Alternatives to Sweets for Trick or Treaters

All kids love trick or treating at Halloween but for their parents it can be more a time of dread, knowing that they’ll have to deal with hyped up children later who’ve eaten too much sugar, sore tummies and rotten teeth. Halloween is only once a year and even strict parents tend to relax their rules on this night thats known for sweets and candy as much as it is for pumpkins and ghosts, but there are also some great alternatives that kids will like just as much. Sales of trick-or-treat confectionary were way down in the UK last year as the public awareness of healthy diets continues to grow and the trend is set to continue for this year If you’re concerned about the amount of sugar that your kids eat on Halloween night or how you’re going to ration it out over the coming weeks, it might be worth having a word with your neighbours and suggesting some alternatives. Or even if you just choose to hand out another kind of treat to kids who knock at your door, you’ll still be reducing their overall sugar consumption and their parents are sure to thank you! So if you don’t want to give out sweets but don’t want to risk being ‘tricked’ with toilet paper and eggs and flour, what are some other options:

Halloween Cookies and Cupcakes

You can still give out sweet treats but home-baked goods are much healthier than sweets and chocolate and you can make them even healthier if you wish by reducing the sugar, using wholemeal flour or even making raw versions of your favourite cakes out of fruits and nuts. You can make these just as fun as Halloween candy by decorating them with spooky designs like spiders, witches hats, pumpkins and so on – get some ideas at our spooky food page here.

Popcorn

halloween-popcorn-tubs-3 Popcorn can be a healthy treat if you make it salty instead of sweet and you can even make some little Halloween paper bags or cups to hand it out in (photo from One Charming Party)

Toffee Apples

Toffee apples are traditional at Halloween after all and they’re mostly apple with just a thin coating of sugar or chocolate, so they’re much healthier than a handful of sweets.

Glow Sticks or Mini Torches

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You don’t have to give out food – anything that lights up at Halloween is sure to be a big hit and glow sticks and small LED torches are cheap to buy in bulk. This pack of 100 glowsticks that can be turned into bracelets is less than a tenner. This pack of 12 LED torches works out at less than £1.50 per torch.

Halloween Tattoos

414DcupyihL These fun temporary tattoos will be eagerly received by both boys and girls and are really cheap. They also make an excellent goody bag filler for Halloween parties.

Halloween Toys

Fake spiders, rubber snakes and bats, little witches and pumpkins can be bought really cheaply in discount shops in the run-up to Halloween and make a great alternative to giving out sweets to trick-or-treaters.

Mini Books

Want other parents to love you on Halloween? Give out books to trick-or-treaters! Actually kids love these too. There’s a selection of Halloween themed books on Amazon including Peppa Pig and Mr Men books for around £3, or you can check out your local discount book shop which often sell children’s picture books for 99p. Even if they’re not Halloween themed, they still make a great Halloween treat!

How to Make a Halloween Pumpkin Lantern

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A pumpkin Jack-o-lantern is one of the most effective Halloween decorations you can make yourself and it also has the bonus of being very inexpensive and easy to make. Supermarkets start selling pumpkins in early October but it’s best not to buy them until a few days before Halloween or they will start to rot.

Pumpkins can be expensive, especially if demand is outweighing supply (there was a pumpkin shortage last year due to bad weather and many supermarkets sold out well before Halloween). If you manage to buy one on offer, keeping it in the fridge until you’re ready to carve will help it last longer. Pumpkins are also much cheaper in markets and from discount supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi. If they do happen to run out of pumpkins again this year there’s nothing to stop you carving a jack-o-lantern out of a different vegetable. Turnips are actually more traditional and squashes and even beetroots can be carved into impressive lanterns too.

Choosing a Pumpkin

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Large pumpkins are great for decorating the house but if you want one to carry around as a lantern, it’s best to choose the smallest you can comfortably carve. Look for a pumpkin that’s as round as possible, although some more unusual shapes lend themselves well to creating spooky faces.

Look out for any soft spots, bruises, cuts or other damage to the pumpkin that will make it rot faster. Pick one that feels firm and heavy and that has an even orange colour all over. It’s a good idea to put the pumpkin down on a flat surface to check it will sit steadily after you’ve carved it.

