I encourage having a meal before we go, not make sure they have some goodness to offset the sugar but because it’s much easier to regulate your intake of sugar when you’re not hungry. Let’s face it, they won’t feel like eating broccoli when they get back and I certainly won’t feel like cooking anything when we get back – old witches need their sleep. So we’ll eat before, something warming and satisfying.
If my kids come back with 2 kilos of sweets they will know it’s not a good idea to polish it all off in one go, not least because they won’t have anymore after. They will eat too much sugar on Halloween but it’s one evening and it’s very much time limited (sweets stay in the kitchen; we eat don’t eat in bedrooms). After that, I will put some sweets in their packed lunches, and they will eat some with a snack or after dinner, little by little.
I want and need to allow sweets in my house even though I’m a nutritionist, because not giving them sweets is saying there’s a problem with sweets and there isn’t. There can be a problem with too many sweets too often but guess what’s most likely to lead to that: restriction and no boundary with no explanation given to the kids.
You will never learn to self-regulate if you are restricted, it’s by eating the stuff on a regular basis that you learn what you like and don’t like and how much is too much. By not throwing away their sweets, they have learnt there is no need to gobble them all up. By allowing sugar you remove its mystic power, it’s just food and we eat sometimes because it’s fun, not because we need it.
I think it’s healthy to explain to kids that they can’t have as much sugar as they want in the same way as we would explain to them they can’t watch as much TV as they want. They also need to read, play and go outside. It wouldn’t be great parenting to give no framework to kids and it wouldn’t be great to allow nothing either. By explaining to kids that it’s fine to have those foods because they taste yummy but that objectively we need fewer Maltesers than broccoli for a strong and happy body teaches kids to be neutral about food and their bodies.
Sweets aren’t a treat but guilt shouldn’t be a trick either.
Trick or blip
My approach to sweets is a bit like my approach to swearing. Excuse my French but, for fuck sake’s the key isn’t to pretend swear words don’t exist but to teach kids that there’s a time and a place for this.