Inez Lane remembers her daughter Jordan's Halloween just weeks after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2005. At the time, Jordan was in the third grade. "We were very careful the first Halloween. We paid her 25 cents for each piece of candy," says Lane. They allowed her to have just a few pieces that year.
"Now we are more comfortable with the situation. We still pay her but let her keep a small bagful. She's allowed one piece a day or every other day."
The sugary frenzy that accompanies the entire Halloween season is enough to cause any parent to sigh. But for parents with a diabetic child, Halloween can be worrisome. Treats abound the entire month of October, culminating in the big day of trick-or-treating.
Yet diabetes experts generally agree that children can enjoy some of their loot as long as they balance it with the proper dose of insulin. "As long as it is worked into a meal plan and covered by the child's insulin, sugar is allowed," explains Lela Iliopoulos, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator.
She says this is where carbohydrate counting skills are used. "After eating treats, you can check blood glucose levels and make any insulin adjustments, if needed." Iliopoulos, the diabetes program coordinator at Palos Community Hospital, recommends looking up the candy's carbohydrate content ahead of time, if possible.
You can download the carbohydrate information for many popular Halloween treats at diabetes.org/assets/pdfs/youth/ada-halloween-candy-list.pdf
It can be a challenge when there are siblings without diabetes. "Instead of focusing on diabetes, shift it to overall health by setting the same guidelines for all the kids and the entire family. Do not single out the diabetes child or treat him/her any differently than the other children-because then they will feel different," Iliopoulos says. For example, each member of the family can select two pieces of candy as a treat.
Try to avoid putting a negative emphasis on eating candy. Instead, focus on moderation and teaching your kids how to fit treats into a healthy, balanced diet for special occasions.
If you're the one hosting the party, you will definitely have more control over the situation. Incorporate fun games to take the emphasis off candy consumption. Costume contests, pumpkin carving, crafts, face painting and spooky storytelling are classic party fare.
Offer healthier alternatives, such as homemade popcorn balls, apple slices with just a bit of caramel, nuts, sandwiches outlined in Halloween shapes using a cookie cutter, or homemade cookies made with a little less sugar. Toys and other non-candy prizes such as colorful pencils, stickers, erasers or coins are also a hit.
Set a few rules like "no candy eating during the hunt" to minimize the amount of sugar ingested.
Limit the number of houses at which your children can trick-or-treat.
Agree on a candy allowance ahead of time with your children. Have them pick out a few pieces at a time and put the rest away.
Swap the candy for money to be used for books or toys. Or have them trade you their candy for cash to buy something they've been saving up for. That will last longer than a piece of candy.
After the holiday, save what remains and allow a piece of candy each day that has been worked into the meal plan.
Keep a stash of treats to treat low blood sugar levels. Like anyone else, children with diabetes should be allowed to enjoy Halloween, as it only comes once a year.
Lane says her daughter, who is a competitive gymnast, truly enjoys the holiday. "Now she trick-or-treats by herself. I really put her diabetes care in her hands and put a lot of faith in her. She has done it very well. She rarely gets low. She knows her own body."
Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a nutritionist living in Naperville.
See more of Christine's stories here.