While Halloween is often seen as an exciting childhood tradition, parents of kids with food allergies or intolerances might approach the holiday with dread. There are so many instances where your child already has to be on the alert, so the thought of a day where kids are exposed to lots of “treats” can be stressful. Additionally, it is not uncommon for kids to have multiple allergies or intolerances to juggle. The top 8 allergens, combining for over 90% of reactions, include eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat, fish and shellfish and with the exception of fish and shellfish, are often found in those little treats.
The good news? There are more and more options for kids with restricted diets to enjoy Halloween and not feel left out. Over the next few weeks, we will offer 10 tips to a safer and healthier Halloween in a series of three posts. We hope this helps fill this tradition with positive memories and laughter for you and your child!
1. Read Switch Witch:
Start a new tradition this year with reading the Switch Witch! Before Halloween, purchase a copy of Switch Witch – a storybook to get your child excited for a visit from the Switch Witch. She’s a friendly witch looking for candy to heat her home, and on Halloween night, while your child sleeps, she swoops in to switch candy for a toy or non-food treat. Usually, the more candy the child agrees to give up, the larger the reward.
After trick-or-treating, go through the candy stash with your child and set aside any items for the Switch Witch that are allergen-containing, or questionable, and then maybe some more. Depending on your child, it may be helpful to discuss just how much he/she is going to give away before Halloween night. It’s a win-win! You get the problematic candy out of the house, and you did so without a fight! There are many options for what to do with the collected candy, including sending it overseas to soldiers.
2. Participate in the FARE Teal Pumpkin Project:
The Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) created the Teal Pumpkin Project “to create a safer, happier Halloween for all kids”. All you do is paint a pumpkin teal to set out on your doorstep to indicate that non-allergen treats will be handed out at your house.
Additionally, when you trick-or-treat, watch for the teal pumpkins on other doorsteps so you know which homes are more likely to be allergen-friendly for your little one. Head to their website for a map of participating homes, free resources, and ideas for activities.
3. Review the rules:
A few days before Halloween, review the “can’t have” list with your child. More importantly, talk about the “can have” foods – which is more fun anyway! This is especially important for kids still adjusting to a new diagnosis. Walk them through what to expect, and remind them that getting dressed up and costume-watching is the best part of Halloween!
4. Be prepared:
Don’t forget to bring your cell phone, EpiPen, emergency care plan, and contacts handy just in case your child does have an unfortunate reaction.
5. Host a Party:
Consider hosting a party for your child. Kids can wear costumes, decorate masks or pumpkins, play games, and make crafts – Check out Pinterest for inspiration! If you serve food, you are in control of what is offered. Hand out small goodie bags of non-food items to guests, such as stickers, fidget spinners, glow sticks, bouncing eyeballs, spider rings, mustache stickers, crazy sunglasses, Halloween key chains, or allergen-friendly slime or silly putty.
6. Communicate with school:
Many schools have gone away from holiday parties, but if your child’s class is still allowed to have treats, communication is key. Get ahold of the teacher well in advance to find out what will be provided and suggest a safe option for your child. If you can, help with planning of the event to minimize surprises. If you are feeling ambitious, offer to provide treats for the whole class. A written reminder of your child’s restrictions may be helpful for the teacher(s). Also double check that your child’s care plan is up-to-date and that any prescribed medications are on hand at school and are current.
7. Recipes – Upgrade from Candy:
While you can find lists of candy that tend to be allergen free, we are fans of healthier options whenever possible. Consider spending some quality time in the kitchen with your little goblins and making your own safe treats as part of the tradition. Here are some fun options to try but, as always, scan the ingredients to make sure they are safe and/or make substitutions:
- Monster Chicken Fingers
- Pumpkin Shake
- Bride of Frankenstein Dip
- Monster Pancakes
- Pumpkin Fudge
8. Allergen-Free Treats:
If you are set on providing allergen-free treats, here is a list of companies to check out. As always, check ingredient lists just to be sure. Want even more ideas? Check out this website to download a list that is frequently updated.
9. Fun Sized Candy Labeling:
Remember that companies can get away with not posting nutrition labels on mini size items that come in a larger pack. You often won’t see allergen statements on fun-size candy bars or suckers purchased in bulk or mixed packs. It is better to be safe than sorry, so don’t assume something is safe until you have verified it. There are even reports that fun size candies are made in different facilities than the regular sizes, so ingredients can vary.
10. Review the Bounty:
Make sure to snag the booty before it’s too late! This way you can review what may make the cut and what does not. As you tag along during trick-or-treating, you’ll all have more fun if you ask, “Ooh, what did you get from that house?” instead of a ghoulish “No! You can’t eat that!” Many kids will want to munch during trick-or-treating, so be mindful that your kids are either checking labels themselves (knowing the pitfalls of fun sizes and labeling) or are having you review choices before they dig in. Once you get back home, make a donate pile and a keep pile, but discuss ahead of time, so they are on board with the plan!
We hope your child has fun and that these tips help you navigate the goblins and witches of Halloween!