Designing your Jack-o-lantern

If you’re happy with a basic and simple scary face, you can easily draw it on the pumpkin and get carving. If you’d prefer a more impressive or complicated jack-o-lantern, it’s best to look at a few pictures first to base your ideas off. I’ve included some photos of some amazing jack-o-lanterns I’ve found around the web to give you some inspiration:

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Image credits: Logan Ingalls / Jim Murphy / Professor Bop / Philip Hay / Brandi Korte / Makelessnoise / John / Eric Frommer /  Brandi Korte

If you’re carving a complex design into your pumpkin, draw or print out the picture first and then use this to trace around – you can take a craft knife or small sharp kitchen knife or pin and prick it through the paper and the skin of the pumpkin to form a dot-to-dot guideline for you to cut. For simple designs or if you’re confident drawing straight on the pumpkin, just use a sharpie or other permanent marker to draw the design before you start cutting.

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If you have any Halloween cookie cutters, this is also an easy way to create your design as you simply need to press them into the flesh of the pumpkin and then cut around the line.

You can also buy pumpkin carving kits that come with tools to help you create your designs and stencils to cut around.

How to carve a pumpkin

Start by slicing the top off your pumpkin. Draw a circle on the top of your pumpkin, the same size that you want the lid to be. Remember that this needs to be big enough to fit your hand inside. Use a paring knife to cut around the guideline at an angle, pointing in towards the centre of the pumpkin. Remember you need the lid to rest on top of the pumpkin without sliding off. If your pumpkin is small and you’re not going to be carrying it around, you can just cut the top straight off. Cut all the way round in a gentle sawing motion until you can remove the centre piece. put this to one side.

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If your pumkin isn’t level on the bottom you may also want to slice the bottom off your pumpkin so that it sits straight. The easiest way to do this is with a bread knife or long serrated knife. Cut straight across in a sawing motion, being careful only to remove a thin slice. When you’ve finished cutting, this piece can be discarded.

Now it’s time to scoop out the flesh from your pumpkin. Use the scoop from your pumpkin caring kit if you have one, or any spoon will do. Start by scooping out the seeds and the stringy stuff from the middle of the pumpkin and put this to one side. Don’t throw it away as pumpkin seeds can make a tasty snack.

Next, use your spoon or scoop to scrape down the insides of the pumpkin to remove some of the soft flesh. Be careful not to make the sides of your lantern too thin, as this will weaken the pumpkin and it may collapse. Aim to make the sides about an inch thick. You can check the thickness by inserting a pin into the pumpkin in different places.

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IF you’ve not already marked out the guidelines for your design do it now. Decide whether you want to cut the design all the way through, or just carve part of the skin away to form a design on the surface of the pumpkin. The second option will create a more complex and sophisticated look and allows you to create designs with shading as the light from the inside of the lantern will be brighter where you have carved the skin thinner. Here’s a pumpkin I carved a few years ago using this technique:

che guevara pumpkin

If you’re just partially carving through the thickness of the pumpkin, use a craft knife to remove the skin and then a small spoon or other tools to scrape away the flesh to create your desired design.

IF you’re cutting all the way through, use a small saw blade, the pumpkin cutters from your kit or a small, thin knife to pierce all the way through the flesh of the pumpkin and then cut out your design with a sawing motion.

You can also create some beautiful and intricate designs by using a drill to make holes in the pumpkin in patterns.

Once you’ve finished cutting your design, rubbing vaseline over all the cut edges will help your pumpkin jack-o-lantern to last longer. If you’re creating a small lantern for carrying around trick-or-treating, pierce holes in either side of the pumpkin near the top (not too near) so that you can tie on a string handle.

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Jack-O-Lantern Safety

It’s traditional to place a candle inside pumpkin lanterns but if you want to avoid the risk of fire, you could use a small battery-powered electric candle like these ones. These are great especially for lanterns that children will be carrying round as there’s no risk of fire or injury – you probably saw the stories in the news last year about how most commercial halloween costumes are highly flammable. I love these little electric tea lights because they look just like real candles, especially when they’re inside a lantern – they even flicker just like real candles! They also come in different colours which can make for some impressive and spooky effects inside your lantern (blue always works well).

