"Can I Make My Kid's Candy Disappear?" with Amy Palanjian of Yummy Toddler Food

All your Halloween questions answered

  
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Hello and welcome to another audio version of Burnt Toast!

Today is a very exciting crossover episode with my best friend Amy Palanjian, who is the creator of Yummy Toddler Food; parts of this conversation will also run next week on Amy’s newsletter. Longtime listeners will remember Amy from our podcast Comfort Food (RIP) and from her previous Burnt Toast.

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Virginia

I’m so happy we’re together again! I mean, we’re sort of always spiritually together.

Amy

It’s funny, someone the other day someone was like, “When is the podcast coming back?” and I was like, “What are you talking about? Virginia and I talk all the time.”

Virginia

We do miss doing the podcast. It stopped making sense for a variety of reasons related to childcare. Also, it’s very expensive to run a podcast that doesn’t make money. It wasn’t our best business decision, but we both loved doing it. Now Amy can join us on Burnt Toast and we can still have some of that magic.

So this crossover episode was Amy’s idea because we are both getting questions about Halloween candy—something that causes stress for parents every year. We do have an old Comfort Food podcast episode I will link, for people who want even more on this.

Amy

I would like everyone to know that I actually found a bag of our Halloween candy from last year as I was looking for some candy to photograph. Apparently, lollipops are not super popular in my house!

Virginia

Meanwhile, the other day, Violet said, “We haven’t had lollipops in a very long time,” as if I had greatly wronged her. I said, “Okay, tell Daddy to put them on the grocery list.” But I was thinking the same thing, that the last time I bought lollipops, we had a box sitting in the pantry for months. They pick out the three red ones and then they don’t want the rest of the bag. Do people like other colors of lollipop? There’s a very strong red bias when it comes to lollipops. And popsicles, too.

Amy

True. It’s logical. They taste better.

Virginia

Who likes a yellow lollipop? Anyway, we’re not here to shame your lollipop preferences. Everyone knows Amy and I strongly believe that there are no bad foods—though possibly there are some bad lollipops.

The question that comes up over and over is parents wanting to know how to limit or regulate candy consumption for sugar obsessed kids on Halloween. We got several versions of this question: What are the best low sugar options for toddlers? How do I prevent the sugar tantrums?

Guys, sugar is not heroin. It's okay. Take a deep breath.

Amy

There’s also the question, “What’s the best time to eat candy?” As if eating candy at 2pm might be somehow better. We put all this pressure on the food. We forget that Halloween is super exciting! It only happens once a year and you’re wearing a costume and you get to run down the street ringing doorbells! It’s novel for kids. If you took the candy out of the equation, they still might have a tantrum just because it’s new and their routine is upset. We want to control what we can, so we immediately go to the candy. It’s sort of an easy scapegoat, but it makes us forget the bigger picture.

Virginia

It’s the birthday phenomenon! People think the cupcakes at the birthday party make kids crazy. But no, it’s the fact that the birthday party was at a trampoline place for two hours! They are overstimulated from being around screaming children bouncing on things. Lots of research has debunked the sugar high phenomenon. I will link to things that I have written for anyone still saying, “But wait, really? I think it makes me kid super hyper.” It doesn’t. It’s circumstantial.

Step one is recognizing that candy is going to be a big part of Halloween. Candy is, along with the costumes, the entire point of the day. The more you can relax and lean into the joy of that, instead of trying to limit, the less stressed you’re going to be. Trying to control sugar is going to end up with you in a power struggle with your kid about what this day can be for them. That’s not a fun way to experience a holiday!

Amy

Yeah, it would be like trying to limit the amount of presents that your kids get on Christmas. I guess you could ignore the candy part of Halloween if you just didn’t leave your house. But this is a temporary situation.

Whatever happens on this day is not an indicator of the health or well-being or emotional state of your child for the rest of their life. It can sometimes feel like we’re bad parents for giving our kids these foods that are culturally shamed, especially with the emphasis on no added sugars for kids under two. There is a lot of pressure.

