Ask the grumpies: Do you ration Halloween candy or do you let your kids eat as much as they want all at once?

Melva asks:

For Halloween candy, do you let your kids eat as much as they want or do you put limits on how much they can eat at a time?

My colleagues and I were just discussing this before a meeting earlier this week.  The answers ranged from one person only allowing hir kids to have one piece a day and a couple of us (including me) without any rules on how much can be consumed Halloween night.

The conversation included whether it was better to have a little sugar every day for most of the year or to have a couple/few heavy sugary days and then have entirely candy-free days (we’re social scientists, not nutritionists, so this was solely speculative).  Candy quality over time was also discussed.  But the main argument seemed to be that if you let kids eat as much candy as they want, they’ll get sick.

To which I replied, quite truthfully, “Oh, that only happens once.”

Which I guess illustrates how DH and I are very much natural consequences parents.  It’s not like we didn’t tell them that too much candy will give them a tummy ache, but sometimes one doesn’t know what too much is until one has experienced it.  (My learning experience was Easter, First Grade, in case you’re wondering.)

We don’t buy any candy other than extra super dark chocolate that’s mine and they have to ask permission to have, so the only way they get candy is via Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and what they spend their own money on (also the occasional school/party treat and the weekly dumdum from the piano teacher).  They almost never spend their own money on candy (though that’s where all my money went when I was growing up).  So unless they decide to ration out holiday candy themselves, most days will be candy-free.

There are rules on *when* candy can be consumed in my house, but not how much. They can generally only eat it after meals, mostly after dinner.  That’s because they’re still growing and allowing natural consequences doesn’t extend to missing important vitamins that could contribute to their growth because they’re overfull on sugar.

Is this the right thing to do?  Who knows.  It’s the lazy thing to do, which basically means it’s what works for us.  (We also let our kids nap whenever they were sleepy, while the one piece a day colleague had rigid nap schedules– I don’t think it actually matters.)  Last night our kids only ate a few pieces right after they got back, then noted they were full and put their remaining candy back in their bags.  I would like to say they then moved their bags to the kitchen pantry to their candy shelf, but in truth they left them on the dining room floor.  (Because all their bad habits come from me and I leave my bag on the floor whenever I’m not using it.)

Did you have rules growing up about how much Halloween candy you could eat at a time?  If applicable, do you have rules for your kids?

31 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Do you ration Halloween candy or do you let your kids eat as much as they want all at once?”

  1. Mary Says:

    My parents were definitely natural consequences parents, but,somehow, their idea didn’t work on me and I ate myself incredibly sick on candy every single Halloween.

  2. Miser Mom Says:

    Our parents were also natural consequences parents. For me and my two sisters, this led to rivalries to see who could make their candy last the longest. A sister who could pull out halloween candy months later, when the others of us had eaten ours already, would definitely use it to taunt us.

    However, this strategy of hoarding often backfired, because our pair of dogs would at some point find the stash of candy and eat it all, leaving a huge mess. (sometimes just candy wrappers all the heck over the place, but sometimes the natural consequence kind of mess, too).

    • Debbie M Says:

      This reminds me of that marshmallow experiment. When I heard about it, I knew I would have waited to double my marshmallows, and my brother would have eaten his immediately. But in real life, the way it would work is my brother would eat half of his immediately and give me the other half. Then when I got my reward, I would also split it in half and share. Win-win!

      • delagar Says:

        Whereas in my house when I was a kid, what would have happened is that my brothers would have eaten all of their marshmallows, and then immediately eaten mine as well — and that’s what I thought of when I read about the marshmallow experiment!

        For a kid to be willing to wait for a bigger reward later, the kid has to be able to trust that the bigger reward later will actually be there. That’s not the case in many environments.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        People aren’t irrational, they just play by different rules.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Good point. Sad, though. Hmm, I did save my allowance during the two periods I got one and all of it got “borrowed” and never returned. Fortunately, I never learned my lesson from that. (Hmm, maybe a little lesson–I made a rule to never lend money to anyone who still owed me money from another time.)

      • Ewan Says:

        Delagar: that was the topic of a super follow-up study to the original marshmallow expt.

  3. Becca Says:

    My older kid just naturally saved his candy. Never ate to excess. If I think he’s consuming it mindlessly I’ll tell him to put it up and away- his Dad will binge on a snack, but I control my space and that cuts down on it a lot (like you will never see me with a large open bag of chips on the couch- I’ll take a portion and then roll up the bag and put it high on a shelf in the kitchen), and I tell kiddo to do that.
    Last year was the first year he didn’t have leftovers until Easter at least (sometimes it made it all year). He’s 10 now and said he was too big for trick or treating. Unnatural creature. Suspect he may be an arctic fox changeling.

