Halloween Tricks and Treats
Halloween was never one of my favorite holidays, until of course, we had kids. Now it’s celebrated with equal enthusiasm as Thanksgiving and Christmas in our house. Best of all, our Andersonville neighborhood is THE BEST trick-or-treat neighborhood in Chicago.
We live in a very mixed neighborhood of rehab condos on one street, and gorgeous, historic homes on the next. Condo or single-family home, everyone goes all out, including haunted houses, live gore theatre in front yards, light shows… you name it.
So it’s only natural that we host a party on Halloween.
For several years now, all the parents and kids meet at our place. Kids snack a bit and parents fill up their to-go cups with wine and beer, and we hit the streets.
It’s Chicago, so you have to assume it’s going to be blowing rain or snow. One Halloween it actually did both. So I’ve found it’s best to make two types of soup ahead of the evening, put them on the back burner, then warm them up as everyone comes back after trick-or-treating. It’s the perfect, cozy and wholesome food everyone is wanting and needing after trolling the streets for candy.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks of my own… from decorations, to dinner, to controlling the inevitable sugar crash at the end of the night (talk about frightening!!).
So here are my top-five Halloween party tricks and tips for you this season.
1. Decorations: I’m a sucker for a white pumpkin. I know Martha likes to spray them with gold paint. But I love the simplicity of white. Best of all, it makes a beautiful base to showcase all of fall’s amazing colors. Last year, I had the kids go outside and collect some of their favorite fall colors and textures. Then, we made arrangements with their finds, set inside a hollowed-out white pumpkin. It was simple and beautiful, and the kids loved saying they made the centerpieces.
***** TIP: After you hollowed out the pumpkin, place a to-go container or mason jar inside, then put water and your arrangement in that jar.Otherwise, water inside a pumpkin = slimy, stinky mess.
- Another favorite decoration is Rice Krispy corn on the cob. These are the cutest. Simply make your standard Rice Krispy treat mix with marshmallows and butter. Rather than making squares, shape treats into cone shape, like a corn cob. Next, stick fall colored candy such as M&Ms on the corn cobs, then wrap in brown parchment paper and cut top in jagged strips, halfway down. Use these to decorate your buffet and each kid can take one home at the end of the night.
2. Pre-Game Snacks: Sending excited kids out into the cold, on an empty stomach to hunt for candy is a recipe for disaster. I always make sure the kids have a substantial, healthy snack before heading out to trick or treat. I find cheese, milk, bananas and some sort of protein does the trick. But you have to make it fun, of course. So here are a few ideas:
- Boo-Nanas: Easy, easy. Simply peel a banana, cut in half and put two mini chocolate chips at the tip for eyes. Kids LOVE it.
- Monster Milk: I’m a sucker for a dollar store find. Over time, I’ve collected several mini milk jug bottles. They’re darling and I use them frequently for brunch caterings to server mimosas. For kids however, I use a black chalk pen or black marker and draw ghosts on the bottles. Then fill them up with milk and add a fun straw. A cute way to entice them to drink their milk.
- Witches Broom Sticks: What kid doesn’t love cheese sticks and pretzels? Now they can have them both in a cute little bite. Take a white string-cheese stick, cut it equally into thirds. Next, on the bottom half of each cheese piece, use a knife and slice half-way through the slice several times until the bottom is fringed. Then, take a pretzel stick and press it through the opposite end. Viola! Witches broom stick (AKA wholesome snack to help prevent the sugar high).
3. Soup is On: You may have read an earlier post pledging my love for cold weather and soup. My soup obsession usually kicks off on Halloween. It’s the perfect comfort food. It’s wholesome. Kids love it. And you can make it ahead. I usually do two pots, one of which is always my Pasta e’ Fagiole. This recipe is like a big, warm Italian hug. It’s always a hit. Other favorites are Turkey Chili. Or you can go totally vegetarian with Roasted Butternut Squash soup. What’s great about doing soup for a Halloween party, is you can make it ahead, then reheat when guests come back to the house. And depending on the soup, you can make some easy "sidekicks" like cheesy garlic bread for Pasta e’ Fagiole; Cheddar biscuits for Turkey Chili; or zesty croutons for the Roasted Butternut Squash Soup.
4. Corralling the Kids: As soon as the kids get home, they usually want to dive into their candy. But I’m a stickler about controlling the sugar. I’ve learned the hard way. SI've found setting up a soup bar is a great way to entice parents and kids, but really empower kids to serve themselves, dress their soup, etc. The first stop however is making it enticing for the kids.
I have a wide assortment of bowls (thanks again to dollar stores). So, I like to make custom bowls for each kid. I use a chalk pens and paint monster faces on one side of the bowl, and then put each kids’ name on the other. It’s fun for the kids to find their bowl and see what "monster face" they have.
5. Candy Control: I really am a fun mom (except at 6 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.). That said, I have learned the wild ways of too much sugar. It’s ugly. Last year, I made Treat Trackers for each kid. All you need are seven clothespins and a piece of cardboard. Have your child decorate their treat tracker board and every Sunday, ask them to choose which treat they want for each day. It gives the kids a choice and manages intake at the same time.
And... if it’s Tuesday and someone’s tracker is empty up until Friday? Well, someone has some explaining to do.