Halloween is a great and fun time to be a kid, but for kids with food allergies, this holiday can be both frustrating and a little too scary for comfort. From costume parties to classroom activities and trick-or-treating, popular Halloween goodies are everywhere. Unfortunately, many of these popular candies and baked goods contain soy, dairy, nuts or wheat—all of which pose a threat to millions of American children with allergies to one or more of these substances. With a bit of planning, clear communication and vigilance, however, it is now easier than ever for a child with food allergies to enjoy a safe and fun Halloween, trick-or-treating and all.
Navigating Halloween—as well as the start of the holiday season—seems daunting now, but probably won’t be as difficult as you expect. Below are some Halloween tips to help parents of food allergic children get started.
Have That Emergency Kit Ready
Holidays like Halloween are times when your child is more likely to get exposed to an allergen. From school events to family parties and trick-or-treating, allergen-laden goodies are widely available and very appealing to any youngster. Help keep your child safe from a severe reaction, just in case, by having his or her emergency kit (complete with an EpiPen, copies of medical records and important phone numbers) on hand. If you haven’t done so already, consider having more than one emergency kit so that vital medication and information is never far away.
Communicate With the Neighbors
Before heading out trick-or-treating, consider going door-to-door and handing out allergy-friendly candies or non-food items such as Halloween stickers and pencils. Explain that your child has food allergies and ask for help in protecting him or her this year by handing out the treats you’ve provided when he or she arrives. Most people are more than happy to oblige, and will be grateful for the heads-up.
Tailor trick-or-treating to Your Child
Trick-or-treating is a Halloween tradition that could spell disaster if not carefully handled. Before October 31st rolls around, sketch out an action plan. If your child is still very young and more likely to dig into dangerous candies given by a well-meaning neighbor, consider visiting every house with them, and have a stash of treats ready to give. If you have any doubts, never leave your child with unsafe candy unsupervised. For the older, more mature children who are aware of the risks, consider allowing them to trick-or-treat with less supervision and have some special allergy-friendly goodies waiting for them back home. That way, the kids can trade their unsafe candy for something else.
As any parent of a food allergic child knows, reading labels is always a must, even if you’ve had the product before. Candy is especially tricky. Some regular-sized candy bars have different ingredients from the popular “fun sizes,” for example, while new or seasonal variations of a safe regular candy may contain a hidden allergen. An up-to-date gluten-free candy list is available online that contains the customer service numbers you can call to double-check on other allergen ingredients.
Keeping Safe at School
Most severe allergic reactions happen at school, where exposure to other students’ snacks, sharing eating surfaces and less supervision from parents are the norm. Halloween is a time when exposure is more likely, and also when your child may feel left out, should a classmate bring in unsafe goodies to share. Keep ahead of the holiday spirit this year by making and bringing allergy-friendly treats to the classroom well in advance. That way, your child can enjoy a tasty treat with the rest of the class should a surprise party or snack occur.
Sometimes it’s safer and easier to just throw a Halloween party at your own house rather than go through the risk and hassle of attending elsewhere. The major bonus of hosting a party is, of course, the option of making all the food allergen-free, allowing your child to enjoy some freedom at the buffet, and allowing you some peace of mind. Even if you do host your own party, there are countless other parties that your child may attend, from church gatherings to school carnivals. In these cases, communicate with the party organizers ahead of time. Larger events may allow printing and passing out flyers or posters reminding patrons of food allergies. Also, get in touch, if you can, with other parents of kids with food allergies—there’s a chance that you could set up an allergy-free zone or table at the party.
Keep Up the Spirit of Fun.
It’s easy for us adults to go a bit overboard with worry, but losing sight of what Halloween should be for a child could leave your little ghost or pumpkin stressed out and even fearful. There is, after all, plenty of fun to be had during Halloween without involving food. Pumpkin carving, crafts, face-painting, haunted houses, costume contests and corn mazes are all safe and fun activities for the whole family. Make sure you include these activities in your Halloween plans—they will allow you to relax and your child to have fun without the pressure of their food allergy weighing them down. And speaking of having fun: while keeping your child physically healthy, it’s important to remember keeping him or her mentally and emotionally healthy as well. A positive attitude, and acting discreetly around his or her peers, is sure to go a long way in keeping your child’s spirits up during the festivities.