Clever Ways to Celebrate Halloween if Your Child Has a Food Allergy
Treats can be tricky if your little one is allergic to nuts, dairy, soy or wheat
Halloween should be a scream — in a fun way — but it can be a truly scary time of year for kids with food allergies and their parents.
“Halloween is a tricky time for families managing food allergies,” says Veronica LaFemina, vice president of communications at the nonprofit Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).
Many candies contain common food allergens, such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, soy and wheat. And even if a certain type of treat usually is safe for your child to eat, you can’t assume the Halloween version is OK too. Mini treats made for handing out to trick-or-treaters may be manufactured differently or lack full labels, LaFemina says.
Even reading labels — which you should do as a start — isn’t enough to confirm a product is safe, says Becky Basalone, founder of the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee and mom of two sons, including 5-year-old Cade, who has multiple life-threatening food allergies. She notes that a candy made from safe ingredients might be manufactured in a facility that uses common allergens in other products, creating a risk of contamination.
But with a little planning, you can make Halloween fun, rather than frightening, for your child. Here are five ways to celebrate Halloween if your child has a food allergy.
1. Paint a pumpkin. Have your child help you paint a pumpkin teal blue and place it on your porch. It signals to other families that you're offering non-food treats. Recently, Kate Diec, whose 2-year-old daughter Penny is allergic to peanuts, painted a teal pumpkin with her. Penny had asked to make a fairy, so mother and daughter created a teal one-eyed fairy monster pumpkin. “It came out really cute,” Diec says.
2. Give out non-food treats. Pick out fun non-food items to hand out on Halloween. Basalone offers kids a choice between a “trick” (a non-food item) and a “treat.” Kids love gizmos and doodads like Halloween stickers, glow bracelets, pencils, finger puppets, spider rings and vampire fangs, according to FARE. And Basalone has handed out creepy “tricks” such as slime, eye patches and googley-eye glasses. Be careful, though: Some non-food items, such as certain brands of play clay, might contain wheat or other food allergens. If you’re also handing out food treats, place them in a separate bowl and offer trick-or-treaters a choice, LaFemina recommends.
3. Organize a trunk-or-treat. Get together with other families whose children have food allergies and hold a “trunk or treat” event. You can park in a designated location, decorate your vehicle trunks with spider webs and other scary stuff and hand out non-food treats. Check with your local food allergy support group to see if there’s an event already scheduled in your area.
4. Start a spooky tradition. Get creative to come up with fun Halloween experiences for your kids, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) recommends. For example, hold a Halloween scavenger hunt, a scary movie night, a Halloween game night or a trip to a haunted house. Some of the Basalone family traditions include scarecrow building contests, hayrides to the local pumpkin patch, munching on safe snacks while watching “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and making a Halloween-themed dinner at home. “My family loves this time of year,” Basalone says.
5. Call on the Switch Witch. The Switch Witch — or Candy Fairy, if you prefer — creeps into your house at night, takes Halloween candy and leaves a gift in its place. If your child goes out trick-or-treating in the neighborhood, have him or her keep safe items and non-food treats separate from the rest of the candy, Basalone says. For example, Cade carries a ziplock bag to hold the safe stuff within a larger bucket. Her kids know they can’t eat anything before mom has had a chance to look over their haul and set aside unsafe items for the Switch Witch. “The Switch Witch and Candy Fairy are great traditions to include in the Halloween fun,” Basalone says.
The Switch Witch will visit the Diec home, but the mom wants her daughter to get some safe treats, too. So, about a week before Halloween, Diec plans to knock on the doors of neighbors on her block and give each home a ziplock bag containing safe treats. She’ll describe Penny’s costume and ask each neighbor to give the little girl the bag when she comes trick-or-treating.
“It’s a good way to make her feel included,” Diec says.
One last tip: If you’re making a costume, consider incorporating gloves to prevent little hands from coming into contact with food allergens, the ACAAI recommends.