There was a passel of squirmy, bored children in attendance at my wedding, and one mom had a brilliant solution to keep all of them happy: Twizzlers. Any time she heard a hint of a fuss coming on, she’d toss a Twizzler in the general direction of the discontent and be rewarded with silence as the focused snacking commenced. Twizzlers are an easy treat to keep toddlers happy—they’re just sort of hard to carry in a purse that matches one’s formalwear. What, I wondered, is the ideal treat for parents to give their kids in any scenario? It turns out that one treat is more divisive than any other: lollipops.
I put out a call on social media to determine which candies parents find it easiest to give kids, “easiest” meaning whatever was important to them: tidiness, healthiness, safety, etc. Lollipops came up first.
“Dum Dums keep them busy for hours!” said one enthusiastic respondent.
“Suckers are the worst,” said another. “The sound. The dripping. Them putting it down not on a plate.”
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“My kids are usually pretty good about not touching the candy—just holding onto the stick,” said one parent. “Usually.”
Who knew such a simple candy could leave parents so divided? Ultimately, it seems to come down to the motor skills and attention span of each individual kid. If you’ve got a little one who likes to zone out with some TV, they won’t go running around with the sucker in their mouth, presenting a choking hazard—but they might rack up a lot of electric-green drool while spacing out in front of Bluey.
On the issue of choking, Spangler candy company touts its Saf-T-Pops as a good alternative to lollipops, the latter of which have rigid sticks that could theoretically lodge in a kid’s throat. (Or nose? Or eye? Gotta be prepared for anything.) Saf-T-Pops, Spangler notes, are “the only pop with the fiber cord loop handle,” which is flexible rather than rigid, and the candy itself is a flat disk rather than a sphere the exact size of a kid’s esophagus. It is the variety many people associate with doctor’s offices, which lends some weight to the claim that they’re the candy best suited to both kids’ and parents’ needs.
Until they’re at least four years old, your child probably shouldn’t be handling any hard candy without a stick (or fiber cord loop handle)—think Werthers, Nips, caramels, peppermints, etc. All of these are a significant choking hazard.
There are lots of candies that are easy for a kid to eat that won’t bring your household to utter ruin. Twizzlers, as mentioned, are a good option that will keep your kid busy. For older kids with sturdy teeth, a Starburst candy or Skittles are good options. If you have a kid who isn’t into playing with their food, M&M’s often make it to their mouths with minimal stickiness—but you don’t want to serve a cup of these in a carseat, where the M&M’s they inevitably drop wind up melted into your seats and floor mats.
If you’re willing to put in a bit of prep work, a York Peppermint Patty sliced into small chunks is a great soft candy whose chocolate layer is less liable to melt than, say, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. But if you’re looking to throw something into a diaper bag for future use, then that’s probably not the way to go. Parenting a toddler is an endless triangulation of clean carpets, a contented child, and your peace of mind. When in doubt, aim for the latter two.