Virginia

Yes, especially for parents who have a lot of fears around processed foods! Candy is the ultimate processed food. This is one day of the year when a lot of foods that you may not normally buy are suddenly on your child’s radar. It’s important to keep in mind that kids may seem especially fixated or obsessed with these foods because this is the first time they’re experiencing a Mars Bar or a Butterfinger. One way to think about lessening the obsession on Halloween is to be a little more relaxed throughout the year. If it’s more normal for your child to encounter a Snickers, then they might not need to eat 100 in one sitting. If you have candy around, kids will become more discerning. They will be quicker to say, “I don’t need to take a bite out of every single piece because I already know which ones I like and don’t like. I can I can focus and enjoy my favorites.”

It’s so sad and confusing that this should be a joyful day and instead kids are having to navigate these complicated feelings about wanting things that a parent doesn’t want them to have. We’re layering this whole emotional experience about food being something you have to feel really complicated about.

Amy

We went out as a family! We had so much fun! I got this bag of stuff with my parents and now they’re taking it away from me. And I don’t quite understand why.”

Virginia

So, I think we’ve established why being really controlling around Halloween candy is not the way to go.

Let’s talk a little bit about what we each do and what our approaches are to managing this. We can also touch on the ever-controversial Switch Witch.

Amy

Up until 2020, we had always gone trick or treating in the dorms at the college where my husband works. We would go through the dorm, which was full of kids giving out candy. They dress up and decorate the hallways and it was really fun.

Then, we bring all of our candy home and we sort through anything that is too crunchy, like a round hard candy, or anything that’s too chewy for the younger kids, and put it off to the side. We talk about safety. I’m not trying to do it on the sly. I’m very open about it. I’ll say, “We're just gonna put this over here and maybe one of us parents will eat it.” Then we talk about the candies my kids haven’t seen. I tell them the names, we talk about what they taste like, we do a taste test. The kids try a bunch of stuff! They spit a lot of stuff out that they don’t want. In that process, if there’s a thing that they don’t like, they'll just push all those off to the side. If they know they don’t like the thing, they don’t want it in their bowl. We usually have water or milk and we sit at the table and we do it together. It’s a later night than usual. They eat a lot of candy. I try to eat all of this Snickers. It’s fun!

I didn’t do this when my oldest was little, because I was intensely fearful of sugar. As I learned more, I understood that my fear was not helping. So, I embrace it. Each kid then has a bowl with whatever candy is left. After that first night and we put it in the pantry. We don’t hide it or take it away. And then we let them pick out a few pieces every day and they can decide if they want it with breakfast or with dinner, but I do try to have the kids all have it at the same time so that there’s not fighting.

Virginia

Oh, that’s smart.

Amy

Yeah, like they might say, “She’s having her thing and it’s not fair!” So we try to line them up so that they’re happening at the same time. Then if we do go trick or treating on actual Halloween we do the whole thing again.

Virginia

We take a very similar approach, maybe with a little less reverence than your tasting process. On Halloween night we dump all the candy out of the coffee table and say, “Go nuts! Have as much as you want!”Candy is not an off limits food in our house, so the kids already know things they really love. They throw out the ones they don’t like. Then it goes into a bowl in our pantry.

The kids do try some new candies, too. Keep in mind, for picky eaters, trying a new candy is still trying a new food. Candies have weird textures and flavors, so it can be a great thing if your cautious eater is willing to try some strange looking candy.

The advice that gets circulated a lot is to do a free-for-all on Halloween. We do a free-for-all on the second day, as well. Amy doesn’t need to do that because she’s got the double trick-or-treating thing, so there is going to be another opportunity. But I do think for a lot of kids just the one night is not enough.

Once we’re getting back into our routine, I’ll say, “When do you want to have your candy?” Other traditional advice is to limit candy thereafter to one piece a day which feels like not enough to me. I feel sad with only one mini Snickers! So we do two or three pieces. I don’t get hung up on the number because you’re very quickly going to find yourself doing a lot of weird negotiations. Why make yourself crazy?

I’ve also found, as my oldest daughter gets older—she’s eight now—she manages the candy very effortlessly. We are transitioning to her having more authority over her food experience. She manages the candy easily on her own because we’ve always done it this way. I notice there are a few days where she wants some candy with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then she’s lost interest by the end of the week.

