How to Make Halloween Memories


Taking the sugar out of Halloween is a worthy goal, and Childhood Obesity News has been looking at how to make the holiday so interesting and satisfying in other ways that the absence of high-calorie treats will not be seriously missed. We talked about substituting cute or fascinating little objects for candy in the trick-or-treat game, and that idea can be expanded even further.

This is an especially fertile ground for any family lucky enough to live in a house. A front yard is the ultimate bonus playground for Halloween fun. You can make tombstones from cardboard and prop them up with sticks, for instance. The same goes for weird little gnome-like figures, black cats with arched backs, and so forth.

Now, some might say, “We can buy those things” — but that is a temptation to be avoided. The whole idea here is to create absorbing activities that a child can take part in, and fill the weeks that lead up to the holiday with these activities. Another advantage of cardboard is that it doesn’t need to be stored until next year, but can be recycled.

If there is a porch, so much the better. Spider webs are the obvious go-to decoration, and they are moderately priced at stores. Make a witch’s cauldron, use weird glow-stick lighting — the Internet is full of ideas for spooky stage settings. A child with a theatrical streak might find that staying on a porch, cackling and stirring a cauldron, and handing out sugar-free trinkets, sounds more attractive than trekking around the neighborhood.

Yards and porches are not essential. If the neighborhood is safe enough a family might use the front hall or foyer for the Halloween den. Decorate it to the max, dress up, play spooky music, engage in performance art to your heart’s content, and have a ball. Older kids with the space and the ambition can make a backyard or garage into a haunted house. The point here is that preparation keeps the kids busy and provides the opportunity for creative participation from the whole family.

Different circumstances, different kids

Maybe the situation doesn’t allow for such public displays of Halloween spirit. One low-impact alternative is to use the time that precedes the holiday to write and illustrate an original ghost story. Even indoors, there are plenty of challenging and entertaining creative projects. Plain white masks are very cheap, and can be decorated in many different ways with crayons, markers, paint, and glued-on odds and ends.

If there isn’t much space, miniaturize. Make a Halloween roombox, which is similar to a dollhouse, but has only one room. Use odds and ends of cloth, plastic, string, styrofoam, or whatever is around, to create furniture and monsters; and use a small flashlight, LED lights or glow sticks to create an eerie effect.

Many parents shy away from pumpkin carving because of the mess factor. This is where those cute little miniature pumpkins enter the picture. They too can be carved, or drawn on, or decorated in other ways. The object is to give kids something to do other than obsess about a trove of candy, and fill up time with creative activity that they enjoy.

Dress-up time

Which brings us to costumes. Every family should have a dress-up box to throw odds and ends into all year. When Halloween approaches see what can be made from the collected discards. This is a suggestion we’ve made before, and it might help to keep a trick-or-treater from chowing down before the candy even comes home.

Consider some kind of outfit where the child’s mouth is blocked by a duck bill or something. If they’re trick-or-treating around the neighborhood, you don’t want their vision impaired. But a mask that covers the lower part of the face is an excellent way to prevent candy from being consumed en route.

In most kids, the love of costuming is so strong that it can be harnessed in a very positive way. Make a real project out of it, and sugar lust might take a backseat. When all the people are satisfactorily dressed, start in on the pet. Pinterest points to thousands of ideas for Halloween fun, many of them unconnected with food in any way.


If your family is fortunate enough to live in a city where haunted houses materialize just before Halloween every year, see how many of them you can visit. Explore the feasibility of walking to biking to these destinations, for the exercise value. If your city has secondhand stores, visit them, and again think about traveling on foot or by bike if at all possible.

Leading up to Halloween, devote an afternoon (or several) to rummaging around in search of inspiration for your costume or home decor. Browsing the racks and shelves at a thrift store can be so absorbing kids might even forget to nag for soda and junk food.

You get the picture. Redesign the Halloween tradition to emphasize creativity and family togetherness, and maybe by the time the actual holiday rolls around, candy will be the last thing on your kids’ minds. It’s worth a try.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Photo credit (from left to right): Trish Hamme via Visualhunt/CC BY
Photo credit: Logan Ingalls via Visualhunt/CC BY
Photo credit: Eric.Ray via Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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