What NOT to Hand Out on Halloween
I am that neighbor who turns off her lights and closes the curtains, hoping the kids won't hear the movie I'm watching blaring inside. It's not that I'm a stingy person, or that I'm some crank who hates holidays focused on kids. Who doesn't find it absolutely adorable when a three-year-old in a tutu shows up at the door holding out a plastic pumpkin?
I just feel guilty about handing out loads of processed junk food to my neighbors' kids. Although I am not a parent, and I don't have to deal with the sugar high at bedtime, I do like my neighbors. In the past I've tried to come up with some amazing healthy alternative to bite-sized candy bars that won't result in egg stains on my house or a smashed jack-o-lantern the morning after. (See also: 10 Things to Do With Leftover Candy)
But It pained me to see the disappointment in their tiny faces when I throw in that box of raisins or snack-sized bags of pretzels or nuts (before peanut allergies became so prominent). One year, I thought I'd compromise and buy organic lollipops flavored with fruit juice, and a kid dressed as Spider Man unabashedly said, "Awww, these suck!"
This year, I thought I'd take a different approach. I searched the Internet and asked some of the parents I know about some popular substitutes for the standard Halloween treats. What I found wasn't much different from the same alternatives to processed sugar that I have tried in the past. I did learn some new suggestions, but I can tell you from my experience with kids what doesn't work for them or their parents, and why.
Here's a list of treats that I would NOT suggest handing out on Halloween, keeping in mind that the commentary is all in good fun but also practical.
1. Homemade Items
This one should be a no-brainer, right? But you would be surprised at the number of people who still hand out homemade cookies and popcorn balls to today's kids. There's enough hysteria surrounding tampered Halloween candy, not to mention food allergies, that your hard work will most likely go into the trash once it gets home. Don't waste your time making treats at home.
Kids earn more allowance than most adults earn at a minimum wage job. They will not be impressed with a nickel or quarter, and if you're handing out a dollar or more to each trick-or-treater, you're going to end up spending a lot more than you would've on a bag or two of candy. Hand out money to homeless people instead (seriously).
I thought it was a joke when someone told me that one of her neighbors handed out slips of paper with individual jokes on them. Half the kids showing up at your door can't read, and the ones who can will only appreciate it if it's wrapped around a piece of Laffy Taffy.
While parents will appreciate the battle against all the cavities their children may get after polishing off their loot, the kids will not appreciate it in the least. Expect toothpaste smeared on your mailbox the next morning if you try this one.
5. Mini Pumpkins
It's October 31st, and kids have had an entire month of decorating pumpkins and gourds and any other winter vegetable teachers can get their hands on. Plus, they are expensive and will only add dead weight to the loaded bags of candy.
6. Soon-to-Be-Trash Trinkets
I think some trinkets won't immediately end up in the trash, but not many. Stickers, pencils, and sidewalk chalk are a few examples; however, it really depends on the age and how much you are willing to spend. As a rule, don't give them anything that they would get as birthday party favors. Leave that to the hosting parents to haggle over what qualifies as junk (below are a few more specific examples).
Mom and Dad may be the ones to egg your house if you hand out whistles or noisemakers. For the sake of the neighborhood, do NOT hand out anything that makes noise.
I cannot name a single child I know (and I do have a lot of friends with children) who collect stamps or have any need for them, since their parents are the ones who stamp and address all the Thank You cards to the Grandparents.
9. Unfinished Wood Items
I couldn't believe it when I saw this alternative treat listed on an anonymous blog, with a hyperlink to an online craft store that sells wooden cutouts for adults! Most kids don't keep acrylic paints lying around, nor do their parents want to buy paint just for one small art project. This one can be filed under soon-to-be-trash trinkets.
10. Cartoon Band-Aids
This is only impressive if you hand out an entire box. One bandage will get you a, "What's this for?" response from every kid on the block.
Unless you are hip to the latest craze in kid bling (and believe me, it changes weekly), don't waste your money.
Aside from the expense of buying individual packages of confetti, this novelty item is sure to end its short life inside a vacuum cleaner.
Like the toothpaste, expect to see the remnants of this handout on the windows of your car in the morning.
14. Rocks and Minerals
The only way you're getting away with this one is if you're an elementary school Science teacher, and even then, I don't think I need to inform you about the post-Halloween looks you'll get in class.
15. Seed Packets
Most kids are not into gardening, and if they are, they would probably rather have the candy.
Razor blades aside, apples are plentiful this time of year. Kids expect a "treat" on Halloween. If you don't want to see mopey faces, don't hand out another MacIntosh.
Again, think treats. Kids get plenty of crayon usage at school and at home. Markers apply to the same rule. Only decorative or glow-in-the-dark writing utensils are considered a treat.
18. Yarn Bracelets
I refer you to my earlier statement about kid bling.
19. Trail Mix
If it has chocolate in it, some trail mix is an acceptable alternative to a Snicker's bar. But you have to weigh that with the cost of individual packages, considering that you can't make your own because of the "no homemade treats" rule of thumb.
20. Organic and "Healthy" Treats
The treats sold in health food stores, such as organic chocolate and honey sticks*, are great to give to trick-or-treaters, but most kids won't know the difference. And they won't care. Even if your conscience is on the line, these treats are wildly expensive, especially if you live in a largely populated area. You will have to turn out the lights an hour into the festivities if you go with any of the treats you find at the health food store.
Let's face it, Halloween is the one time of year that kids are allowed to indulge. And it is up to the parents to decide how much sugar they will allow their kids to eat in one sitting. I say go buy the bag of candy and be done with it. But go while you have a few weeks left, before all the good junk food is sold out.
*Note that doctors do not recommend giving honey to children under two years old.