If you do decide to use real candles, go for tealights or small votives and wrap them in aluminium foil if they’re not already in a holder. Use a small blob of melted wax to secure the candle to the bottom of your lantern. If your lantern is small and the lid is close to the flame of the candle, or you’re using a design that isn’t cut all the way through the pumpkin, you’ll need to cut a chimney hole in the lid for ventilation and for smoke and heat to escape.

Halloween Safety Tips for Parents

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Halloween can be a really fun time of year but it can also be a worrying time for parents. Antisocial behaviour increases at this time of year and there is an increase in the reporting of crimes. Teenagers may attend parties that get out of hand, engage in underage drinking and go trick-or-treating at strangers houses. With bonfires and fires around in the runup to Guy Fawkes night, the risk of injury is also greater and there’s also been a recent campaign to change the law regarding children’s costumes as many of them are highly flammable.

Luckily with a few precautions, Halloween can be fun and safe for the whole family and you can get on with enjoying the scary fun with your kids.

Trick or Treating Safety

When I was a child, it was common to see small groups of young children going from door to door on their own, but this is a rarity these days. As a rule of thumb, children under the age of 12 shouldn’t be out by themselves. Children should only trick-or-treat in groups and not by themselves. Always accompany younger children (don’t let them just go out with older siblings) and it’s best to stick to houses you know, on the streets around your house.

Many people, especially the elderly are afraid of trick-or-treaters so this is another good time to only visit houses you know. Make sure you give older children clear boundaries on the houses they may and may not visit and make sure they understand not to bother people inside the house if they do not open the door or have a “no trick-or-treaters” or “do not disturb” sign outside.

You should know where your children are going and when to expect them back. Give them a mobile phone or change for a pay phone in case of emergencies.

Children should never go inside houses if invited, unless they know the owner well.

Make sure your path is well lit – carry a torch as well as traditional jack-o-lanterns and go for artifical tea lights inside them instead of real candles to avoid the chance of your child’s clothing catching alight. Impress on kids the importance of road safety and always looking before they cross the road. Although there might be lots of people out, it’s important to stay on the pavement and not walk on the roads. You might want to sew some reflective strips on their clothing for extra visibility. Giving your kids glow sticks can be another fun way to make sure they stay visible.

Children are twice as likely to be hit by a car on Halloween as on any other night of the year so if you’re driving, make sure you go slowly and take extra care to look out for kids on the road.

While poisoning of trick-or-treat sweets is extremely rare, you might want to check your child’s haul at the end of the night and remove anything that looks like it has been opened or suspicious. Ask your kids not to eat any of their sweets until they get home.

If you’re really worried by the idea of your kids trick-or-treating or you live in an area where it’s not safe for kids to be out after dark, or near a busy road, you might want to consider holding a halloween party at home instead.

Halloween costume safety

Always check children’s costumes are flame retardant. Claudia Winkleman brought the problem of insufficient safety standards for children’s halloween costumes into the public eye earlier this year when she relived the moment her daughter was badly burned after her costume caught fire.

This improved awareness forced manufacturers to improve costume safety and most of the costumes available in the UK this Halloween are flame retardant. It’s still a good idea to check the item description and label of any costume you’re thinking of buying meets the British nightwear flammability safety standard.

Masks can be a danger at night as they cut down on visibility which makes it dangerous when crossing roads. Consider facepaint instead.

Make sure costumes are not too long or have long trailing pieces, as this can be a trip hazard.

How is Halloween Celebrated Around The World?

In the UK we have lots of traditions surrounding Halloween: Trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, making and eating toffee apples and other things that you’ll have been familiar with since you were a child. In other countries, however, Halloween can look quite different.

Here’s a little look at how other countries celebrate Halloween. Maybe you can incorporate some of these ideas into your own Halloween celebrations:

Mexico

Mexico’s Dia de los Meurtos or “Day of the Dead” is celebrated for three days, beginning on the evening of the 31st of October. Families construct an alter in their home to welcome back the spirits of deceased relatives and decorate it with gifts of photographs, flowers (particularly marigolds), sweets, sugar skulls and their favourite food and drink. A bowl of water and towel is also left out so that the returning spirits can wash before enjoying their feast.

Breads and biscuits are made in the shape of skulls and skeletons and the whole family enjoys feasting and celebrations. The graves of loved ones are also cleaned and weeded and decorated with flowers and streamers. Candles and incense are lit to help the dead find their way home. Families gather at the grave site for prayers and it is not uncommon to see family members enjoying picnics or sleeping by graves in the cemetery.

