Halloween, Kids and Food Allergies

How your child can have a fun Halloween without eating candy.

Halloween cupcake

Most children, mine included, eagerly anticipate Halloween, carefully choosing costumes and rushing through dinner so they can go trick-or-treating. Even though I love Halloween too, I have to prepare myself mentally for the peanut butter cups that will be in my food-allergic child's bag at the evening's end. For parents and caregivers of children with food allergies, the overwhelming presence of food that may contain peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, and other allergens can be stressful.

Planning and creativity will ensure that children with food allergies enjoy all the fun of Halloween while avoiding the food or foods to which they are allergic.

Remember Basic Food Allergy Safety Rules

  • Always read the ingredient label of every piece of candy before your child eats it, even if it's a brand your child often eats. Recently, we discovered that allergy statements on candy bars within the same brand may differ according to the size of the candy bar!
  • If there is no label, then the candy is unsafe. Do not let your child eat it. Instead, donate unsafe candy to another family member who can safely eat it or send it with a parent to be shared at work.
  • Make sure your child's medicine (such as an EpiPen) accompanies your child wherever he or she goes. Check that the responsible adult knows how to administer the medication, can reach you with questions, and can access the local emergency system if necessary.
  • Have your child carry some hand wipes he or she can use in case of accidental contact with unsafe food.

Trick-or-Treat!

  • Avoid the candy altogether! Go to the toy store and purchase a toy that your child can "buy" with their bag of collected candy. Or invent the "Halloween Fairy," who comes at night to take his or her bag of candy and leave a gift in its place.
  • Forget trying to read ingredient labels in the dark and bring safe snacks for your child. Every year, my son loves making a snack bag of safe candy that he can eat while trick-or-treating around the neighborhood.
  • Consider handing out non-food items like stickers or pencils at your house.
  • Do not let young children carry food to which they are allergic; they may not understand the danger and accidentally open a wrapper and take a bite. Older children are better able to understand what is safe or unsafe for them to eat.
  • Remind your child that they can say "No, thank you" if they only see unsafe candy offered.

Create New Halloween Traditions

  • Throw a Halloween party at your house and provide all the snacks; that way, you control the food.
  • Take advantage of local Halloween happenings that focus on more than food. Farms, zoos, museums and schools may offer haunted houses, movie nights or other spooky activities.
  • Get a group of families together and organize a food-free Halloween party. Book a crafts studio, bowling alley or gymnastics center. Don't forget to wear costumes!
  • Keep the fun at home instead of focusing on going out on Halloween. Dress up, decorate your entryway and open the door for trick-or-treaters in your neighborhood. Enjoy snacking on the safe candy your family hands out.

When you think of all the unsafe candy that your child with food allergies will get while trick-or-treating, don't panic! Follow your usual food safety rules while doing the Halloween activities that your child and family enjoy. Take the opportunity to create some new Halloween traditions. In our family, when my two oldest kids were younger, they both couldn't wait to trade in their candy for a wrapped present. Kids love to have Halloween fun -- it doesn't have to be about the candy.

Even if your children don't have food allergies, you can be helpful to those who do. If you are giving out candy, make sure the ingredients are listed on the individual treats so someone with food allergies can determine later if it's safe to eat. You might also consider giving out non-food items like pencils or small plastic toys to trick-or-treaters.

Deborah Elbaum is a mother of three children, one with food allergies. She leads an educational support group for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America/New England Chapter.

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