And I'm not really all that worried. At least not about Halloween night.
The fact is food's not simply fuel, and like it or not, Halloween and candy are part of the very fabric of North American culture and to suggest that kids shouldn't enjoy candy on Halloween isn't an approach I would support.
That said, Halloween sure isn't pretty. On average every Halloween sized candy contains in the order of 2 teaspoons of sugar and the calories of 2 Oreo cookies and I'd bet most Halloween eves there are more kids consuming 10 or more Halloween treats than less - 20 teaspoons of sugar and the calories of more than half an entire package of Oreos (there are 36 cookies in a package of Oreos).
So what's a health conscious parent to do?
Use Halloween as a teachable moment. After all, it's not Halloween day that's the real problem, the real problem are the other 364 days of Halloween where we as a society have very unwisely decided to reward, pacify and entertain kids with junk food or candy (see my piece on the 365 days of Halloween here). So what can be taught on Halloween?
Well firstly I think you can chat some about sugar and/or calories, and those rule of thumb figures up above provide easily visualized metrics for kids and parents alike.
Secondly it allows for a discussion around "thoughtful reduction". Ask them how many candies they think they'll need to enjoy Halloween? Remember, the goal is the healthiest life that can be enjoyed, and that goes for kids too, and consequently the smallest amount of candy that a kid is going to need to enjoy Halloween is likely a larger amount than a plain old boring Thursday. In my house the kids have decided upon 3 pieces - so our kids come home, they dump their sacks, and rather than just eat randomly from a massive pile they hunt out the 3 treats they think would be the most awesome and then take their time enjoying them.
Well it goes into the cupboard and gets metered out at a rate of around a candy a day....but strangely....and I'm not entirely sure how this happens, maybe it's cupboard goblins, but after the kids go to sleep the piles seem to shrink more quickly than math would predict. I've also heard of some families donating candy to a local mission or homeless shelter, and others who grab glue guns and make a Halloween candy collage.
A few years ago we discovered that the Switch Witch' territory had expanded to include Ottawa. Like her sister the Tooth Fairy, the Switch Witch, on Halloween, flies around looking for piles of candy to "switch" for toys in an attempt to keep kids' teeth free from cavities for her sister. The joy and excitement on my kids' faces when they came downstairs on November 1st that first Switch Witch year was something to behold.
And if you do happen upon our home, we haven't given out candy since 2006 and we haven't been egged either. You can buy Halloween coloured play-doh packs at Costco, Halloween glow sticks, stickers or temporary tattoos at the dollar store (glow sticks seem to be the biggest hit in our neighbourhood), or if your community is enlightened, you might even be able to pick up free swim or skate passes for your local arena (they run about 50 cents per so if you're in a very busy neighbourhood this can get pricey).
[Here's me chatting about the subject with CBC Toronto's Matt Galloway]