For kids, Halloween is a holiday in a class of its own. It's not just the unbridled gorging on candy; it's the occasion to dress up as whatever their hearts (and moms) deem fit and roam the streets with pals (and often, tragically, their younger siblings) like marauding Visigoths, extorting untold riches in sweets from neighbors. Essentially, Halloween is Mardi Gras for kids.
By the time most children get home from school, they're in a froth of excitement touched off by contraband hoodies. They want nothing more than to sprint to the bedroom, adjust the cape, freshen up the fake blood on the fangs, and plunge into the streets again. It's a race against time, since everyone knows that once the early crowd has exhausted the precious supply of miniature chocolate bars, latecomers will find their sacks filling with raisins and apples and their dismal like.
It takes a strong parent to stand firm against the headlong rush, but kids can't run on candy power alone; a good dinner will provide energy for the evening's revelry. But cooking a meal can be near impossible when someone needs to fix Batman's utility belt and the fairy can't find her magic wand. The trick: Prepare as much of the dinner as possible ahead of time, and then rewarm and serve it quickly. Of course, it also helps to build dishes around the foods most kids love -- chicken, salsa, corn tortillas, mild Monterey Jack -- and to offer dessert.
Another benefit is that cleanup at the end of the evening, when the house is strewn with discarded wrappers and costumes, will be minimal -- just a couple of pans to be wiped.