8 tricks to make Halloween a treat

Did you know that eating five candies all at once is better for your teeth than eating them over a five-hour period? Or that your prized collection of ’80s music might make you the coolest trick-or- treat destination on the block? Grab your plastic pumpkin-shaped bucket and get ready to collect helpful tips for maximum fun this Halloween.

How to be active as a family

It’s a universally known fact: bite-sized chocolate bars are hard to resist. In anticipation of the Caramilks and Aeros ahead, fall is a perfect time to get outside and get moving as a family. October often treats us to some unexpected warm weather, so make the most of it before winter arrives. Head out to a local farm to run around a corn maze, go on a haunted hayride or select a family set of pumpkins. Before carving day, take the pumpkins to the backyard to create relays, obstacle courses, or games of hide-the-pumpkin. They can even serve as goal posts for a family game of soccer (where goals are celebrated by diving into a pile of freshly-raked leaves, and the winning team is awarded the Reese’s Cup).

How to boost your house’s Halloween atmosphere

You can add instant spookiness, with minimal prep time and clean-up, by incorporating one element: sound. Dig out your ’80s music or, do a quick online search to download some suitably creepy sound effects and classic Halloween songs. As you give out treats, you’ll be humming along to “Monster Mash” and snapping your fingers to the Addams Family opening theme.

How to create healthy, homemade snacks

While those ready-to-bake logs of cookie dough with Halloween characters in the centre are undeniably cute and handy, there are also ways to incorporate natural ingredients into your family’s snacks. Rescue the seeds from the “guts” when you’re carving your pumpkin (this is a great job to keep little hands busy). Rinse and dry the seeds, spread on a cookie sheet, coat with oil or non-stick spray, and bake in a 325°F oven for about 25 minutes (checking and stirring after 10 minutes). Pumpkin muffins are also an awesome autumn snack. Use a can of pure pumpkin (not pie filling) and toss in some raisins for an orange-and-black effect.

How to make your trick-or-treater extra visible

To help kids be seen in the dark, you can rely on accessories like reflective treat bags, arm bands and glow necklaces. You can also create a costume with built-in visibility, like Tavia Legato of Waterloo, Ont. When her six-year-old son Josh wanted to be a skeleton, Tavia wasn’t impressed by the quality of the costumes available in stores. She bought a black sweatsuit, pre-washed it, and put stiff pieces of cardboard inside. She Googled anatomy drawings and sketched the bones with a fabric pencil. Then, it was time to apply the main element: glow-in-the-dark fabric paint. She remembers: “It took a lot of paint. I started with four tubes and had to purchase more. I used a paintbrush to spread it, trying to give the texture and appearance of bone. Not surprisingly, it took three whole days to dry.” The outfit was kept in a well-lit room in the days leading up to Halloween, and Tavia reports, “it glowed brightly the whole time we were outside.” The costume was a success, no bones about it. In fact, Josh loved the hoodie so much that he wore it to school throughout the winter.

How to preserve Halloween memories

Start with an empty notebook or a small photo album. Find photos of your child’s past costumes, or take a shot of this year’s outfit and build from there. Mount the photos chronologically in the book and have your child print a caption with his name, the year, and the title of his costume. Keep the book in your box of Halloween supplies, so you can add to it every year and have an ongoing record of your child’s costume choices. Or, when you’re at the dollar store, look for a canvas bag with plastic photo slots. Label the back of each photo and slip them in to create a personalized trick-or-treat bag.

How to manage your kids’ candy consumption

You want to let your kids enjoy their spectacular haul of treats, but you don’t want them to end up with a collection of cavities as a result. Dr. Linda Vo, a family dentist (and mother of two) in Elmira, Ont., shares three strategies to help you guide the candy-fest.

  1. When: Establish specific times when kids can have candy, to reduce the number of times that their teeth are exposed to sugar. Save candy for dessert, as the increased saliva flow that occurs during a meal helps to wash away the sugar, and saliva contains nutrients to repair areas of acid erosion. Also, being full from the meal may prevent kids from going overboard with their treats.
  2. What: Where possible, choose candies that are made with lower sugar content. Non-sticky candies (such as chips) are more teeth-friendly compared to softer ones (like licorice and gummies), which can cling to the spaces between teeth. Similarly, candies that are consumed in a short amount of time (such as chocolate) are a better choice than those that take longer to eat (like lollipops).
  3. How: Allow kids to have their candy and eat it too – but have them brush their teeth afterwards. Clearing away the sugar stops the production of cavity-causing acids. Another strategy is to have kids to drink a glass of water or rinse their mouth with water after candy time. Introduce them to colourful kid-sized flossing picks for their hard-to-reach back teeth.

How to host a teen Halloween

Your 13-year-old may have reached the point where she is too old (or too tall) for trick-or-treating and wants to have some friends over instead. Discuss the guest list and let your junior party planner take the lead with invitations and decorations. Since this group won’t be filling their pillowcases this year, candy will be a popular appetizer, so start them off with a blindfolded guess-the-candy game. For more giggles, have them compete in a partner “mummy wrap” race using toilet paper or create dramatic Halloween skits using a pre-set bag of goofy props.

How to be an appreciative audience

I’m one of those people who comments on each trick-or-treater’s costume when they come to my door. I know it’s exasperating to kids who prefer the grab-and-go approach, but the ones who have created their own costume seem to appreciate the extra praise. Parents need this positive feedback, too. One year I found myself face to face with a little boy encased in a brown burlap sphere, with green antennae-like spikes coming out of his head. Baffled, I tried to stall for time. “Happy Halloween! What a nice costume you have… uh, it’s really unique… umm…”

Then I got it. “Oh! You’re an onion!” From the sidewalk came the sound of his exhausted but vindicated mom saying, “Thank you!”

Kristi York is a mom of two boys, ages six and three. She strongly suspects that the candy companies are making their mini chocolate bars smaller every year.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2013.

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