OK- I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit something. I don’t like Halloween. There I said it – admitting is the first step to recovery (not that this is something from which I really want to recover). I don’t like little strangers showing up at my door begging for treats; I hate the holiday slasher movies that inevitably take over the box office and television; and I really don’t like the idea of an entire celebration that is centered around red-dyed, high fructose corn syrup-laden, diabetes breeding candy. So this summer, as we were diagnosing my daughter’s numerous food allergies, Halloween celebrations were the least of my worries. Other holidays, birthdays, vacations- these were things I thought about, but Halloween was NO BIG DEAL. I planned to just skip the holiday altogether- head up to the mountains for a family hike and a campfire cook-out (heck we could even share a scary story or two). No costumes, no parties, no candy, just Halloween-free family fun. Great plan right? Sure- until I presented said plan to the 7-year-old.
Talk about making a plan without thinking about my daughter. This is our artist who spent hours last year planning every detail of her costume- creating front and back view sketches, gathering materials from around the house, and meticulously assembling her ensemble. This year was to be no different. So when I presented my allergy-free plan it should not have surprised anyone (particularly her mother) when tears welled up in her beautiful blue eyes. Wisely my child said “Mom, you always tell me I am more than my allergies. I want to be a normal kid. Please let me have Halloween”. Wow- I was really off track. My own words jolted me out of my anti-holiday funk and threw me into the Halloween zone. I knew I had to make a plan and I knew it had to be as “normal” as possible. Here are some things I’m doing to create a safe, fun, Halloween experience for the whole family. Hopefully my ideas will help you create a plan to give your own ghosts and goblins a happy, healthy Hallows Eve.
Change the Focus: I won’t say that I want to focus on the “true meaning of Halloween” (this isn’t history class so I won’t go there) but I will say that the first step toward making an allergy-friendly holiday is to take the focus off the food- particularly the candy. This holiday is now ALL about the crafting. I am not a seamstress but, what I lack in skill I make up for in ingenuity. Each year we put together fun, inexpensive costumes ourselves. About a month ago my ultra-creative kiddos came up with their crazy plans. We’ve been sketching, thrift store shopping, and piecing things together ever since. Our homemade costumes have taken a lot more time and attention than just going to the store to pick one off a rack and that has been exactly what we needed this year. (Plus- it’s way cheaper and I am always up for that). The key here has been letting go and letting my kids take control of their experience. They are using their time and creativity to create costumes which will not be perfect and will probably not win prizes but are all theirs. We’re also spending a lot of time painting small squash and carving pumpkins. The pumpkins are great because they not only give us a fun project they offer up a great, allergy-friendly treat- roasted pumpkin seeds.
Pad the Party: Parties are tricky for the parents of allergy kids. I always try to get a menu from the hostess so that I can create allergy-friendly alternatives that are as close as possible to the “normal” food. I bought a sturdy, plastic, single cupcake holder that is perfect for holding one homemade vanilla or chocolate cupcake cooked and decorated just for my girl.Her cupcake and other alternate foods go into her special lunchbox designated just for parties. If it’s a potluck I try to make sure I bring a vegetable tray in addition to the foods in her lunchbox so that I know there is something she can share with others. A simple veggie tray is just too boring for a holiday though. So this year I’m ramping up the fun by creating a Haunted Veggie Platter- allergy-friendly vegetables adorned with Halloween-themed treats including Cheesy Witch Fingers; Jicama Ghosts; Peppery Ogre Smiles; and Eerie Eyeballs.
Eats before the Tricks and Treats– This is a good Halloween trick for any health-conscious family. Make sure your kids tummies are full before heading out to gather the loot. (this will cut down on mid-walk sneaking- theoretically) Chili and cornbread is a great option. In the past we have done potato soup with potatoes cut like ghosts floating around in it (yes, hubby had way too much time on his hands that year). This year I think we are going to go with Spooky Burger Bites (hamburger patties pressed into a shape using a holiday cookie cutter- now who has too much time on their hands?), sweet potato oven fries, and a haunted veggie platter.
Plan for the walk- Whether you are Trunk-or-Treating or hiking the neighborhood you might want to make a plan to keep the kids out of the treats when the munchies start to haunt. This year I will have a baggie of homemade fruit snacks handy at all times. I’ve also planned to keep them holding smaller amounts at a time. When their small pumpkin is full they can dump it into the family bag that I carry. This will help them let go of their loot and get the idea of “family candy”. Fortunately, my kids are pretty good about not eating the candy until it is officially “inspected” at home. If they had a tendency to sneak I might have them drop their candy into the family bag after each door.
The After-Math- This is the part of the holiday that will be the hardest. After all, the best part of Halloween is dumping the newly acquired treasure into a big pile, getting a quick inspection from mom and dad (paying the appropriate parent candy tax of course) and then gorging on delicious treats until falling back into a satisfied Halloween-induced sugar stupor. This year cannot have any of that. We have decided as a family (dragging the 12-year-old kicking and screaming) that none of us will eat the candy we gather. We will have the fun of collecting and then, the day after Halloween, we will take our bag to a generous local dentist who is offering $1 per pound for candy. We will use the money that we gather up to buy a new board game- one of our favorite family night activities. Really, everyone is pretty excited about this and are all being good sports.
As I thought about the holiday I realized that even though I have a good plan for taking care of the candy, the key to success would be having an approved treat planned and ready for consumption. Enter donuts- crispy, soft, sweet, and deliciously fun, grain-free pumpkin donuts will be the perfect treat to take our minds off of the candy. We will eat our donuts, snack on our home-roasted pumpkin seeds, watch some fun, family-friendly Halloween flicks, and enjoy time together. After all, isn’t that the most important part of any holiday? Who knows, with this plan I may even discover that I like Halloween after all. (but don’t cancel that 12-step program just yet)
Dentist sale is a cute idea, a friend goes shopping for cool art & craft supplies, inexpensive jewelry etc. keeps them hidden then sets up a “sale” table. Her kids can spend their candy as money and buy whatever they want. Paint set costs 3 snack size bars, dollar store bracelets cost 3 suckers… They love it.