foodbuzz 24 x 24: a healthy halloween

When I was young, my cousin and I would, at his insistence, spread out our trick-or-treating loot on his bedroom floor. I would trade him my Mambas for his Starbursts, his Milk Duds for my Sugar Babies. He would then proceed to consume the entire haul in the course of a few days while I would stash mine under my bed, removing one piece at a time for the next year. Sometimes I would forget about the bag altogether. I’ve never been much of a candy person.

As my daughter grows of the age where trick-or-treating and candy consumption will become an inevitability, I wonder what mind she’ll be of when she walks in the door with that heavy sack of treats. I want her to enjoy Halloween—it’s a time of the year when the mood lightens, kids are given permission to be someone else for a while, neighbors open their doors. What I don’t want her to learn is that this holiday, like many others in the grand ole USA, should be about stuffing one’s face with tons of junk.

That’s why when the opportunity came about to participate in this month’s Foodbuzz 24×24 challenge, I leapt feet first into creating a healthy Halloween meal for kids. Ghosts and ghouls need more than sugar and candy, and you can still make the day a memorable one for kids with fun, healthy foods that taste great. At least then when you send them out for trick-or-treating, you know that their tummies will be full of good things. At least you tried.

So last Saturday for our Foodbuzz 24×24 meal, Lucy’s best pals came over for a Halloween lunch. On the spooky menu: Tomataaah! Soup, Ghoulfish, and Scream Crackers spread with creamy pumpkin butter.

For the Ghoulfish, I took the concept of the classic kid’s fish cracker and turned it into one made with natural ingredients. They contain (gasp!) real cheddar cheese and whole wheat flour. I cut them into fun bat and ghost shapes and served them in tiny personal pumpkins that the kids loved to carry around the party.

They were crunchy, cheesy, and the kids gobbled them right up.

Even our resident fireman thought they were crunch-tastic.

Our scary soup stemmed from my earlier take on the classic red-canned soup (minus the high fructose corn syrup and preservatives), decorated simply with piped sour cream to create spiderwebs. I think soups are a perfect way to stuff some vegetables into toddlers. They can drink it lukewarm though a straw, or poured into their favorite sippy cup.

Dorothy thought the Tomataaah! Soup was a scream.

And finally for a little something sweet, I re-created the all time kid favorite: graham crackers. It’s a simple recipe consisting of butter, whole wheat flour and brown sugar, but the results are tastier than anything you can buy in the store. Cut into fun shapes, they’ll fly off the plate. I used a 3″ pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter, but you could also cut them into the classic rectangular shape.

As a spread I created some creamy pumpkin butter, which the adults adored and the kids licked off the crackers. Plus (bonus!) it sneaks another vegetable into the mix.

Before leaving on his next mission to space, our NASA engineer fueled up on these puppies.

And then he put on some pink cowgirl boots and climbed into the space shuttle.

Our healthy Halloween lunch was such a fun success. Thanks to Foodbuzz for the opportunity to host this event and create these recipes. A big thank you to my friends who put up with my crazy food blogging endeavors and only laugh at me occasionally. Thank you to my adorable husband Dave who cleaned and kid-wrangled all morning.

But most of all, thanks to Dorothy, Fireman, Sheriff, Hockey Player, Astronaut and my daughter Lucy (who tantrumed her way out of her Baby Gaga costume). You kids inspire me to make the world a better place for you to eat. I hope that someday you’ll be trading candy with each other on the bedroom floor. Just don’t eat in all in one day.

Happy Halloween!


Ghoulfish: Cheese Crackers

Think of these as a much tastier version of Goldfish. If your child is picky about how they look, use all white flour or consider adding a few drops of orange food coloring. Yield: 90-100 1-1 1/2″ crackers.

  • 1/2 lb (8 oz) medium or sharp cheddar cheese, cubed
  • 1/2 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • several turns freshly ground pepper
  • 5-6 tbsp whole milk

Pulse cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade attachment until it resembles a coarse meal. Add the flours, parmesan, salt and pepper and pulse to combine. With the food processor running, add milk one tablespoon at a time, stopping when dough just comes together into one large ball.

Separate dough into thirds. Roll out each piece between 2 sheets of parchment or wax paper to 1/8″-1/4″ thickness. Refrigerate sheets of dough for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350F. Using a 1-1 1/2″ cookie cutter, cut the dough into desired shapes (if you don’t have a very small cookie cutter, consider cutting them into 1″ squares with a sharp knife). Bake in batches of 30-35 for 13-15 minutes until crackers have puffed and edges are becoming golden brown. Let cool before serving.

Tomataaah! Soup: Homemade Creamy Tomato Soup

The type of milk you use will determine the creaminess of the soup (whole=very creamy, nonfat=not very creamy). When you’re shopping for the tomato sauce and paste, make sure you select varieties with the simplest ingredients possible. The soup will keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator and freezes well. Yield: approximately 5 cups, or 4-5 servings.

  • 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 6-oz can tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt plus more to taste
  • 2 cups milk

Stir together the first 6 ingredients in a pot over medium heat. Bring just to simmer, then slowly pour in the milk. Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired. Bring back to a simmer (or just to your desired serving temperature) and remove from heat. Slurp and enjoy.

Scream Crackers: Graham Crackers

These sweet treats lie somewhere between a cookie and a cracker. They’re great cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters or formed into rectangles like the store-bought version. If you don’t have apple cider, or don’t want to buy a whole jug for just 4 tablespoons worth, simply substitute water.  Makes 30-40 3″ crackers.

  • 1 c all purpose flour, plus more for surface
  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 c wheat germ (“natural raw” or “untoasted”)
  • 1/2 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cubed
  • 4-5 tablespoons apple cider

Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor fitted with steel blade attachment. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal. With the food processor running, add apple cider one tablespoon at a time, stopping when dough just comes together into one large ball.

On a floured surface, divide dough into thirds. Roll out dough into a 1/8″-thick sheet, adding more flour when necessary to prevent sticking. Cut into desired shapes (I used a 3″ pumpkin cookie cutter) and pierce each shape a few time with the tines of a fork. Repeat with remaining dough and scrap dough.

Bake 8-10 crackers at a time on a parchment-lined baking sheet (don’t crowd the pan too much or the crackers will not bake evenly) in a preheated 350F oven for 10-12 minutes, until edges begin to turn golden brown. Cool on a wire rack before serving.

Creamy Pumpkin Butter

“Butter” is really a misnomer for this type of dish—it’s more like a spread or a jam. It’s delicious spread on crackers or cookies, as a dip for apples, and would even be tasty as a cake filling. Canned it makes a great gift. Yield: 2 cups pumpkin butter.

  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/2 c packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 c apple cider
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 whole cloves
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and stir well. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring often to prevent burning, until all visible liquid has disappeared and mixture is thick, about 7-10 minutes. Remove cloves. Let cool before serving.