DIY: No tricks, just thoughts on treats

Halloween candy staple: Candy corn.
Halloween candy staple: Candy corn. Creative Commons

Being a DIYer is a toughie when it comes to Halloween treats. Magazines and websites are rife with beautiful food-gift ideas, all of which I want to try.

Who wouldn’t enjoy a pretty little cupcake with a gooey-frosting brain on top? Who wouldn’t want to bite down on a crunchy witch’s finger cookie, or munch on a chocolaty bat’s wing? I then imagine exactly how pleased all those little trick-or-treaters would be to receive such treats, as I imagine myself washing down my house front were I to make such a mistake. Resigned, I head over to a box mart and get the treat job done.

If you intend to give trick-or-treaters nonpackaged food items or homemade goods – apples, cookies, cupcakes and other baked treats, for example – chances are your efforts (and investment) will be wasted. A majority of parents insist that children throw these items into the trash out of fear of poisoning or other contamination.

Such is the staying power of really scary urban legends. My childhood was rife with stories of razor-blade-laced, needle-infested and tack-laden candies, stories that have persisted to this day.

But according to, the website dedicated to investigating all manner of rumors and viral conjecture, it appears that thus far all such claims of police-documented cases of randomly distributed poisoned Halloween treats are false. Which is to say: Despite what your best friend’s mother’s cousin’s next door neighbor told you, there has never been a documented case of someone poisoning Halloween treats with the intent of randomly poisoning scores of children.

What is fact, however, is that Halloween candy has been inaccurately blamed as the source of other accidental poisonings (a child mistakenly ingesting an uncle’s heroin stash, for example) or, as in one case, using the “poisoned candy” urban legend as a coverup for a deliberate murder on a specific child (specifically the 1974 poisoning by Ronald Clark O’Bryan of his 8-year-old son, Timothy).

“What about the razor blades?” you cry. “I swear that’s happened!” And here you would be correct, but not wildly. Stories of candy contaminated by razor blades, needles and tacks have been documented. Such contamination appears to be extremely rare – again, according to Snopes, about 80 cases “of sharp objects in food incidents” have been reported since 1959, and “almost all were hoaxes.” And by hoax, Snopes means someone known to the receiver playing a prank, or riffing on the urban legend.

My point with all this: Let’s tone down the hysteria a little bit. Yes, still check your kids’ treats – it’s never a bad idea (especially to remove the often more emotionally-harmful pieces of religious or political dogma people often find necessary to foist upon children) – but don’t give out homemade treats to kids who don’t know you personally.

Note what I said there: kids who don’t know you personally. Just because you may know a child, doesn’t mean that child knows you. Thus, if you really want to impress the neighbors with your mad baking skills and Halloween creativity, it’s best to create a plate and hand-deliver it to the parents – with a nice little handmade “Happy Halloween” label with your name on it, because that’s just plain polite.

Back to your door-to-door visitors: If homemade is out, what should you give? Here are a few ideas:

▪ Prepackaged candy. Obviously I’m going way out on a limb here and suggesting something no one ever gives ever in the history of ever (sarcasm alert). But everyone does the sugar thing – except maybe the dentist, and only because he can afford to give away the tiny tubes of toothpaste.

▪ Small, age-appropriate toys. There are a plethora of online stores you can still hit in time for the holiday. Bulk prices are about the same as candy prices. Small toys to consider: super balls, mini toy cars, bubbles, small army men, plastic animals, plastic dinosaurs, Play-Doh, balloons, beads and string, Legos. (Reminder: Small objects may not be safe for really little ones).

▪ Salty snacks. These come individually packaged and make a nice alternative to sugar. Consider: chips, pretzels, nuts, popcorn, and crackers and cheese. Plus, you can never buy too many because nom-nom-nom.

▪ Fruit snacks. Also prepackaged, these sweet chews are pretty tasty and often sweetened with fruit juice.

▪ Money. I’m probably an old-fashioned anomaly, but as a kid, I was always pleasantly surprised to receive nickles, pennies and other change while trick-or-treating. Candy was anticipated, but as a young child, I had no sense of its value. Conversely, I knew what coins were worth and they always impressed me. There’s still a chance that actual money holds some interest out there. Who knows. If you’re running low on treats, hit the small coins in your money jar.

A final note to parents: When it comes to trick-or-treating, I hear from readers quite often on this point, and felt compelled to share. Whatever Halloween may mean to your family personally, perhaps consider the holiday a lesson in gratitude and appreciation for your children. As they go door-to-door receiving treats, please remind kids of the importance of a well-placed “Happy Halloween!” greeting, and perhaps more importantly, the closing “thank you.”