    My younger is just about 3 and so this was the first year she “got” the idea of Halloween/candy. She clutched her little pumpkin and carried it with her all night until it was time to brush teeth though, so we may need different strategies with her.

    She’s been asking for candy for quite some time- we keep in in the halloween pumpkin out of her reach, and so she’d ask for a “happy” (she has an extremely limited vocabulary, but a very persuasive manner). I would say yes unless I wanted her to eat dinner first or she’d had a ton. Last night she asked for more than I wanted to open for her, and I just said no. It was considerably more than one piece, though she didn’t finish the nerds or the suckers. So I do ration it, just not strictly, and I don’t worry.

    I do get cross if I’m prepping food and they snack on anything other than fruits and veggies, that is the only time I notice any conflict over it, and it’s not a candy specific problem.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      To be completely honest when our kids were little we did very minimal trick or treating—just enough to get the experience. So binging wasn’t really enough to get sick on. (With DC2, there was longer trick or treating to accommodate DC1 but zie was allergic to a ton of stuff so we swapped out those pieces for somewhat less unhealthy things that could go in a lunch.).

  4. delagar Says:

    When I was a kid, there were no candy rules at all. It was candy anarchy!

    I used to try to hoard my Halloween candy, but “no rules at all” also meant there were no rules about whether your siblings could raid your stash and eat it all. So the natural consequence we learned was it didn’t pay to save your candy for later. (I do not recommend this parenting style.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      There’s definitely a no taking people’s stuff without asking rule here.

    • monsterzero Says:

      I was a total sugar fiend. I didn’t take candy/stuff directly from other kids but my mom had to stop buying Capri Suns because I would find them and drink them all. Also I recall when we had to make sugar cube igloos for school, I ate two entire large boxes of cubes (so maybe two or three pounds of straight sugar) and we had to go buy more. The first lie I can remember telling was for the purpose of getting more than my share of candy (it didn’t work).

      I was mostly pretty obedient but I definitely had a big problem.

      • delagar Says:

        Oh, God, boxes of sugar cubes. I’d forgotten those!

        My oldest brother is a Type I diabetic, and VERY BRIEFLY my mother kept boxes of sugar cubes for when he had low blood sugar. But of course Candy Anarchy meant we all (including my diabetic brother) just ate straight through the boxes, so finally she had to stop doing that.


  5. Alice Says:

    I’m a little more lenient than my parents were. We didn’t get to eat Halloween candy on Halloween night, but were allowed to do a big candy swap after trick-or-treating. (I’m one of four, so candy trading was a process of sorting and deciding how many of X candy was worth 1 of Y candy. In retrospect, it was practically a mini-economics lesson.) After the big sort-and-swap was done, we got to have one in our lunches and one after dinner until it was all out.

    With my daughter, aged 3 and an only, I’m putting one in her lunch and trying to keep her to only little after dinner. But she gets to have a few pieces on Halloween night and I’m allowing some random treat-requests at non-mealtimes, too. But she doesn’t have free access: the bag is on top of the refrigerator, and she does sometimes get told “no” or “not yet.”

    I’m not too worried about her being unable to control herself and not eat it all at one sitting: about a month ago, she started saving her lunch cookie until daycare pick-up because she wanted to eat it then. She has the ability to set a “wait for the treat” goal for herself and stick to it. But I am concerned that if she had free access, she would be on a 95-100% candy diet until it was gone, and I feel the need to get some non-sweets into her body on a daily basis.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Back when I was making their lunches, I would throw one in there as well (being careful to make sure no nuts). I should suggest it to DC2.

      I also suspect my kids would eat nothing but candy if they had completely free access, or at least DC1 would. (DC2 actually *likes* a lot of healthy food.)

  6. Nanani Says:

    I remember growing up we had rules about letting parents inspect the candy first (it was the height of “strangers will put razor blades in it” paranoia) and about where the candy could be stored (not our rooms where it could be forgotten and attract pests), but I don’t remember restrictions on the amount. I definitely ate myself sick and learned not to do that again.

    It seems to me this is the kind of thing that no One Right Rule can possibly exist for.
    It’s going to depend on the particulars of each kid and the dynamics between them if there’s more than one, with influences from what kind of candy they got and what the context is (like trick or treating near home vs school party).

  7. rose Says:

    Every family is different. Halloween candy gets stale really fast. After checking for any unwrapped goods (which were common and normal in my childhood) I never worried about it. My grands after a very few days aren’t interested and the Switch Witch takes the remains and changes it into a very inexpensive dollar store item. But they also go to very few houses so there isn’t a lot to start with. As a senior I quit distributing after the year I had 18 year-old-ish show up quite late (8:30/9:00), but I am also not in an area with many children.

