Halloween: Going Beyond Candy

Time in the kitchen with our kiddos is all about making memories. The cookies are just a byproduct.

Time in the kitchen with our kiddos is all about making memories. The cookies are just a byproduct.

My son loves Halloween. I mean, LOVES it. To be honest, I’m not really sure how that love started. He didn’t trick-or-treat until his fourth Halloween, so it wasn’t about the candy … at first. He just decided he likes spooky things. The candy was a bonus.

Personally, I don’t love Halloween. But I do love fall, and I love my son. So these days, I’m all in for Halloween. The thing with Halloween, though, is that — as with Valentine’s Day and Easter — for kids, the candy takes center stage.

And while my son is really looking forward to trick-or-treating, what’s interesting to me is that he doesn’t actually eat much of the candy. It’s more about the experience for him. Because of his dairy allergy, we have to take a way a lot of his candy. Then, I remove some more because of the choking hazard and a few others because they appear to be more chemical than anything else.

Last year, he trick-or-treated at his preschool during the day and around the neighborhood in the evening. That meant that even after I removed a large percentage of this candy, he still had more than he should ever eat. Most of it, he never touched.

The candy is quickly forgotten. The dressing up and going door-to-door are what he celebrates. Plus, I have also made it a point to expand our Halloween experience beyond the candy and trick-or-treating. I just think it’s important that holiday memories be about more than collecting candy from our neighbors.

Here are a few ways that we have been celebrating Halloween this season.

1. Decorating

My son loves to decorate. At our house, we decorate for the Fourth of July. And Easter and Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day, too. There is seldom a time when we don’t have some decor out. but the fall holidays are especially big for us. At the end of September, we took a Friday evening and put out pumpkins and ghosts galore. It was the highlight of his week.

We’ve also spent some time at our local paint-on-pottery place and made decorations. These I’ll treasure forever because they show a progression in my son’s age and will always remind me of the weekend evenings we spent painting and chatting.

2. Crafts

My best friend told me about this adorable haunted house kit from Trader Joe’s. So I’ll be heading there asap. Meanwhile, my mom did some pumpkin crafts with my son this weekend. These are fun activities that anyone can do.

3. Cookies

Last year, we made Halloween cutout sugar cookies for the first time. It happened to be the day we were being photographed for Taste of Home magazine. And he remembered because a few weeks ago, he asked when we were going to make our Halloween cookies — as if this is a thing we do every year. We recently made those sugar cookies (using Halloween sprinkles, of course!). We will also do these delicious (modified for allergies) pumpkin cookies.

4. Ghost hunts

When my son was little, I’d put him in the stroller and do walks at night. He loved getting out of the house. He still does. Of course, now he can ride his bike or walk himself. Our evening ghost hunts are an opportunity to get a little exercise, look at our neighbors’ decorations, count the ghosts, chat and enjoy the cool evening air.

5. The pumpkin patch

We are very fortunate that there are multiple farms near us, where we can not only pick up a pumpkin and a pie but take part in various outdoor activities. We have a family favorite, and I love that my son remembers it and looks forward to going.

6. Chili night

I love the idea of Halloween being a chili dinner night every year. What a great meal to have in the slow cooker all day. That way we can eat quickly and head out for trick-or-treating. (Here’s one of my favorite chili recipes.)

7. Skull-shaped mini cakes

I saw these adorable Nordic Ware Skull Cakelet Pans in a Sur La Table catalog and fell in love. (When my local store was sold out, I turned to Amazon, of course.) I showed my son the accompanying video, and he got SO excited. He has even made me promise that we won’t tell Daddy we ordered it. He likes thinking that Daddy gets spooked easily, so he thinks it’s HILARIOUS to surprise him with spooky cakelets. We also plan to make skull-shaped ice cubes to go into a simple punch for Halloween night.

For me, fall is about cooler weather and going outside and doing fall things (like going to the pumpkin patch) and eating fall things (like pumpkin cookies and chili and braised spare ribs). It’s never been about All Hallows Eve. But my son’s love of Halloween has converted me.

Still, I believe it’s important that we build traditions and make memories that go beyond candy. That means that when he outgrows trick-or-treating, there will be plenty of other activities we can carry forward. And even in years when he may feel excluded because of his food allergies, there’s lots to look forward to and wonderful memories to make. And it means we’re emphasizing the importance of family and togetherness.

