By Amy Mason
Please learn more about Amy by visiting her website at www.amyemason.com.
Halloween is right around the corner! I bet you are starting to plan parties and getting your children’s costumes ready (or purchased, if you’re like me)! Halloween is such a fun and exciting day for our kids! Let’s face it, what’s not amazing about getting free candy? However, the candy, for many families who struggle with food allergies, can be a source of anxiety. There are many families who struggle with trick-or-treating because their children have allergies to wheat, dairy, nuts, eggs, and soy - all foods prevalent in Halloween candy.
In our family, both of my children have allergies and sensitivities to certain foods. When we realized this, we adopted a very strict diet to avoid them eating foods that could make them sick or that could cause a reaction. As our first Halloween approached post diet, I worried about them getting candy or foods that would cause them to react and I wondered if we should skip trick-or-treating altogether. I felt conflicted because I loved this tradition as a child and wanted to enjoy it with my own children. I also worried about them missing out on conversations and fun times with their peers.
Over the years we’ve learned a few tricks to help our children with food allergies have a fun and safe Halloween. I’ll share with you some of our favorite resources and strategies for enjoying Halloween with our kiddos. If your children don’t have food allergies - this post is for you too! One in 13 children have food allergies! Your awareness can help these children stay safe and be able to participate in the fun of trick-or-treating as well!
Since our boys love trick-or-treating with their friends and, we couldn’t avoid them collecting candy, we decided to use the candy to help them earn something more exciting. We turn it into a game so they could be equally as excited about getting candy as their friends were. Each piece of candy becomes worth 5 cents, 10 cents, or 25 cents, depending on the size. At the end of the evening, my kids love dumping out their Halloween candy and counting up how much money they’ve earned. Most years they’ve never exceeded $10-1$15 worth of candy. Then they exchange the loot for money. In past years we would take them to the store the day after Halloween so they could purchase a toy with the money they earned from trick-or-treating. Last year, we estimated how much they’d earn, and had already purchased the toys (without the boys knowing) so they could exchange their candy immediately for the toy they just earned. This has worked so well for my kids. In our case, there really isn’t any candy that would be safe for them, and I’m not overly worried they will sneak some because, in this game, every piece counts!
Another great resource is called the Teal Pumpkin Project. It was started by Food Allergy Research and Education and has become a movement to include children with food allergies in Halloween festivities by handing out non-food items, such as small toys and games. You can place a teal pumpkin by your door as a sign that you are including kids with food allergies and have an alternative to candy to offer. My kids get so excited when they see a non-food item in their candy bag. To participate or for more information click here. You can also check their map here to see where there are participating neighborhoods in your area.
I’ve talked to other families who have decided to host their own party and have children trick-or-treat in different rooms of the house for allergy-free foods or even non-food items. By having the party in their own home, the parents were able to provide a safe environment for their children and friends and ensure the foods and snack items wouldn’t be harmful to their kids.
Alternatively, if your children are attending a Halloween party, offer to provide safe snacks and make sure the host is aware of your child’s allergies. I have found that many people are very happy to be accommodating to friends with food allergies. This may seem like an awkward exchange, but you are your child’s greatest advocate and it’s okay to speak up when there is a real health issue at stake.
Whether this is new for you or you’re old pros, remember to talk with your children about your expectations for that day -- what is safe for them and what is not. Help them think through how to respond if people offer them candy at school or at a party. The better prepared they are ahead of time, the more likely they will make wise and safe choices.
Do your kids have food allergies or sensitivities? What strategies do you have for keeping Halloween safe and fun?