With a younger kid, where you’re opening wrappers and you’re the delivery vehicle, I think it makes sense to pick a time for candy.

Don't get too hung up on your role for managing the candy. Instead, ask yourself, did I give them enough access, and enough time to really enjoy this experience? If you’ve done that, they will gradually lose interest in the candy stash over the next couple of weeks. They won’t be fixated on it because they don’t have a scarcity mindset about it.

Amy

If you’re noticing that your your kid is throwing tantrums when you say, “Just one piece,” the counterintuitive answer is to relax the rules. Your kid is responding to those rules in a way that is showing you that they don’t feel like they have access to that food. That can be a hard thing for parents to do, especially with little kids, because it often feels like we’re giving in or that it’s a slippery slope and now they're only going to eat candy. My two-year-old will have the candy with dinner, and he’ll eat some of the dinner and he’ll eat some of his candy. He’ll go back and forth. Candy is a food that we sometimes have more of at this particular time of the year.

Virginia

Some kids are going to be the kids who are want to savor every little piece and they’re going to make it last till March and that’s totally fine.

Amy

The goal of this is not to have kids who lose interest! The goal is to have kids who do not lose their minds over candy.

Virginia

Right, kids who can enjoy and revel in Halloween and enjoy candy. It’s part of their life, not an obsession or something to feel anxious about.

Are there any treats you wouldn’t let your kid eat?

Amy

Anything they’re allergic to. Anything that would be too hard for a younger kiddo to chew. That’s it.

Virginia

This isn’t something you get trick-or-treating, but maybe something like fancy chocolates with coffee in them. I might be concerned about the caffeine. Even then, it's one tiny chocolate. I’d probably say, “Let’s have a bite and see what happens tonight.” There’s definitely no good that can come from saying, “We let you have this kind of candy, but not that kind of candy” or “Nothing with artificial dyes!”

Amy

Yeah, someone asked, “Where can I buy honey sticks?” I was like, “Please don’t give out honey sticks.”

Virginia

Don’t be that house giving out honey sticks. I mean, if your kid loves them, great.

Amy

There was a question about what to do when little kids want what the older kids have? I have a two-year-old and a nine-year-old. Having them eat the things at the same time, even if the things are different, can be helpful. Then the younger kid is not feeling left out. Make sure that whatever the younger kid has feels very fun to them. This issue of who has what and is it fair and is it the same is currently the biggest source of me wanting to run for the hills. “Hers is bigger,” or “She has more milk” or “She has a blue cup.” There may not be a magic solution to this, depending on your children. If this is my house, I am sure that this is going to be an issue. Even if it’s just like, “She has the red lollipop, but I got stuck with the green one.”

Virginia

Yeah, the lengths I go to ensure parity in lunch components! The other day, I cut a sandwich perfectly in half. And one child immediately said, “She has the better half!” And I was like, I give up. It’s literally the same.

I'm wondering with this question if there’s an element of trying to limit the toddlers’ candy exposure. Unless it’s a choking hazard—which of course with ages three and under you do have to be careful about certain candies—let them have what the older kids are having. There is no reason they can’t enjoy the same stuff.

“What age is appropriate to offer candy for the first time?”

I forgot how fraught that feeling is when you have a one-year-old and you’re like, “Do we do it?” Especially if it’s your first child. This is definitely a question that goes out the window when you have multiple kids. If it’s your first child, and Halloween will be happening around them, like at daycare, do you bring them into the fold on the candy? Or do you wait and why?

Amy

If you’re going to encounter it in the course of whatever you’re doing, then yes. If you’re not, like if your kid doesn’t go to daycare and you’re not going to go trick-or-treating and trick-or-treaters come to your house after the baby goes to bed, I wouldn’t stress about it. I don’t think you need to make a big deal about introducing chocolate. You will encounter it in the normal course of life. If the urge is to keep them away from this thing because it makes me wildly uncomfortable or because I’m scared that they won’t eat any other food, I just would maybe sit with that a little bit and think about whether it’s true.

I think we waited until my oldest was two. She had a really early bedtime when she was one so we just skipped it. We didn’t go to any Halloween parties. But I think it’s a personal choice.

