It's a real trick to treat children to Halloween goodies. Thanks to Dr. Ben Feingold, who blamed childhood hyperactivity on sugar and food additives, and the 1960s, which bequeathed to us a heightened concern for nutrition, a whole generation of parents now anticipates Halloween with visions of Milky Ways dancing in their heads and children bouncing off the walls.
Informal interviews with parents in this area show they have taken one of three approaches to Halloween: alternative, capitulation and compromise. None, however, has found the perfect treat: one that mollifies the parent without tempting the child to put eggs on your doorstep.
The recent rash of poisoned packages has made even the most candy-complacent parent a little nervous. Judy Petrich, of Waldorf, Md., says she has taken the alternative approach to Halloween. Instead of letting her 6-year-old daughter, Samantha, scour the neighborhood, she is giving a party "because of the Tylenol thing." Petrich plans to serve popcorn, apples, cider and raw vegetables with dip. But in years past, she compromised, allowing her daughter to keep her favorite candy and throwing out the rest.
Ellen Ball, of Fairfax County, comes from the compromise school. Her children are allowed to collect candy, but they can only keep it three days. Then it's pitched out. "After that, the excitement of Halloween dies down," Ball said. She likes to give peanuts as a treat, because "they're high in protein and fun to open." Like other parents, she worries about dangerous objects being found in popcorn and other homemade treats and checks the food her children bring home.
Susan Palmer's children are too old to trick-or-treat, and she's delighted. "It's all color and sugar," Palmer, of Chevy Chase, Md., said of Halloween treats. She tried giving nuts, apples and granola, but she says the children want candy: "I caved in, feeling very bad."
Craig Palmer, of Reston, Va., is the father of three trick-or-treaters and has found capitulation without guilt to be the only way to handle Halloween. Palmer's position is particularly precarious because he works for the American Dental Association. "You just assume that Halloween goes against that," said Palmer, who adds he is "not going to be a sour puss" when all the neighborhood children are getting chocolate. "My kids aren't candy freaks," he said. If they eat candy two weeks out of the year, he doesn't get bent out of shape.
Linda Ashworth, of Oakton, Va., uses a little of each approach. When she was growing up in Berryville, Va.,Ashworth says the high point of Halloween was ending up at the home of an older couple who invited the children in for cookies and punch. Because she likes to see the different costumes and talk to the children, Ashton opens her home to trick-or-treaters in much the same way, offering them punch, apples -- and candy "because some kids don't feel like it's Halloween unless they have something packaged." She's offered lollipops with white napkins tied around them and two eyes drawn on the napkins to resemble ghosts, and knows one family who offered individually wrapped, homemade cookies that included the family's name and address. Still, "this Tylenol thing is going to be a great blow," for Halloweens to come.
Ashworth has always allowed her two daughters to keep all their Halloween candy and eat what they want. "About Easter I'll throw it out . . . the kids like the idea of sweets more than they like sweets; they pour it out and count it up and then it sort of dies out," she said.
Perhaps Halloween will be the last nutrition frontier. Small advances have come in the form of whole-grain-raisin snack bars, individually wrapped; lunch bags and boxes of crackers and pretzels; individual snack bags of fruit and grain mixes and sugarless gum.
But most parents shrug and say, "It's Halloween."