With October comes cooler temperatures, pumpkins, corn mazes, hay rides…and Halloween! This holiday is celebrated across the country, with scary movies, trick-or-treating, haunted houses, and costume parties. With all the games, decorations and candy that any student could dream of, it’s no wonder that kids love celebrating Halloween. Celebrating this special holiday in your child nutrition program is a great way to boost participation in your school cafeteria, and this year, Halloween falls on a school day! Even if your school doesn’t celebrate Halloween, there are several ways to get into the spirit of the fall harvest in your cafeteria.

Celebrating Halloween and the Fall Harvest in Your Child Nutrition Program


The first step for celebrating Halloween or Fall Harvest in your child nutrition program is decorating! Use your imagination to dress up your cafeteria in a big way. If you’re going for the Halloween theme, think friendly ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, cobwebs, mummies, etc. If you would like to decorate in the spirit of the fall harvest, consider decorations like black cats, bats, pumpkins, hay and autumn leaves. You may want to add some of these elements to your bulletin boards, menus (print or digital), and cafeteria walls, in addition to your serving lines.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money when it comes to decorations. You can purchase premade decorations at your favorite craft store, or simply purchase inexpensive materials then cut-and-paste to assemble your own. A great place to find ideas for DIY Halloween or fall-themed decorations is Pinterest, the creative online/mobile content sharing service. You can also request that teachers submit some of their students’ best Halloween or harvest-themed artwork to display in your cafeteria!

Serve Festive Food

One way to increase participation in your child nutrition program is to serve food that is “fun” for students. Consider tweaking your menu on October 31 (or any time during fall) to really celebrate Halloween or the fall harvest. With an edible marker, you can draw spooky jack-o-lantern faces on the cherry tomatoes in your salad bar, or cut jack-o-lantern faces into stuffed bell peppers or low-fat cheese on an open-faced burger. You can decorate Rice Krispy treats, cupcakes or cookies with spiders or witch hats. You could also use spooky Jell-O Jigglers to create bat, cat, ghost or pumpkin-shaped Jell-O treats. The opportunities are truly endless when it comes to Halloween treats – just a quick Internet or Pinterest search can produce a long list of fun and exciting recipes or snack ideas for your Halloween menu.

Although you can’t serve candy to your students (don’t worry – they’ll get plenty of that if they go trick-or-treating!), you can serve some of these items to hold them over. Just make sure to tweak the recipes to meet your program’s nutritional requirements.

If you’re looking for some menu ideas that aren’t Halloween-focused, consider serving fall-inspired items like healthy apple cider, pumpkin seed brittle, baked cinnamon apples, pumpkin apple dip or creamy pumpkin squares. To find recipes for some of these tasty items, please click here. If students come to find that holidays bring special, fun menu items in their cafeteria, they will be more likely to participate!

Dress Up

With Halloween comes the opportunity to dress up in your favorite costume! If you are allowed to dress up for the holiday in your child nutrition program, invite your whole child nutrition staff to wear their tasteful Halloween costumes. It will bring the students coming through the line great joy to see some of their favorite adults in the Halloween spirit!

If your program does not celebrate Halloween, you can still dress up in a festive way! Consider inviting your staff to wear fall colors like orange, brown, green, dark red and yellow when celebrating the fall harvest in your child nutrition program. You can also consider wearing fall-inspired temporary tattoos or face paint, if you don’t wish to dress up.

Market Your Celebration

To bring even more students into the cafeteria while you’re celebrating Halloween or the fall harvest, you’ll need to be certain that they are aware of the celebration! To do this, you’ll need to really market whatever it is you plan to do – leaving some of the elements up to surprise, if you so choose. Send home flyers with the students telling of the exciting foods you plan to serve on your celebration day(s). Update your social media (or ask your districts’ communications department to update the district’s social media) advertising the celebration and festive menu. And be sure to update your menu, whether it is print or digital, to reflect the exciting, festive items you’ll be serving in the cafeteria that day.


Because all school districts are different when it comes to celebrations, it’s important to seek approval from your administrators before tweaking the decorations and menu to celebrate Halloween or the fall harvest in your child nutrition program. Be sure to run all ideas past administration in order to ensure that all celebration plans are agreed upon. Once you have received approval for the ideas you have for celebrating, begin discussing with your team how you plan to turn these ideas into action, and how you plan to market and execute your celebration strategies.

Also remember to cater your decorations and menu choices to your audiences. Avoid haunted decorations if you know that you will be serving younger students who might get spooked, and steer clear of paranormal items like Ouija boards. If your staff is dressing up, it’s a good idea to avoid wearing masks that disguise your identity, as this could be a security risk in your school. You should also avoid decorations or costumes that contain weapons (like swords, guns or scythes) because of a security risk. And I think it goes without saying that you shouldn’t decorate with or dress up as a clown, with all the creepy clown sightings America has experienced in recent years.

How Do You Celebrate?

What are some ways that you celebrate Halloween or the fall harvest in your child nutrition program? Do you have any decoration or menu item ideas that have been well-received by your students? Which Halloween costumes have your staff members worn in the past? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your replies in the comments below.