Virginia

My older daughter was not an oral eater when she was one, so I probably would have done backflips if she had wanted to eat candy. That was not where we were in her feeding disorder. So I didn’t have to navigate this in quite the same way as most parents.

If you have a favorite Halloween candy and it would give you joy to share that with your child, do not feel bad about introducing your young toddler to that candy. Let’s be honest, Halloween for one- and two-year-olds is for the parents anyway. Kids don’t really care. You’re dressing them up in a cute costume for your own amusement or because Grandma wants to see them in the costume. It could be fun for you to say, let’s try this favorite candy and have that as part of enjoying Halloween.

If you’re like me and actually don’t enjoy Halloween, it’s fine to just not deal with it. However, I agree with Amy that if it’s about insulating kids from sugar, let’s sit with that.

“If my two-and-a-half-year-old doesn’t really get it, can I just disappear some of his candy? It seems simpler.”

Amy

Seems simpler to you! But what happens when a kid asks where his candy is?

Virignia

It is true that they have short memories at that age. They might not remember at two?

Amy

My two-and-a-half-year-old would for sure remember. I would be worried that the child would just wind up so much more confused and maybe have their feelings hurt because you took something.

Virginia

It sounds like this person is saying, “Can we just enjoy it on Halloween and then it’s gone the next morning?” I would be careful with that. And this is probably where we should talk about the Switch Witch. This is the idea that you let the kids have candy on Halloween night. The next day, you have them turn in all the candy in exchange for a toy. It’s a thing that dentists started. I personally hate it. Some people say the kids get to savor the candy and just give away the stuff they don’t like. But I also don’t like it because now I have to come up with a toy. Halloween is already so freakin’ hard! Why are you giving me more to do? So, I’m pretty anti-Switch Witch, but you’ve been a little more open to it.

Amy

Yeah, we’ve done it the kids have a bunch of stuff that they don’t want.

Virginia

But isn’t that just what a garbage can is for?

Amy

I know! You can bring your unwanted candy to the dentist and they’ll send it to soldiers. Like, that's not nice! Send them the good stuff!

I have written about the switch witch. I do think that it is a convenient way to get candy out of your house if you don’t want candy in your house. But, the reason that people primarily do it is because they don’t want their kids eating sugar. There is a way to do it that is helping the kids identify what they like and don't like, but then again, you’re having to go buy a thing when the kids already got all of this stuff. It is an extra thing to do and it’s not necessary. The real Switch Witch involves buying a doll, and there’s a book. It’s like Elf on the Shelf! I’m not spending $40 on that.

Virginia

People can send me all the hate mail they want, Elf on the Shelf does not come to our house and never will. Absolutely not. I do not have time in my life for that. If one of these becomes a fun Halloween tradition for your family, if you love doing Switch Witch and you’re not doing it to ban sugar, then great. But it is not necessary to have a good Halloween.

“Is organic candy any better?”

Amy

No. It’s still made of the same stuff.

Virginia

And it’s fine.

Amy

But it’s more expensive.

Virginia

If you like to spend more money on things because of a word on their wrapper, then it is better for you. Yes.

Amy

An organic lollipop has the same base ingredients as a regular lollipop, but it will cost you more.

Virginia

And I refuse to believe that sustainable agriculture hinges on lollipop manufacturing. I don’t know that you will be making enough of a difference for the planet to justify the added cost or the sort of limitations you’re putting on your kid by telling them they can only have organic candy.

Amy

Because then they would not be able to eat anything that you get out in the world.

Virginia

That does not seem like a great plan.

“How do I limit my consumption as a parent?”

This is what is underpinning all the other questions. Parents are afraid of sugar and they’re afraid of their relationship with sugar.

Amy

Can I tell you a story that makes me so happy? This was a huge deal. A couple of weeks ago, I was in the grocery store walking by the giant bags of candy. And I was like, “You know what, I really want some peanut M&M’s.” But I had never bought peanut M&M’s in that big of bag before! And I was like, “I’m gonna do it!” I was very excited. I put them in the fridge because I only like them cold. Every day, I would have some whenever I wanted them. I was headed toward the end of the bag and then there were a couple days where I didn’t eat them. It was fascinating because I love peanut M&M’s, yet I didn’t want them! I have gotten to that point with a lot of foods. We have chocolate and all sorts of stuff in our house and I don’t really care about any of it. I just had never bought a big bag of M&M’s for no reason. It was a good exercise. If you are feeling nervous about a certain type of thing, just buy some. Let yourself have some if you’re at a place where that feels safe. I know that for some people, it might just be too much anxiety. But it was really helpful. And to that end, I started buying potato chips every week. And sometimes we eat them and sometimes we don’t.

