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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.