If Halloween were simply about dressing up and having fun, dentists, dermatologists and diet centers would see a lot less business. The truth is Halloween is a gateway holiday and Oct. 31 the opening day of candy season—the start of the annual six-month siege known in my household as the Candy Wars.
Once October rolls around, practically every month features a holiday loaded with sweet temptation. How you handle Halloween candy sets the stage for future encounters with Thanksgiving desserts, Christmas cookies and Hanukkah gelt, New Year’s Eve late-night snacking, the box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day, and the dreaded Easter basket.
To survive the Candy Wars, you’ve gotta lick the sugar habit early on. Give in to your family’s sweet tooth and you’ll have hyperactive offspring, early-onset acne, cavities and headaches until May.
I became a candy vigilante after I was possessed by a vision of my family ravaged by sugar addiction: crystal meth-toothed kids, me with a mega-muffin top, and my husband with cholesterol higher than the U.S. debt ceiling. Like any dangerous substance, sugar can be consumed safely if you control incoming inventory, house it in a secure space and oversee the means of distribution.
Here are my recommendations for winning the Candy Wars.
Step 1: Host Halloween at your home.
My daughters, Jaye and Em, always trick-or-treated in our neighborhood. Fortunately, the area’s location and reputation for good-quality candy also made it popular with their friends, so everyone congregated here when my daughters were in their trick-or-treating prime. Best of all, the neighborhood is small, so an evening’s haul never exceeded a pillowcase full of candy.
After the kids arrived home, they would dump their bags on the living room floor for sorting. This was followed by wheeling and dealing as nuanced and hard-line as any Mideast negotiation. Every year, some rube was conned into giving up four bite-sized Snickers for a giant Tootsie Roll bar. (If you don’t see that as a bad trade, I’ve got a crash course in candy gamesmanship for you in the box.)
Step 2: Secure all candy in ziplock bags labeled with the owner’s name.
In my house, chocolate goes in the freezer to stay fresh, chewy candies in the cabinet and hard ones in tins or airtight containers to ward off dampness.
Step 3: Limit exposure.
Never let your child fraternize with the enemy on a daily basis. I used to allow my kids one piece after lunch and dinner until I realized that added up to 14 pieces per week. That’s when I established Candy Day. Every Saturday each child could have three pieces after lunch and five after dinner. Uneaten candy couldn’t be carried over; it had to go back into storage.
Anticipating that eight-piece windfall on Saturday kept my kids going all week. When Candy Day arrived, they had as much fun choosing as eating ... and rarely finished more than five pieces, thereby cutting our family’s candy consumption by 65 percent. We were left with so much excess that my husband and I made an executive decision. We began to eat an occasional piece of chocolate from the freezer stash, just to remove the most unhealthy ones from circulation. It wasn’t thieving; it was responsible parenting.
Candy Day was our family ritual and inventory reduction our sugar-coated secret for years—until Jaye grew old enough to remember how many Three Musketeers and Kit Kats she’d squirreled away. Once she realized someone had been stealing from her, she accused her sister of unspeakable crimes. Over Em’s screeching denials, I shouted that Mom and Dad—not Em—were to blame. Both girls grew quiet. They looked at me as if I were evil incarnate—as if I’d been stealing candy from a baby. That was so not true. They were 11 and 9, for heaven’s sake.
The next time I opened the freezer the chocolate bags—along with all the other candy—were gone. I never saw them again. That year my annual post-Halloween weight gain failed to materialize, my husband’s cholesterol stayed the same and I tasted a bitter truth: I no longer needed to withhold candy from my daughters. They needed to withhold candy from me. In retaliation I now buy Mary Janes, DumDums and Tootsie Rolls to give out, and I harbor a secret joy every time I watch a child’s face fall when they see what’s in my candy bowl.
Fewer kids ring the doorbell these days, and we’re seeing more toilet paper streamers and smashed pumpkins than ever before. But if that’s what it takes to survive the Candy Wars, so be it. If I can’t have the good stuff, then nobody will.
Like poker chips, different candies have a specific value. Chocolate ranks supreme. As in chess, the
king-sized pieces are closely guarded. Caramel-filled, crispy cookie and crunch bars outrank solid chocolate. (Almond Joy and Mounds go straight to Mom and Dad. What kid likes coconut?)
Second best are chewy candies, both fruity and sour varieties. Skittles and Sour Patch top the list. Anything gummy rules, particularly Twizzlers and Swedish Fish. Laffy Taffy is popular (except banana), Mary Janes are nasty, and Bit-O-Honey should be renamed Bit-O-Money for the damage they do to braces.
Pop quiz: What’s the most despised candy of all? Tootsie Rolls, which (coincidentally enough) are frequently cited by pet care websites as an example of what “healthy ferret poop” should look like.
Coming in dead last are hard candies. Somewhat acceptable are Warheads, Atomic Fireballs and Jolly Ranchers. Lollipops fall into this category as do DumDums (disparagingly referred to as “doctor’s office” candy).The wild cards are Smarties and Necco Wafers; kids either love ‘em or hate ‘em. Pop Rocks (as the name suggests) are Candyland’s rock stars. Give them out and your house will be safe from toilet paper
streamers and smashed pumpkins.
Linda Lowen is a freelance writer for MSN.com and the New York Times Company, where she writes and edits the Women’s Issues site at About.com. She lives in Syracuse with her husband, two daughters, who come and go, and one baby still at home—her mini-schnauzer, Buddy.
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