"Halloween, Kids, and Diabetes
- A Different Kind of Treat
Does the Trick "

Article written by Laura Plunkett
for diabeteshealth.com
October 9th, 2007

Halloween and candy ... candy and Halloween. No other holiday is so inextricably tied to sweets. It wasn't very long ago that I too was handing out Reese's Cups and Snickers bars to the troops of tiny ghosts and ballerinas who crowded around our door chirping “trick or treat!”

That was before my seven-year-old son Danny was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Suddenly, food choices were front and center, and I was reading nutritional labels religiously. Ever read the ingredients of a candy bar? Not only does candy send blood sugars soaring, but the chemicals, artificial colors and flavorings, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners aren't good for anyone.

I couldn't imagine repeating our time-honored Halloween ritual: the children happily trudging home shouldering pillowcases sagging with candy and then eating their way through their hoard for weeks, until I finally became disgusted and threw the leftovers out.

I knew we had to change our Halloween ways, but I wasn't sure how to limit the candy without upsetting the family. My daughter Jess, then eleven years old, gave me an idea while we were in a drugstore. We secretly bought many small objects that Danny would like, such as Matchbox cars, fancy pencils, baseball cards, a spider ring, and a deck of cards.

As Halloween approached, we called on each of our neighbors and asked if they would be willing to give Danny one of these items when he arrived at their door, explaining that then he would have something to enjoy while his friends were eating candy. The neighbors were happy to help, and Jess liked being a co-conspirator.

Next, my husband Brian and I set about preparing our children to willingly give up their precious candy at the end of Halloween night. It was not an easy task. During supper in late October I said, “Brian, have you ever read the nutritional information on the side of a candy bar?” I proceeded to read the list aloud while the kids pretended they weren't listening. Next, I talked about how much insulin the pancreas has to make to cover such large amounts of sugar. The kids were strikingly unimpressed, however, and Danny piped up with, “You know, Mom, it's only once a year.”

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At the end of the meal, Brian played his trump card. He casually explained that his co-workers always have full dishes of candy on their desks for anyone to eat, but that he never had any candy to offer in return. He said that he would consider buying the children's Halloween candy in order to bring it to his office as a surprise for his colleagues. Then he offered each child ten cents per candy bar, on the condition that they turn over their entire stash before he went to work the morning after Halloween.

That was a big mistake. The chance of turning a profit sent the kids trick-or-treating with renewed passion. They managed to sweet-talk our neighbors into astounding levels of generosity, and Brian ended up paying them a small fortune. (Next year, he cut his offer in half.)

Despite Brian's financial miscalculation, Halloween turned out to be a great success. Danny and Jess found trick-or-treating as exciting as ever, and at the end of the night, Danny had many things to keep. Later I found Danny's friends inspecting the surprising items in his bag, looking at his diabetes in a new light.

We allowed the kids a small amount of candy during Halloween evening, and at one point Danny came over and told Brian he needed a shot because he'd eaten two pieces. At bedtime, however, and at midnight when most little ghosts and witches were sound asleep, Danny's numbers were fine. We'd survived our first Halloween.

Laura Plunkett is a columnist for Diabetes Health & Diabetesincontrol.com and an expert on Parentingdiabetickids.com. She speaks around the country on "The Challenges of Childhood Diabetes: Strategies for Raising Healthy Children and "Raising Wholesome Children in a Fast-Food World." The Plunkett family has been featured on television and radio as advocates of improving nutrition, increasing exercise and working as a team. Laura and her mother are co-authors of the book, “The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child.” Laura can be reached at: lauramplunkett@challengeofdiabetes.com