Romania

As you might imagine, Halloween in Romania centres around the famous vampire, Dracula. This mythical character is believed to be based on Vlad the Impaler, who was born in Transylvania. There are many large parties held on Halloween night and re-enactments of witch trials. On a more sombre note, it is traditional for families to light candles in memory of loved ones who have died.

Austria

In Austria, it’s traditional to leave out bread, water, and a lamp before going to bed on Halloween night (just as you might leave a mince pie and glass of brandy out for Father Christmas on Christmas Eve). This is to welcome the dead souls back to earth on the night the boundary between the human and the spirit world has blurred.

China

Food and water are also placed out in China for Halloween, along with photos of the deceased and bonfires and lanterns to help light the way for the spirits returning to earth. Boats are made from paper and then burned as a way of remembered the deceased and to help release their spirit to the immortal realm.

Germany

Halloween is purely a religious holiday in Germany and families visit the church to pray for deceased family members, as well as saints who have died protecting the Catholic faith. It’s also traditional to put away all knives on Halloween night to keep the returning spirits from coming to harm.

Czechoslovakia

in Czechoslovakia, chairs are placed by the fireside on Halloween night. Each family will put out one chair for each family member and one for each person who has died within the family.

Hong Kong

Halloween is known as “Yue Lan” in Hong Kong, or “The Festival of Hungry Ghosts”. It is believed that spirits come down for earth for 24 hours. Families often burn fruit and money as it is believed that this is the way to transport them to deceased family members in the spirit realm.

Japan

American style Halloween celebrations have become more popular with young people in Japan in recent years, but the real celebration is held in July or August and is known as the “Obon” festival. During this time, it is traditional for people to return to their family homes. Houses are cleaned, the family altar is prepared with food and red lanterns and candles are lit. Welcoming fires are lit in front of the family home and it is common for a priest to visit and make special prayers.

The Origins and Meaning of Halloween

When most people think of Halloween, they immediately associate it with ghosts, witches, zombies, vampires and spooky things that only come out at night. Kids look forward to “trick-or-treating” going door to door and recieving gifts of sweets and candy and carrying pumpkin jack-o-lanterns.

But why exactly do we celebrate Halloween and what is the meaning of all these strange traditions?

History of Halloween

The word “Halloween” dates from about 1745 and comes from “All Hallows Eve”, a Christian festival held on the 31st of October to remember the dead. It also has Pagan influences and many associate it with Samhain, the Gaelic festival that celebrates the start of winter. It was thought that at this time of year, it was easier for spirits and fairies to pass through into our world. Many of the customs that we associate with Halloween were originally carried out for Samhain.

Trick-or-Treating

Trick-or-treating seems to have evolved from the practice of “guising”, a practice that started in the 16th century in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. People would go from house to house in disguise and sing songs in exchange for food.

In scotland it was traditional for youths to go to each house wearing masks or blackened faces and threaten to do mischief of some kind if they were not welcomed.

Jack-o-Lanterns

The custom of wearing costumes and playing pranks spread to England in the 20th century and this is when Jack-o-Laterns appeared. These pranksters would light their way with a turnip hollowed out to act as a lantern and often carved with goulish faces.

The use of pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns is actually quite a modern invention after the tradition was brought to American, where pumpikns are more common at that time of year than turnips. In fact turnips were used traditionally in the UK until very recently – when I went trick-or-treating as a child, we always used turnips and the smell of burned turnip and candle wax is one I will always associate with Halloween!

As with many things, the UK has now taken a more American style approach to Halloween and it’s rare that you’ll see a turnip jack-o-lantern on the streets these days. Pumpkins do grow much larger, allowing for more impressive Halloween decorations and they’re much easier to carve.

Bobbing for apples

Apple bobbing is one of the oldest Halloween games and dates back to the Roman invasion of Britain. Apples were introduced at this time and along with them, the game of bobbing for apples, originally as a game for young people to determine which of them would marry first.

Apples would be floated in a barrel of water and the participants would try to take a bite from an apple with their hands tied behind their back. It was said that the first person to bite the apple would be the next one to marry. Apples have long been associated with fertility and marriage since the story of Adam and Eve in the bible.

