James was little when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. And maybe partly because he was our eldest child, we were really careful about introducing sweet foods to him. For years, he didn’t realize that Halloween was about gathering candy! Oh, we put him in a tiny costume and paraded over to the neighbors’ homes, but he didn’t know what was in all those colorful little packages at first. He was as happy to distribute the candy to others as he was to eat it.
But that didn’t last forever, of course. In some ways, diagnosis with diabetes precipitated his exposure to candy and sweets. He needed the fast sugar to bring up his lows, and then he was introduced not only to fruit juice but to all kinds of delicious candy. Now he knew what was in those colorful packages, and Halloween would never be quite the same.
All those years ago, we had to come up with a policy for how we were going to handle candy. This is a decision that every family has to make, and individual circumstances always vary and sometimes lead to very different pathways.
But we decided that we would not limit James to eating candy only for low blood sugars. It wouldn’t be something he had every day, but it wouldn’t be restricted any more than what we would like to do with the rest of our kids. (And we were already pretty strict about sugar!) He wanted to participate in Halloween, and so we devised a plan to let him. Here is what we ended up doing with James and the rest of our kids:
We decided to let him trick-or-treat with his siblings and cousins on Halloween. They can gather up their treats and come back home to sort, trade, and eat candy, while watching a holiday show. During that show, I allow the kids to just ransack their candy bags. They can eat whatever they feel like for that time period. (And we bolus for whatever James eats.) At the end of the night, they hand the candy bags to me, and I keep them in one of my upper cabinets where I can then control how much of it gets eaten over the ensuing weeks. Some of this candy gets used for lows. Sometimes we bring out the bags and everyone gets to pick one or two pieces for movie night.
Initially, I liked a couple of things about this plan. I liked that James could participate fully in the holiday traditions with his cousins. I liked that he didn’t feel limited. He could eat to his heart’s content on Halloween night. I actually liked that he ate a lot at once! He has remarked that he doesn’t feel so great after a big candy binge. (I know the feeling, James!) Maybe I wanted him to be able to recognize on his own that candy is better in smaller amounts. I liked that his blood sugars might only be crazy for that one night instead of for weeks after Halloween. (And although we try really hard to be good, accurate carb counters, Halloween night always makes for some wonky blood sugars regardless of the candy! So much excitement, running from door to door… lots of things to upset the balance of his blood sugar.)
So how do we feel about this plan after several years of following it? I think it has worked well for our family. All the kids look forward to Halloween. James does not feel left out. Candy hasn’t become any more a part of our life than it would be otherwise.
James is now six feet tall and makes for an imposing figure at the doorstep. Although I’m not opposed to teenagers trick-or-treating, he has reached that age where he is done participating in that aspect of the holiday. Honestly, it makes me extra glad that he got those years in where he was able to be just like all the other kids. In retrospect, I think the plan for Halloween has served our family well. While in some ways, it feels indulgent, when mixed with our other strategies of promoting healthy eating, it seems to have had a largely positive effect for James and for the rest of our family.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.