October 23, 2017
October is here, and before you set out with your kids to go trick-or-treating, I have a few things you need to know about Halloween candy. Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell you that you have to avoid ALL candy, even pediatric nurse practitioners indulge in Swedish Fish occasionally, but I do want to help you make the best decisions when it comes to Willy Wonka’s favorite holiday.
Did you know people in the US are expected to spend 2.7 BILLION dollars on candy for Halloween this year? That’s a lot of candy going into kids’ buckets. The data geek inside of me enjoyed looking at this map of the most popular candy by state. It’s fun to see what items are popular in different areas.
While I was looking at it, I noticed some states are fond of candy I wouldn’t pass out on Halloween when kids of all ages are ringing my door bell. And I don’t just mean candy corn, because so many people don’t like it. I’m talking about Jolly Ranchers, Snickers Bars, and Life Savers, because they could be dangerous to small children.
This is the one place I’m going to say a definite no to all candy. Babies don’t need it, and they can’t carry their own candy buckets to collect it, anyway. If you want to dress them up (because babies in costumes are super cute), go for it, but you don’t need to share the treats with them when you get home. Children under the age of 2 don’t need candy. Remember, it has no nutritional value and can hurt their teeth.
For toddlers, preschoolers, and even kindergarteners, you want candy that is soft and easy to chew and swallow. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, M&M’s, Hershey’s Kisses, Skittles, and 3 Musketeer Bars are all great examples.
More importantly, let’s talk about the candy you should avoid for kids five and under — hard or excessively chewy candy — anything that could pose a choking hazard.
A study of emergency room visits in children 14 and under published in 2013 found that hard candy caused the most choking episodes, accounting for 15% of pediatric ER visits for choking. Other candy came in second, accounting for 13% of pediatric ER visits for choking. With children ages 0-4 experiencing the highest rate of food-related choking, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 5 and younger should not be given hard candies or gum.
You may call it a candy tax and let your kids know you are taking it, or you may wait until they go to bed and take what you like, but all moms have a stash of candy they take from their kids’ trick-or-treat haul.
If you have kids ages five and younger, you can steal all of these candies for yourself:
In addition, I’d be leery of candies that are purely caramel or high in caramel content. They are too chewy for most children and absolute murder to their teeth. Also, while caramel apples are a seasonal favorite, I recommend cutting them into small pieces and allowing children under the age of 5 to sample them on a limited basis. A whole caramel apple on a stick definitely poses a choking risk to most little ones.
Halloween can be a tricky holiday for kids who have allergies. Many miniature or fun-size versions of candy contain different ingredients than the full-size versions, and some miniature candy items do not have nutritional labels, making it is difficult for parents to determine whether these items are safe for their child with food allergies. To avoid candy completely, without sacrificing the trick-or-treating fun, look for houses with teal pumpkins. They will have non-candy treats for kids. I love families who make room for children with allergies to participate in the fun!
There are many allergies out there, and it would be impossible to compile a list of candy that is safe for all kids with allergies. The Asthma and Allergy foundation of America has put together a list of candies that are free of the top 8 food allergens. If you want to provide treats that are free of peanut, tree nut, dairy, egg, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish ingredients, their list will help as you shop for candy this year. If you are the parent of a child with allergies, and you have a question about a specific candy, contact the manufacture to make sure their candy and processing protocols are safe for your child.
The trick or treating has ended, and you are staring down a HUGE pile of candy. First, you inspect each piece to make sure it’s in the original wrapping and hasn’t been tampered with. Then you remove any candy that could be a choking hazard for your young child, and put it into your mom candy pile. You toss a few Milky Ways into your pile as well, because, they are delicious and it’s never too early to teach your kids about the reality of taxes. Chances are, the pile that is left over for your kids is still pretty big.
You could dump this pile back in the bucket and hand it over to your kids to eat at their will. But maybe you want to avoid the day-after-Halloween stomach ache and put some limits on how much candy they are eating. Here are a few ideas that can help!
No matter what route you decide to go with the Halloween candy, remember that it is okay to splurge every once in a while. A few pieces of candy probably won’t hurt your kids. If they do get a stomach ache from eating candy, most likely you won’t need to call a nurse or visit your pediatric care provider. You can monitor them for a few hours and follow these tips to treat a stomach ache at home.
For more Halloween information, check out my Halloween safety tips to keep Halloween safe and fun for your kids.
Author: Dani Stringer, MSN, CPNP, PMHS – founder of KidNurse and MomNurse Academy