As it became traditional to partake in feasting and games after the prayers for deceased souls on All Hallows Eve, the two customs merged and bobbing for apples became a popular Halloween activity.

10 Fun Halloween Party Game Ideas

Halloween can be a great excuse to loosen up, get really creative and come up with some spooky, scary, icky messy games that you would never even consider for a birthday party or other normal occasion.

My kids love scary things – I’ve often come in to them watching a ghost story or something else completely inappropriate on the TV (that of course, their father has put on!) and then they scream with protest when I change the channel!

I think most kids, apart from very young ones, like to be scared a bit, if you think back to your own experiences of Halloween you probably just associate it with fun. I vividly remember going through a haunted house with my friend when I was about 8 or 9. One of the rooms had a fake grave filled with leaves and a gravestone. We turned on our torch to read the inscription on the gravestone and somebody suddenly sat up from under the leaves – I nearly had a heart attack!

I think the trick is to take the edge off the scariness by making it light and fun and this is where Halloween games come in!

Choose the activities that are most suitable for the age group of your kids. I’ve found younger kids love messy sensory games and anything involving storytelling. Older kids prefer competitive games and games of skill.

1. Wrap The Mummy

This is a fun game for kids of all ages. Split the party into two or more groups and give each a roll of toilet paper. Designate one child “The Mummy”. The other kids must race to wrap their mummy up in toilet paper – the group of whichever mummy is wrapped and races across the finish line first wins.

2. Halloween Blindfold Feeling Game

This is an oldie but a goodie! You’ll need to do a bit of preparation beforehand but it’s worth it. Set up a series of cardboard boxes with a hole that is large enough to put a hand inside but not to see in (keeping the lighting dim helps). The kids have to put their hand in and guess what’s inside by touch alone. The more discusting, the better! Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Cold cooked spagetti (worms)
  • Peeled grapes (eyeballs)
  • Whole boiled cabbage (brains)
  • Jelly (slime)
  • Pipecleaners (spiders)
  • Tinned tomatoes (guts)
  • A soft toy (rat)
  • Dried apricots (ears)

3. Pin the Head on the Skeleton

A twist on a classic. Draw or print a large skeleton and stick it to the wall. Keep the head cut out separately and get the children to try and stick it in the right place while blindfolded.

4. Bobbing For Apples

A Halloween classic! Fill a large tub with water and float several apples in in. Participants have to take it in turns to grab an apple with their mouths while their hands are tied behind their back. A less wet alternative is to tie ring donuts hanging from the ceiling at mouth height. Hang up several and line up the kids with their hands tied behind their backs. The first one to eat their donut wins.

5. Worm Eating Contest

Give each contestant a plate with 4 jelly worms, topped with lots of squirty cream. Tie their hands behind their backs and announce that the first one to finish eating their worms wins. Sit back and watch the chaos!

6. Halloween Treasure Hunt

Buy several small Halloween toys (skeletons, pumpkins, ghosts etc) and chocolates/lollipops/sweets and hide them around the house. Whoever finds them gets to keep them! This is a great game for smaller children.

7. Sleeping Corpses

If you find the kids are getting overexcited, this is a great game to calm everyone down again. Everyone has to lie down on the floor and play dead. Anyone making any movement or noise is out. The winner is the last one left on the floor.

8. Decorating Toffee Apples

This is more of an activity than a game but it’s lots of fun and always a hit at Halloween parties. First prepare several bowls with different toppings – hundreds and thousands, jelly sweets, chocolate buttons, etc. Make up a batch of toffee and allow it to cool until it’s warm but still liquid. give each child an apple with a stick in it and let them dip it in the toffee and then decorate their apple how they choose. Leave to cool and set before eating.

9. Halloween storytelling

Sit in a circle and start with an opening prompt “It was a dark and stormy night…”; “There was a knock at the door…”; “One night I looked out of the window and saw…”. Each player in the circle must make up a new sentence to add to the story until you get back to the start.

10. Blindfold Haunted House

This is easier to set up than a traditional haunted house. Prepare one room of your house – hang up streamers and old sheets that you have to walk through, hang furry rubber spiders from the ceiling, toss popcorn on the floor, and play spooky music. You can combine this with the blindfold feeling game if you wish. Blindfold each child before they enter and guide them around the room.