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.

Education and Empowerment in Action

Education and Empowerment in Action

As an allergy parent, one of the things you worry about is how to teach your child about their allergies. How do you teach them what foods they can have and which they can’t? How do you teach them to ask questions and speak up for themselves? How do you teach them to be educated about food in general? And how do you do this when they’re not even 5 years old?

Why We Cook: Making Memories in the Kitchen – Super Bowl Edition

At this point, he was excited to help with the rest. He added spices to the cauliflower and helped to put them on a baking sheet. He also helped season the steaks. And he was eager to join me outside at the grill.

It was a wonderful night with him, but it was probably just a fluke, I thought. But then, his interest continued this weekend.

Trick-or-Treating with Food Allergies

On Halloween night, my son had his first trick-or-treating experience. My husband and I hadn't mentioned it until it was clear he knew it was a thing — honestly, we weren't sure we really wanted him to participate. As a child with food allergies, there are very few candies he can have. Plus, we aren't wild about introducing him to more opportunities for sugar.  But he was fully aware that people would give him candy if he just rang the doorbell and asked. I was trapped.

Oh Good. Another Junk Food Holiday (aka Ideas to Make Halloween About More Than Candy)

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. But I 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.

Food Allergies and Necessary Life Skills

Food Allergies and Necessary Life Skills

Mac and cheese. Pizza. Chicken tenders. String cheese. These are staples of childhood. And they are things my son can’t have. In fact, these foods could make him very sick — or worse. 

His food allergies aren’t the end of the world, but they do make life harder — for us as parents trying to find foods he’ll eat, yes, but mostly for him. We remain hopeful that he’ll grow out of them, but we’re also keenly aware he might not. And if he doesn’t? Well, he’s going to need certain skills when he gets older.

It’s Not Someone Else’s Job to Feed My Kid — But It Sure Is Nice

It’s Not Someone Else’s Job to Feed My Kid — But It Sure Is Nice

Weddings, birthday parties, family gatherings and neighborhood picnics. These are events that should be fun, right? But for parents of children with food energies, they can be stressful — from both a safety perspective and a social graces standpoint. 

Here’s what goes through my mind pre-event: Should I call and ask what they’ll be serving? Should I bring food for my son? Will they think we’re rude if we bring our own food? Would it be rude to call and ask? Will they feel like I’m pressuring them to change their menu? It doesn't matter; I just want to plan. Will they understand?

Then, at the event: Is that cheese on the floor? Is my son reaching for a doughnut? Does that bread have egg? I wonder if the host made these meatballs? Should I ask her what’s in them? Did I remember the EpiPen?

New Year's Resolutions for Cooking with Kids

New Year's Resolutions for Cooking with Kids

Well, here's something kind of cool — when you cook with your kids, you can tackle parenting and health together. I've been thinking about some things I want to accomplish in the kitchen with my son this year, and I thought I'd share some ideas on New Year's resolutions as they relate to cooking.

Confession: I Haven't Cooked Much Lately

Confession: I Haven't Cooked Much Lately

I'm going to level with you: Lately, I just haven't had the energy for cooking. My workdays have been long. My son was sick a couple of days. I've had several evenings where it's just my son and me — and it's really hard to cook for two. So, yeah, I've taken a bit of a break from the kitchen just to catch my breath.