Amassing a collection of candy on Halloween night is a custom kids look forward to all year, but for parents of children with food allergies, trick-or-treating can be a truly scary proposition.
Common allergens such as wheat, milk, egg and soy are found in a wide range of popular candy, and even more sweets are manufactured in plants that process peanuts and tree nuts. One accidental bite could be enough to cause a serious allergic reaction for some young ghouls and goblins.
“As parents, you want to carry on the traditions you had growing up. You want your kids to experience trick-or-treating,” says Lauren Kossack, an Indianapolis mom and author of the blog EpiFamily.com, whose sons Christian, 6, and Atticus, 5, both have food allergies. Kossack encourages fellow food allergy families to use Halloween as a teaching opportunity, involving children in reading labels and sorting safe and unsafe treats. “They’re always kind of shocked when they have 50 pieces of candy and they end up with 10. It’s eye-opening,” she says. “It’s about creating a healthy fear of the allergy but not projecting your anxiety onto the experience.”
Kids with food allergies can still be part of the night’s spooky fun. Here are some tips for keeping them safe:
No eating on the road.
Dark conditions and distractions increase the risk of eating something dangerous by mistake. Pack safe snacks instead if kids need something to eat while they’re out.
Chat up the neighbors.
Help educate nearby families about safe candy and food-free alternatives for Halloween. You can even buy trinkets in advance for neighbors to give your child if necessary.
Pick costumes carefully.
For kids with contact-sensitive allergies, pick a costume that includes gloves and change into pajamas as soon as they arrive home.
Sort and read.
Even if it’s a candy your child usually eats, double check the label for allergy warnings. Snack-size and standard-size versions of the same candy are often manufactured at separate plants, leading to different allergy warnings. If a wrapper is open or doesn’t have a label, it should be put in the pile of unsafe treats.
Switch and swap.
There are lots of fun and creative ways to swap out unsafe candy. Set up a candy trade-in program, leave it for the “Switch Witch” to pick up in exchange for safe treats or accept candy as payment for a larger toy.
“I stock up on safe treats, and [my daughter] can exchange any peanut candy she gets for something from the stash,” says Lebanon mom Amy Johnson, whose daughter, Ella, 10, is allergic to nuts. “I do this instead of simply taking the candy away because we have a non-allergic child also, and we want to keep it fair.”
Another solution is to give the candy to someone special who would really enjoy it. “It’s fun for the kids to put all the treats with nuts in a bag for their grandpa,” says Fishers mom Cathi White, whose daughter Sara, 15, and son Alex, 10, both have nut allergies.
Lead by example.
Pass out non-food treats at your house. Bought in bulk, items like glow sticks, stickers or pencils can cost the same or less than candy and offer all kids a different trick-or-treat prize.
For local parents looking for food allergy support, Indy PoCHA, the Indianapolis chapter of Parents of Children Having Allergies, meets on the second Monday of the month at 7 pm at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church at 100 W. 86th Street. For a list of scheduled speakers visit www.epifamily.com/indy-pocha-meetingevent-schedule.
Help spread the word about food allergies this Halloween by participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project. This campaign from the nonprofit organization FARE, Food Allergy Research & Education, raises awareness of food allergies on Halloween by asking families to paint a pumpkin teal, letting trick-or-treaters know they have non-food treats available. More information and a free printable sign are available at www.foodallergy.org/teal-pumpkin-project.
Need some ideas for non-food treats? Consider these:
• Glow sticks, glow necklaces
• Bracelets and rings
• Bouncing “eye” balls
• Spider rings
• Halloween-themed stickers, pencils, pens and erasers
• Fake vampire teeth
• Mustache stickers
• Crazy sunglasses
• Headbands with antennas
• Whistles, kazoos and other noise-makers
• Small flashlights
• Halloween key chains
• Allergen-friendly slime or silly putty
*source: Kids With Food Allergies