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.

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.

Mixed Feelings: Could This Be Our Last Allergy Test?


A couple of weeks ago, my son had a blood test. He weirdly appreciates lab work. For him, it means “just one poke.” That’s because allergy tests have often meant multiple skin pricks on his little back.

This blood work was a follow-up — six months after our baked milk challenge. Last year, our allergist felt it was worthwhile to have him try baked milk but didn’t believe it was safe enough to have him try milk. This latest test would tell us if anything had changed in terms of his risk.

The results are in, and our allergist wants to do a dairy challenge. That challenge — where my son will drink real milk for the first time in increasing amounts — is coming up. And I am filled with mixed feelings.

We’ve been on this allergy journey for four years. I’ve known that the odds said he’d outgrow most of his allergies by age 5. And here we are — almost three months shy of his fifth birthday. Still, dietary restrictions have become such a big part of our identities, of our lives, that it’s hard to believe there’s a future where they don’t exist.

My leading emotion is hope, but there is indeed (as usual for moms, I think) a lot on my mind.

More Freedom and Choice

My hope is he will have more choices. But I fear those choices will be less healthy than the choices he’s had so far. In a lot of ways, food allergies have forced us to make good decisions. They are decisions that perhaps we would’ve made anyway. But it’s hard to imagine that my child would be almost 5 and not have ever tasted macaroni and cheese if not for an allergy. How do I ensure that mac and cheese stays out of our regular rotation? Of course, the answer is simple … I just don’t make it. But I understand the temptation that a lot of parents deal with.

My hope is that he will be able to eat whatever he wants. My fear is that he will eat whatever he wants. While it would be great to be able to sprinkle a little cheese on some broccoli, I also don’t want to open up a lot of unhealthy dinner options. Right now, he prefers grilled chicken and black beans to almost anything you could put in front of him. And while there are days I wish he would try more new flavors, I actually feel pretty good about his diet on the whole.

New Memories

My hope is that I will be able to teach him how to make homemade macaroni and cheese. That one night we’ll do a cheese tasting plate and allow him to explore the wonders of goat cheese and feta and Brie. That he and will I be able to experiment with different casseroles and we’ll make chocolate mousse and pudding and cream pies.

My fear is he will love them way too much.

Safe from Harm

My hope is we won’t have to carry the EpiPen anymore. But my fear is that he may actually be allergic to something he hasn’t had and we just don’t know it yet. My fear is that we will need that EpiPen. We’ve never needed it, thank God, but what if we do?

Above all, my hope is my husband and I won’t have to worry about whether the call from the school is about an allergic reaction and we won’t have to worry about his safety in the same way. But what I know — not just fear — is that there are an infinite number of other things I’ll worry about instead.

Cooking on Vacation

Cooking on Vacation

A lot of our vacations with our son have been to visit family. Sometimes we add on adventures and stay in hotels. We’ve also rented a condo. You’d think that vacation time would be about not cooking, but somehow, when you’re on vacation, it feels different. It’s less rushed. It’s more enjoyable to sit and eat what you’ve prepared. It’s about gathering with family. It’s time together preparing the meal and time together savoring it. It feeds the body and the soul.

Simple Meals, Simple Tasks — But Lasting Memories and Important Lessons

Simple Meals, Simple Tasks — But Lasting Memories and Important Lessons

As we were pulling into the garage, my son declared that he wanted to help make the potatoes. My heart leaped from my chest. It has been a little while since we'd cooked anything more than pancakes on the weekends together.

Of Muffins and Memories

Well, around 7 o’clock on Sunday evening, my son bounced into my bedroom as I was getting my pajamas on.

"Mommy, we haven’t made muffins yet!" he said. 

Surprised that he'd remembered, I said, "You’re right. Would you like to?"

He jumped up and down. "Yes, yes, yes!" he exclaimed.