There’s no sense in trying to avoid candy altogether during the Halloween season, but sometimes you need some sweets and treats that aren’t candy.
Prepackaged candy makes sense when you are handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, but for Halloween parties and play dates, it’s fun to come up with spooky snacks that aren’t filled with caramel, nougat and however much sugar Reese’s puts in peanut butter to make it taste so good.
The most basic healthy Halloween treats I’ve seen are peeled mandarin oranges with a little twig of celery in the top for a stem and bananas cut into half (or thirds) with mini chocolate chip “eyes” that make them look like ghosts. For a savory snack, you could use a cookie cutter to cut witches, ghosts and pumpkins out of slices of cheese.
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Rice Krispie Treats are full of butter and marshmallows, but with some orange food coloring, you can shape them into little pumpkins and use pretzels for the stem. One food blogger I found online came up with the brilliant idea of using green Airheads to shape into leaves on the top.
Airheads by themselves could inspire a hands-on kids’ craft project. Brightly colored and easy to soften and shape in small hands, this stretchy candy can mold like clay into anything their minds can come up with. Not exactly nutritionally meaningful, but fun nonetheless.
If you’re avoiding food coloring, you can use spinach to turn banana muffins bright green and call them “Frankenmuffins.” (Whether you tell the kids what’s in them is up to you.)
I love pepitas, but I don’t love roasted pumpkin seeds that come from carving pumpkins. If you’re looking for a recipe to use them up, try Kris Coronado’s pumpkin seed clusters, which rely on melted chocolate and marshmallows to make little nests of roasted seeds.
For kids who have dexterity with small paring knives, you could make the dehydrated apple jack-o-lanterns (or skulls) that food writer Ari LeVaux shared in his most recent Flash in the Pan column.
If you’re looking for a more simple apple project, try cutting thin slices and then spreading one side with peanut butter and filling in the sandwich with marshmallow “teeth.” The result looks like a wide-mouthed smile that isn’t exactly scary, but it’s a lot more pleasant to look at than cookies that look like severed fingers or peeled grapes that look like eyeballs.
Apples are the second-most popular fruit in America, after bananas, but fruit, alas, is not as popular as candy. I’m not suggesting people give out apples for Halloween, but if you have a bunch of apples, perhaps some with blemishes, you can carve them into apple jack-o’-lanterns.
My family carved a bunch of apples one night. The next day, when my son was at school, I took a nibble off the corner of one of his, and my eyes got as big as his ghoul’s. We had rubbed them with lime juice to keep the apple jack-o-lanterns from browning, and that, it turns out, adds extra zing that is shockingly delicious.
A dehydrator with shelving you can space widely enough to accommodate an entire apple is the device of choice with which to make these sweet and sassy skulls. If this project becomes the impetus to buy a dehydrator, you won’t be sorry. Also extremely helpful: a tomato corer or similar cutting spoon.
— Ari LeVaux
Apples, the bigger the better
Lime or lemon juice
Peel the apple, going around its “equator,” while leaving a bit of peel around the stem end and its opposite “pole.” When peeled, look at the apple and decide where the face should be. Then use the coring spoon to scoop out the core from the opposite side, leaving a big hole in the back of the head. Scooping the insides allows the apple jack-o’-lanterns to dry more quickly.
Next, carve the mouth, then the eyes and nose. (I found that if I started with the eyes, I didn’t leave enough room for the mouth. That is the extent of any artistic advice that I should be giving, other than to make sure the nose is smaller than the eyes.)
Rub the carved apple with lemon or lime juice and place in the center of a dehydrator, with the temperature at 135, for about 12 hours. If using an oven, set it on the lowest setting, with convection on if you’ve got it, and keep a watchful eye on the apples for about 2 to 6 hours, depending on the situation.
Whatever equipment you employ, you should test your process all the way through with just an apple or two before carving your personal army of sweet ghouls. You are not only testing your gear but your technique and process. Learn how it dries, with or without pieces of peel. If a big scary mouth clenches into a grimace, pry it open into more of a primordial scream. Little touches like that can make all the difference on Halloween.
— Ari LeVaux
You’re probably thinking, “Why is a banana muffin green?” It’s from the spinach that colors the batter but doesn’t leave a trace of vegetable flavor. Friends in the cafeteria might not be begging for a taste of your “scary” muffin. You can either let them in on the secret and be ready to share, or smile and keep the treat all to yourself.
You’ll need more than one 12-well muffin pan; if you have only one, you can bake in batches. Cover and refrigerate the reserved batter until 15 minutes before you use it.
The muffins can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. They can also be frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost in a microwave on high for 10 seconds before serving.
— Christina Barron
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup regular or low-fat milk
1 large banana, cut into chunks (1/2 cup packed)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 16 wells in 2 standard-size muffin pans with paper liners (preferably Halloween-appropriate) or grease them with cooking oil spray.
Whisk together the all-purpose and whole-wheat flours, the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a mixing bowl.
Combine the oil, milk and spinach in a blender; puree until smooth, then add the banana and the vanilla extract. Puree until smooth (and green). Pour into the flour mixture; use a flexible spatula to stir until no dry spots of flour are left.
To make things easy, pour some of the batter into a large measuring cup with a spout; use that to pour enough batter to fill each muffin well 2/3 full. Bake for about 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each muffin comes out clean.
— Adapted from the October 2014 issue of Family Fun magazine
Pumpkin Seed Clusters
After carving a ghoulishly great jack-o’-lantern, don’t toss aside the seeds from the pumpkin. Transform them into pumpkin seed clusters to share with Halloween doorbell ringers.
One small tip: Pumpkins vary in size, and this recipe is made with 1 cup of seeds in mind. If you have 2 cups of seeds, for example, simply double the chocolate and marshmallows.
Trying to stop eating these tasty treats? That’s a harder trick.
— Kris Coronado
Olive oil baking spray
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups of mini marshmallows
1 cup of milk chocolate chips
Remove any pumpkin bits from the seeds with your fingers, then place them in a measuring cup. (This way you’ll know the amount of seeds for the recipe.)
Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Pour seeds into a colander, place the colander in a kitchen sink and rinse with water.
Transfer the seeds onto a baking tray. Spread into a single layer with a spoon. Squirt a few times with baking spray, then sprinkle with salt. Turn seeds with the spoon to make sure they are evenly covered.
Place the tray on the oven’s center rack. Bake 20 minutes. Remove the tray and put it on the stove-top. Gently stir the seeds with the spoon, then return the pan to the oven to bake 20 more minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven. Seeds should appear toasted golden. If not, stir and bake a few more minutes. Allow the seeds to cool 10 minutes. Lift the aluminum foil, with seeds on it, off the tray. Bend the foil in on itself to pour the seeds (like a chute) into a large mixing bowl.
Measure mini marshmallows and add to the seed bowl. Place a sheet of wax paper onto the cooled baking sheet.
Measure chocolate chips, then pour them into a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with a paper towel and heat on high in the microwave oven for 45 seconds. After removing, stir quickly with a spoon to make a melted mixture. If the chips aren’t melted, microwave at 15-second intervals, stirring after each time, until the chocolate is smooth.
Add melted chocolate to the seed and marshmallow bowl, stirring to mix. When done, plop rounded spoonfuls of the mixture onto the waxed paper-covered tray. Afterward, place the tray in a refrigerator for 30 minutes so candy hardens.
Boo yeah! Your pumpkin seed clusters are ready. Share them on a plate or place them in small treat bags.
— Kris Coronado, for The Washington Post