With Halloween here — and sugar being the unofficial star of this holiday — creating healthy Halloween-themed treats can be a daunting task. In her story “Along Came a Spider” from our book about food and love, Debra Ayers Brown recalls the time she was told to send in a nutritious, homemade Halloween snack for her daughter’s preschool class.
Great. We don’t just send a snack. We have to make them, and they have to pass the creativity test. I could feel the Ghosts of Halloween Past looking over my shoulder to make sure that we passed muster on our first major assignment: pre-k snacks.
And then it hit me. We had to make NUTRITIOUS snacks for Halloween. Wasn’t that an oxymoron? Halloween was one day of the year that you could have treats. Would anyone eat greens or grains on Halloween?
“How difficult can it be?” Allen said. “It’s just a snack.”
By now my blood pressure was elevated. My rational brain whispered with an angelic voice: You can hold a press conference, write a grant and design a brochure without thinking. You can do this. The red-tailed, forked-tongue monster on my shoulder reminded me with a snicker: That doesn’t matter here. You have trouble getting Meredith to eat healthy. How are you going to get 15 students to eat anything nutritious, creative or not?
A new fear sneaked in. What if no one ate them? Would Meredith be ridiculed on the playground? We couldn’t afford to slip into a nutritional nightmare.
I explained the dilemma to my mom on the phone.
“Ask Meredith what she likes,” Mom advised. “That will tell you what her friends will eat.”
So I sat down with Meredith for a serious discussion. After eliminating ice cream, chocolate treats and anything from McDonald’s, we settled on peanut butter, raisins and pretzels. Nothing exotic or creative, but it was a start.
By accident, I found the perfect treat with Meredith’s ingredients when I flipped through a magazine. A bewitching eight-legged pretzel spider screamed creative, nutritious and tasty from the glossy page. Peanut butter between two Ritz crackers held the eight pretzel legs. A dab of PB held the raisin eyes. I couldn’t wait to get Meredith’s reaction.
She gave it two thumbs up.
On the night before snack day, I planned to fix the pretzel spiders. So I grabbed the raisins, a box of Ritz crackers and a jar of peanut butter.
Finally, I felt in control, until I heard, “Can I make them?”
“No,” I wanted to say to Meredith because I still had to make dinner ... get her into the bath ... and organize her Cinderella princess costume. But then I looked at her expectant face full of excitement and hope.
“Sure,” I said. “Wash your hands.”
During the preparation of the pretzel spiders, we talked, giggled and made a memory that future Halloween experiences wouldn’t diminish ... and still managed to get everything done before bedtime.
The next morning we arrived early. Meredith straightened her silver crown and smoothed the poufy blue skirt of her Cinderella dress. I took the tray and the bag of juice boxes from the car. The citrusy scent she’d deemed fit for a princess lingered. Her glittery shoes sparkled.
Immediately, costumed classmates leaned over the cellophane-covered tray. A cowboy said, “I want that one!” And then the all-important question surfaced. “Did you make them?”
Meredith beamed and nodded yes.
Ms. Mimi smiled.
Meredith said, “Mom let me put the peanut butter on the crackers ... and I stuck on the legs and eyes.” The crowd studied the snack. “Wow,” a pirate said. “Your mom is so cool to let you make spiders.”
“I know,” she said, and her dark eyes sparkled.
In that moment, I realized that I’d passed a major test, and it had nothing to do with the nutritious snacks that had dominated my thoughts for weeks. Even then I realized that pretzel spiders would always occupy a special place in my heart. And a nutritious snack could hold its own with bags of candy, chocolate treats and anything from McDonald’s.