Children's Halloween Parties: Beware The 'Yuck Factor'

October 27, 1991|By Charlyne Varkonyi

Lucky you. It's your turn to plan a Halloween party for the little goblins in the neighborhood or for your child's school.

We sympathize. You must have been experiencing a lack of sanity when you said yes, but it did seem like such a good idea at the time.

Don't be spooked. The most important ingredient in a successful children's party is the "yuck factor." To do this party thing right, you have to look at it through a child's eyes.

Remember, to a child "yucky" is drinking apple cider flavored with strange-tasting allspice or munching on broccoli. But things we adults see as yucky -- glow-in-the dark foods or edibles made to look like spiders -- kids see as nirvana.

"Children like fantasy," says Alison Boteler, author of "The Children's Party Handbook" (Barron's, 1986). "You have to think of it as trompe l'oeil with the eye, fooling the eye to make food look like other objects or animals."

Ms. Boteler, who is now shooting the pictures for her "Disney Party Handbook," based on Walt Disney movies, wraps hot dogs in bread to make them look like bones, converts oranges into carved jack-o'-lanterns filled with ice cream and transforms bread sticks into witches' broomsticks.

Likewise, the editors of Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks take the yuck factor seriously. They make sure their recipes are kid-tested. Before the editors included recipes in the "Kids' Party Cook Book" (Meredith Corp., 1985), panels of children were brought in to taste the recipes and give their comments. Those that didn't pass the kid test were left out of the book.

"We don't make foods real spicy," explains Mary Jo Plutt, editor of the "Kids' Party Cook Book." "We try to make foods that are fun for the kids to eat. They may be very nutritious, but we do something to make them fun like giving them a name like 'spook 'n' cider' or making cookies that look like pumpkins."

Dian Thomas, the first lady of creativity from ABC's "Home Show," agrees. She says kids love it when adults use their imagination to make food come alive.

For example, she says a sheet cake can easily be transformed into a "spider web cake." Start with a homemade or store-bought cake with white icing. Using a pastry bag filled with chocolate icing, make a chocolate border around the cake. Then, starting in the middle of the cake, make chocolate circles about 1/2 inch apart until the cake is filled with circles. Make spider webs by drawing a toothpick through the circles toward the outside of the cake.

Don't forget the spider. Use two chocolate doughnuts, one on top of the other. Add pipe cleaners for legs and M&M's for eyes. Place the spider in the center of the cake and serve.

Another way to create a spooky mood is with a dry ice jack-o'-lantern. Ms. Thomas suggests selecting a pumpkin large enough to hold a No. 10 (restaurant size) can.

Clean the pumpkin and carve a spooky face. Fill the can about three-fourths full of hot water; add 1/2 cup salt and mix. Place the container in the pumpkin. If there is enough room, you can place a flashlight between the pumpkin and the container. Wearing gloves to protect your hands, drop two or three pieces of dry ice into the water. The dry ice will steam up and out of the pumpkin's face.

As the water cools, ice will form. After 15 minutes, you will need to drain the cold water and replace it with hot water to start the reaction again.

(To find where to buy dry ice locally, look in the Yellow Pages under "Ice." Stanley Friedman, manager of Baltimore Ice, says you can expect to pay $8 for the minimum purchase of 10 pounds of dry ice.)

Typical children's party book authors come up with ideas like this for fun, but Michael E. Samonek, a Cleveland, Ohio, inventor and author of the "Special Effects Cookbook," says these fun foods and decorations can be used to teach children scientific principles.

"Every recipe has a physical science principle behind it," he says. "Teachers in this country have managed to convince children by the eighth grade that science and math aren't any fun. If you make it fun, children will want to learn how it works."

To teach combustion: Make a cake in the shape of a skeleton or draw a skeleton on a traditional cake. Place two empty eggshell halves where the eyes should be. Then place a sugar cube soaked in oil of peppermint or lemon extract in each shell. When it's time to serve, light the cubes and turn off the lights.

To teach how gelatin can reflect light: Place a bundt pan on a table. in the hole of the pan. Put a flashlight in the hole in the pan with the light aiming toward the ceiling. Make red gelatin in a mold, unmold it and place it on a clear plate on top of the bundt pan. Turn out the lights and the gelatin will glow.

If all of these gimmicks seem silly, remember Dian Thomas says you have to think like a child. She recalls a time she was demonstrating the dry ice jack-o'-lantern when someone in the audience asked incredulously, "Why would anyone do that?"

Her answer was simple: "It's fun."

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