Healthy Halloween dinner for kids

October is a big month at my house. Between family and friends, we have more than 12 birthdays, plus Halloween…and that means lots of parties and planning. One of the main events, of course, is the Halloween celebration. It’s inarguably the most titillating holiday for kids—ghoulish masks, creepy outings in the dark,  treat bags bulging with forbidden goodies.

Of course, the post- trick-or-treat meltdowns are scary for us grownups. You can outlaw the candy altogether. You can ration it or sell it to the dentist or donate it to the troops or whatever else people do with all that candy. Or you can succumb. Give them a nourishing, blood-sugar-balancing dinner before they step foot out the door with their costumes and bags and eager little faces, then let them have at it. As much as that makes me cringe, I also know it’s just one night. And it’s what you do most of the time, not some of the time, that counts.

Of course, the real trick is getting them to eat before they go for treats. Some ideas for dinner:

First step: create a festive setting. Blow up black and orange balloons, scatter confetti across the eating table, and write guests’ names (even if it’s just family) on mini-pumpkins for place cards. For a centerpiece, use a big jack ‘o lantern, or turn a witch’s hat on its side and fill with whole fruit and nuts for a spooky cornucopia. Then, design a menu simple enough to fix in a snap, exciting enough to intrigue even picky eaters. Try the following tips for an easy meal–with more nutrients than you can say “boo” to:

• Worms on a bun.This totally grosses me out, but kids love them: cut organic hot dogs lengthwise into six strips, then make a few shallow cuts on the skin side of each. Cook in olive oil until hot dog strips curl up like worms.

• Pumpkin hummus: Combine equal parts cooked pumpkin puree and cooked white beans or garbanzo beans, then puree until smooth. Serve in a round dish, with sliced black olives for a jack ‘o lantern eyes, nose and mouth, and a zucchini top for a pumpkin stem. Add raw vegetables on the side–red and yellow peppers, carrot and celery sticks—for nutritious dipping.

• Egg jack-o-lanterns: Color hard-boiled eggs in 2 tablespoons turmeric, 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1 pint hot water to make them orange. Let them dry, and have kids make eerie faces with black markers.

• Sweet potato fingers in blood sauce. Cut sweet potatoes into French-fry strips,  toss in olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes in a 400-degree-F oven. Salt them to taste, and serve in a dish of ketchup “blood.”

• Green slime. Combine a cup of yogurt, half a banana and a tablespoon of green foods powder in a blender, and puree until smooth, thick and nice ‘n slimy.  Serve in small, clear glasses for maximum gross appeal.

For beverages, serve sparkling water spiked with a little apple cider. You can also add a few cubes of fly ice (fill ice trays with water, drop a small raisin or two in each compartment—or use small plastic flies—and freeze). And send them on their way for more treats, and less tricks.