It can really remind you that all of these things that we say about feeding kids—that there are no good or bad foods, that we can eat a variety—it applies to us, too. We can really put that into practice and then also be modeling that we can eat all of these foods and that it’s actually not a big deal.

And also, if you’re going to eat peanut M&M’s, they must be cold.

Virginia

That’s the real takeaway for this episode.

Amy

All I want my kids to know is, “Don’t eat peanut M&M’s unless they’re cold because it’s a waste.”

Virginia

They don’t taste as good, it’s true! We have a bag of mixed candy in our pantry and I got a packet of peanut M&M’s and they taste almost stale if they’re not cold. It’s a completely different experience. Now I’m going to go put them in the fridge so I can enjoy them more.

I think the answer to this question is that you don’t need to limit your consumption of candy as a parent. This is another sneaky way diet culture shows up at Halloween. There’s a lot of TikTok videos of moms sneaking in to steal their kids candy and eating it furtively. I’m sorry, but no. Just enjoy eating candy and eat it in front of your children. And on your own later, because children are a lot and you want to be away from them, of course. But be a part of celebrating candy with your kids. Buy the candy you really like and have it! I will be buying a large bag of mini Snickers because sometimes trick-or-treaters don’t get enough mini Snickers. Some houses are not giving out the good candy. Make sure you’re going to have your favorite Halloween candy on hand to enjoy so that you’re not dueling your kids for the candy they want to eat.

Amy

I remember seeing one of those videos last year and I was just like, “Why are you in the closet?”

Virginia

She’s in the closet because she doesn’t feel like she can publicly eat candy without apologizing for it.

Amy

I mean, I understand why she’s in the closet, but like, just get out of the closet.

Virginia

Stop feeling like you have to eat candy in secret. Don’t apologize for eating candy. Eat candy in public.

Also, with those videos, you’re secretly eating candy, and then putting it on TikTok, so.

Amy

I want the world to know that I secretly eat candy.

Virginia

I want the world to know that I only candy in this sneaky way. That is not the relationship with candy you want to model for your kids! It’s not good for you. It’s not good for them.

The moral of today's episode is put your peanut M&M’s in the fridge and buy the extra large bag of mini Snickers so you don't have a sad Halloween where there’s not enough mini Snickers.

Any other final Halloween candy thoughts that we haven’t covered?

Amy

One thing I realized when we were asking for questions on Instagram is that apparently there are a lot of Halloween parties at schools, which I just have never experienced. There were a lot of angst about what to bring to the Halloween party.

Virginia

We used to have food, but with COVID we’re not doing food at kids’ Halloween parties. Our school does do wear your costumes to school. They have a little parade around the school, but we don’t have to send food. I shouldn’t say I like anything about COVID, but I like not having to send food to school.

Amy

One year you made pumpkin clementines!

Virginia

I did because I was on maternity leave and I was really bored. And that was for a preschool Halloween party where we had to send in food. Because of having a new baby and being in a fog, I had missed signing up for cups and plates, which is all I ever sign up for for class parties. This is something anyone who knows me should understand: I will fight you to get the cups and plates spot on the signup sheet. And I didn’t get it that time and I had to bring fruit. It was sad.

Amy

Our daycare doesn’t celebrate holidays. It’s kind of a blessing.

Virginia

I mean, it really is. That’s something to be very grateful for.

All right, well that is some advice about candy from people who love candy and are less excited about the work related to children’s holidays. You’re welcome. As always, if you have questions, you can post them in the comments or email us or find us on Instagram with your questions for future episodes. I’m @v_solesmith and Amy is @yummytoddlerfood.

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Burnt Toast! If you liked this and you aren’t yet a subscriber, please subscribe! It is the best way to support Burnt Toast.

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