I love the holidays. Yes, I love Christmas and Thanksgiving. But I even love the Fourth of July and Labor Day. Holidays are an opportunity for fun and traditions — and those are things best enjoyed with children. (Something my pre-mom self would’ve resented if she’d read it, but yeah, holidays are way better with kids.)
But I do have a beef with holidays where junk food is a key component. (I’m looking at you, Valentine’s Day!) And Halloween falls into that category.
My son is coming up on his fourth Halloween. For his first, he was the most adorable Charlie Brown in history. For his second, a monkey — and he could not wait to take his costume off. Last year, he was the Hulk, but he was sick on Halloween, and we weren’t sure if we were going to let him go trick-or-treating or not. So a sick Hulk on Oct. 31 actually made life easier.
This year, my boy will be the cutest, fiercest Spider-Man OF ALL TIME. He still fits into his Hulk costume, so I had hoped for a repeat. But ya know what? My boy wants to be Spider-Man, and he’s only 3 once, and I’m a pushover. So, Spider-Man it is.
Still, while I want to spend my time obsessing over my adorable super hero, the thing is that Halloween remains a largely junk food holiday in my eyes. Adorably (but annoyingly), my son now knows what trick-or-treating is. And he’s looking forward to it. Look, I remember trick-or-treating as a kid. I loved it. What kid didn’t, right?
But when you have a child with food allergies, there’s a really strong chance that the candy he’ll get will be mostly stuff he can’t have. (Nuts, peanuts, dairy and eggs are killers.) You can easily argue that no child needs all that candy they get on Halloween, but now I have to tell a 3-year-old that he can’t have it. And if you haven’t recently tried to rationalize with a 3-year-old, let me tell you: It’s darn near impossible.
I think I’ve accepted that my son will go trick-or-treating on Tuesday. But still, Halloween is a junk food holiday. And I don’t want my son’s memories of this holiday being about me offering organic fruity lollipops in exchange for his Snickers bars. I want him to remember this time of year fondly.
And I have to think I’m not alone. So, here are a few ideas to help shift the focus from the treats to other traditions.
I’m fortunate to live in a city with a wonderful Parks & Recreation department. They host great classes and events (BBQ and jazz festivals and art walks and a farmers market) that my family can benefit from. This weekend is a Halloween party that I cannot wait to attend with my boy in costume. I hope you have this too. But if not, plenty of schools and churches do fall carnivals, and lots of families host their own Halloween parties.
Homemade Halloween food
I’m not opposed to food being a part of a holiday. I’m opposed to candy being a primary component, though. Earlier this season, my son and I made pumpkin cookies — a dairy-free, egg-free version of the classic Libby’s recipe. I hope we do this every October for years to come. I hope we make chili (recipe soon, I promise!) every Nov. 1. I hope we buy pumpkins and eat pumpkin things. I hope the memory of Halloween is about the things we do and make and eat together, not mass-produced crappy candy.
My fall (Halloween + Thanksgiving + all things pumpkin) decorations are an interesting combination. I have the homemade wooden decorations my parents have made over the years (this year, Grandma added apples). I have mick-o-lanterns (Mickey Mouse jack-o-lanterns purchased in Disneyland). I have a beautiful fall wreath my crafty sister-in-law made me. We have Target dollar-bin window clings. In years past, I’ve decorated on my own. But this year, my son wanted to help. And it was one of the best days ever.
Other special Halloween traditions
I’d love to hear other ideas, but this year, my son and I did something that has been the absolute joy of the season. Inspired by our neighbors’ projection ghost light display, my son and I have been going on “ghost hunts” several nights a week. A ghost hunt is 30 to 40 minutes of walking around our neighborhood — spotting ghosts. And pumpkins and witches and spiders too. He’s 3, but he’s little, so he still rides compliantly in the stroller. I get steps (take that, Fitbit friends!), we both get to enjoy the fresh air, and sometimes, snacks are involved. Every night at bedtime, I ask him what his favorite part of the day was, and inevitably, the answer is: “going on a ghost hunt.”
Take that, junk food.