  8. SP Says:

    LO is only 1, but I like your approach for older kids. We took her to a few friendly neighbors, and T and I each collected a mini snickers, but no candy for a 1 year old seems like a pretty good rule. :)

    When I was little, I don’t recall being limited on halloween night, and I was a saver of all things (candy and money). I have a feeling some of the stash disappeared on its own without me eating it. I’d have to ask my parents.

    I don’t think all kids only get sick once. My niece seemed to frequently get stomach aches from candy at her grandparents (my parents) when she was younger, although as she got older she listened to her mom’s warnings. But yeah, it probably only happens once for most kids. I agree with your overall sentiment that it probably doesn’t really matter for most kids. (So, parents should do what is easiest for them!)

    The “let them sleep when sleepy” thing confuses me. I tried to let LO nap when sleepy, but she just stays awake as long as she physically can, then would melt down crying and sobbing and have a terrible time trying to fall asleep. Then she’d crash. The “natural consequences” of that approach on ME as the parent were terrible. So, we did a nap schedule, which is flexible depending on how tired/sleepy she seems. But it is quite hard to tell, honestly. I wonder if it would sort itself out if I stuck with letting her decide.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      With sleep, just whatever works so long as it doesn’t actually hurt the child (so… like, no hard liquor).

      It is true that kids (and some adults…) have a hard time falling asleep when they get over-tired. We didn’t ignore sleepiness signals (we would remove stimulation as necessary), we just didn’t have set times for napping. Fortunately for us, mommy and daddy being out and about wasn’t necessarily that exciting, and both our kids were good at falling asleep wherever they were. (DC1 in particular was quite good at falling asleep on DH’s shoulder, while DC2 would often wait until getting to the car before conking out.)

      Both our kids had set naps at daycare, so it’s not like they never had them, though both our kids had low sleep needs and had to do quiet time with a book pretty early on. (And when they were convinced to sleep, they’d stay up an hour or two later at night.)

  9. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I have zero recollections of the rules I grew up with for Halloween candy but I do remember that I never got sick, really, from eating too much candy. I did from eating too much Jello and haven’t been able to look at it since but I could and did consume massive amounts of candy that was really not good for me. I’m probably paying some sort of lifelong consequence for that instead because my body reacts very badly to sugar and I didn’t know it made my fibro much much worse.

    JB was allowed to try a bit of candy starting around 3. The trick or treating before that was just for the pleasure of receiving a thing which ze loved. Now ze can have some candy after meals but we don’t have a rational rule for it overall. Candy is used to get us through long travel and adventure days, though.

    Ze has proposed that ze gets one piece everyday and I’m not sure about that but now that I’ve thought about it, that could be doable since the stash isn’t all that big. And I am stealing one or two pieces of my favorites when ze isn’t looking because I’m a terrible person :D

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My kids are great about sharing with us if we ask permission. (Speaking of which, Reeses had this “Take 5” bar that was amazing. I so want a dark chocolate version with less sugar.)

  10. Lisa Says:

    When I was a kid, I felt that half the fun of Halloween was sorting and counting my stash. I’d ration them out and make the candy last quite a while.

    With my kids, I let them keep their candy separate for a week or so (until I get tired of seeing their bags out on the counter) and eat without a ton of restrictions (though I do encourage them not to eat too much and to only have candy after lunch/dinner). Then it all gets dumped in one bowl and, eventually, thrown away or put away. We like to have candy on hand for hiking snacks/bribery/inspiration. They don’t seem to care if it’s a bit stale. And of course I sneak pieces, though I try not to steal their favorite things or the last of something.

  11. xykademiqz Says:

    Didn’t have Halloween growing up. With my kids, the rule is “Don’t eat too much sugar before bed, you won’t be able to sleep” so kids have a small number after trick-or-treating on Halloween. We have to check the stash because of allergies. I pack the kids some candy for lunch over the next few weeks and they might eat a couple of pieces in the evening (again, “Don’t eat too much sugar, you won’t be able to sleep”) but we don’t actually oversee how many. I don’t think any of them have eaten so many they got sick. We do have some chocolate in the house on the regular (Dove squares), the kids have 2-3 squares after dinners, so they’re not sweets deprived and perhaps that’s why they don’t overindulge for Halloween.

  12. Matthew D Healy Says:

    I still recall vividly the night my mother said “you can have ALL the chocolate cake you want.” I was maybe eight. You can guess the rest of that story.

  13. Michael N Nitabach Says:

    “We don’t buy any candy other than extra super dark chocolate that’s mine and they have to ask permission to have[.]”

    Dunno if I’ve recommended before, but Raaka Chocolate in Brooklyn is absolutely outstanding. They do only single cultivar chocolates & use unroasted cacao beanz, which allows the complexity of flavor to stay more intact. It’s just exceptional!

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