Halloween is a Sugary Nightmare, The Switch Witch Can Help

Halloween is a Sugary Nightmare, The Switch Witch Can Help

Are you concerned with how much sugar your kids take home on Halloween? Lara Riley was, even before her daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

The average trick or treater on Halloween eats about 3 cups of sugar – equivalent to 220 sugar packets, an outrageously unhealthy amount by any standard. Lara told me, “It’s like poison, that much, I believe.”

But how do you limit your kids’ candy intake without causing a battle or making them feel left out? Consider Lara’s product, the “Original Switch Witch.” The Switch Witch is a doll that perches in the home every October, much in the style of the “Elf on the Shelf.” It’s up to parents to set the rules and to develop the family mythology around her appearance. On Halloween night, children leave some or all of their candy as an offering to the witch, who will disappear with the sweets, switching them out for a toy or some other gift. The kiddos get a present, and the parents get to secret away all that sugar.

The idea of a Switch Witch has been around for years, long before it was associated with any one product. Lara first heard about it from another parent, her brother-in-law and eventual business partner Rob Bouley. What does Rob do for a living? He sells ice cream. When even the ice cream man is concerned about excess sugar, you know there’s a real problem.

“My husband’s brother-in-law called me about five years ago, a couple of days after Halloween, and asked me if I knew what a Switch Witch was. Because he owns an ice cream stand, I was thinking about Chipwiches. That was the funny way that this whole thing started.”

Rob’s teenage sons were the first in the family to come across the idea. They were too old to believe in a magical witch, of course. For them it was pure bribery or quid pro quo: we’ll give up our candy if dad gives us the gifts that we want.

Rob heartily agreed, and loved the deal so much that he stayed up all night thinking about how to bring it to other parents. Soon he brought Lara on board to flesh out the creative elements of the new business. The two collaborated on the adorable plush witch and her black cauldron, and an illustrated storybook introducing the new holiday tradition to families.

“It was six months later that my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Really kinda bizarre.”

Suddenly the project had special resonance for Lara and her family. Three cups of pure white sugar in the belly of a healthy child is one thing. For a child with Type 1 diabetes it’s quite another, a glucose management nightmare.

“There’s been pushback from the diabetes community, which I get, the idea that ‘my kid can eat anything that any other kid can eat if I give him insulin for it.’ Anybody who is living with a Type 1 child knows that yes, you can cover the sugar with insulin. But Halloween does not work the same as covering an apple. The huge spike that you’re gonna get from 100 grams of just straight sugar, it takes forever to bring back down, and the high does not feel good.”

That’s putting it mildly, and doesn’t even begin to address the long-term damage caused by extreme high blood sugar excursions, or the very real danger of hypoglycemia that necessarily attends the use of so much rapid insulin. Halloween has to be recognized as a very real hazard for the child with diabetes, and a potential source of immense family stress.

Lara is no low-carb evangelist. Her daughter eats a fairly regular diet. For her, limiting Halloween’s sugary gluttony is just common sense.

The Original Switch Witch has been embraced by more than just those concerned with excessive sugar intake. There are many other reasons that parents may want to restrict certain candies on Halloween: celiac disease, peanut and other allergies, dairy intolerance, vegan philosophies, and so on.

Lara hopes that the Switch Witch gives these children a way to feel less deprived: “Especially for really young children, it’s just one less thing to feel sad about. They can feel like, ‘Well it’s OK that I can’t eat all of those, because those are the ones I’ll give my Switch Witch, and she’ll turn them into something that I can enjoy.’”

The Original Switch Witch partners with JDRF: this year, a special Amazon promo code will knock a few bucks off your order and donate it to JDRF.

Ross Wollen
Ross Wollen

Ross Wollen is a chef and writer based in Maine's Midcoast region. Before moving East, Ross was a veteran of the Bay Area restaurant and artisanal food scenes; he has also worked as a food safety consultant. As executive chef of Belcampo Meat Co., Ross helped launch the bone broth craze. Since his diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2017, he has focused on exploring the potential of naturally low-carb cooking. Follow Ross on Twitter: @RossWollen

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