A lot of people who follow my blog suggested that I write about Halloween, and the difficulty of facing a night of obsessive candy-collecting when your child has type 1 diabetes. I wasn’t going to, since I figured that this is a topic well-covered in the world of diabetes blogging. But I was driven over the edge last week, not by trick or treating itself, but by all the extra treats given to kids in the days and hours leading up to Halloween.
In my view (and I know that I’m cranky on the topic of sugar), if your child is going to be out collecting candy all evening, they really shouldn’t be given any extra treats beforehand. Yet when I walked into Bisi’s classroom on the morning of Halloween, there was an array of treats for the students, to be delivered throughout the day. Apples with a little honey and marshmallows; bananas with chocolate chips; tangerines that looked like monsters, with strips of green peppers for their noses; popcorn balls glued together with marshmallow; and brownies topped with frosting and a candied ghost. Bisi was also given candy at her after-school singing group; and I heard that cookies were given out at lunch. For Bisi, all these extra treats meant that she had to have three extra doses of insulin, so she wouldn’t be the only one in her class who couldn’t partake. But although I’d rather not be surprised by a plate of 40-carb brownies (and although Bisi had a pretty terrible day in terms of her blood sugar levels), that’s not what I’m complaining about here. It’s the signal all this gives that special, fun times equal extra food and extra sugar. Again, if kids are going to be stuffing their mouths full of candy in the evening, shouldn’t that be an occasion to give them less sweet stuff during the day?
An article I read in The Boston Globe recently makes me pretty sure that I’m fighting a losing battle—not only against sugar on special occasions, but against the amount of sugar that’s acceptable as a baseline every day. By necessity, I try to and should be aware of every single carbohydrate (meaning sugar as well as starches the body turns into sugar) that Bisi puts in her mouth. But most parents don’t need to monitor their children’s carb intake as carefully as we need to. How many stop to count up how much sugar their children actually get each day? How many have absolutely no idea? This Globe article was about the lunches parents pack for their children, and how their children often grade them harshly. It featured one mother who said that the “worst part of my day is making lunches,” because her children are so picky about what she gives them. A typical lunch: a PB&J sandwich, some dehydrated veggie sticks, a carrot, an apple, a banana, a Yo Kids yogurt stick, a Kozy Shack chocolate pudding, and a Kashi brownie. In my experience, there’s no way a kid could eat all this for lunch during the time allotted, and you can bet that it’s not the chocolate pudding or the brownie that ends up in the trash. When asked to grade the lunch his mother packed, her older son gave it a C+, adding that he would improve the grade if she added a small slice of cake! I added up the carbs in the portion of the lunch that it’s most likely the boy ate, the PB& J sandwich (49), pudding (27), brownie (24 grams), and yogurt stick (10), for a total of 110 carbs. The Institute of Medicine, which comes up with nutritional standards for dietary intake, set a recommended daily allowance of 130 grams for carbohydrates. (Meanwhile, many experts think that no more than 10% of a person’s caloric needs should be made up of added sugar.)
But back to Halloween, when added sugar probably made up about 50 percent of the calories that Bisi and her friends ate that day. (And who knows how much going forward. The picture up top is of all the candy my two children collected, carefully sorted into labeled Ziploc bags. Luckily, they seemed to basically lose interest in the candy after the sorting process was complete—though we’ll keep the Skittles for low blood sugar moments.) Bisi had a great time during the Halloween extravaganza that her wonderful teacher planned. But the things she talked about when she came home weren’t related to food (though she would have talked incessantly about food if she hadn’t been allowed to have the same treats as her classmates). She loved the chance to dress up like a book character and to guess what characters her fellow 2nd graders had chosen (she was Jessie from The Boxcar Children). And she talked about the fun Halloween activity packet and the mummy contest her teacher put together—a timed test of skill at wrapping someone up with strips of toilet paper. With a little creativity, I don’t think it would be so hard to switch the emphasis of a holiday celebration from food to something else. Maybe adults are the ones who can’t let a special occasion go by without serving an overwhelming array of sweet treats (I’m thinking back to the groaning dessert buffet at my old office parties). Maybe adults are the ones who want so much for our kids to like what we pack for them or serve to them, that we include that one extra treat, hoping they’ll give us an A+. And maybe adults are the ones who are unknowingly and unnecessarily passing this obsession along to our kids.