Because while I’m super excited to give Daddy a scare with our skull cakelets and take my son trick-or-treating, there’s so much more to this season that I want him to savor and appreciate.

Food Is Our Love Language

Food is my love language. It’s a way I show I care.

Food is my love language. It’s a way I show I care.

I recently invited my husband’s family over for dinner. It was his birthday week, and I wanted to do something for him. We don’t always celebrate the adults’ birthdays in the family. But I was feeling like wanted to celebrate my husband — and create an opportunity for the family to get together.

At the time I extended the invitation, I genuinely thought I had a lot of time. I thought my work was in a good place, the house was in a good place, and I could plan, prep and make a big meal. But life didn’t go that way. And so, I found myself scrambling a bit.

A couple of days before our dinner, I asked my son what dessert we should make daddy for his birthday. “A cake,” my son said.

“What type of cake?” I asked.

He paused for a moment.


My son is observant. While my husband is not much of a sweets person, his dessert preference probably would be cheesecake. But I wasn’t sure I had time to pull that off.

Then, I started describing the food menu to my son. Daddy had asked for steaks. And we’d probably do a salad and some roasted vegetables, perhaps a baked potato bar.

My son leaned forward and said, “Mommy, that sounds like a lot. I think I’m going to need to help you.”

My heart melted. That understanding of how much work goes into preparing a meal typically comes from the other women in my life — my mom, grandma, aunt, best friend. And here was my son, all of 5 years old, recognizing that cooking is a lot of work, and yet, not viewing it as a chore. He saw it as something he wanted to help with.

Mommy, that sounds like a lot. I think I’m going to need to help you.

I often feel like food is my love language … It’s something I can do for others that shows I care. And when my son asks if we’re going to make our Halloween cookies this year and if I can make his special Valentine’s Day chocolates again, it means something to me.

Maybe my son’s love language will be food as well.

Experiences like this conversation with him remind me why we spend time together in the kitchen. And why we show love around food. It’s so he can have a relationship not just with food but with cooking that is positive and joyful. And it’s moments like these that make me think maybe — just maybe —what I’m doing is working.

Our First Apple Pie

Flipping through an America’s Test Kitchen magazine, I discovered a recipe for strawberry pie. It was beautiful and summery, and it required no oven time — perfect for the hot weekend. It seemed like a lovely treat for Labor Day weekend. It was also a clear acknowledgment that we were still very much in summer.

My son loves strawberries, so I showed him the picture of the pie. He shrugged. “How about we make an apple pie instead?” he asked.

The Link Between Food Allergies and Cooking

The Link Between Food Allergies and Cooking

“No cheese because I have a dairy allergy.”

Hearing these words in my son’s sweet voice made me swell with pride this evening at dinner. At 4 years old, he has learned the importance of not just telling restaurant servers “no cheese” or “no butter” — but also of telling them why. He’s learned to advocate for himself. I’m grateful for that. I’m also immensely proud of his early cooking skills — because he’s going to need them too.

Gardening with Kiddos: A Green Thumb Doesn't Matter

Gardening with Kiddos: A Green Thumb Doesn't Matter

There’s a lot of benefit to growing a garden with our kiddos. And we certainly don’t need to be perfect. For a long time, the fear of failure resulting from my absurd desire for perfection held me back. (Well, that and it looks like a lot of work.) But with a little perspective shift, we can take some of the stress out of this. Here’s how.

Why Kids Need to Go Grocery Shopping

Why Kids Need to Go Grocery Shopping

At one time, my parents insisted I should go shopping by myself. Leave the baby at home; it will be easier, they said. They were right — it most definitely would have been easier. But I would have missed out on some really great memories, and my son would have missed out on a lot too. I insist that even though it can be annoying, taking kids with you to the store is smart. Here’s why.

We're Still a Food Allergy Family

We're Still a Food Allergy Family

The first couple of doses were simple enough. I brought organic whole milk. The nurses put the milk into tiny syringes. He sucked it down with ease. And then we waited. We watched for hives. We asked if he had any itching. We monitored for a cough. We waited for a reaction. Then, one came.