Halloween and Food Allergies

Including all children in Halloween fun

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Halloween is such an exciting time for families and children. However, for those families with children who have food allergies, the thought of going trick or treating can be very stressful or downright terrifying. According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), one in 13 kids in the US has a food allergy. Considering that many of the Halloween treats available contain the big allergens: wheat, dairy, nuts, peanuts, soy, and eggs, it can make trick-or-treating a minefield for both kids and parents alike. Having a sick child or being sent to the hospital is not on anyone's list for a fun Halloween!

Even if your own child does not have food allergies, there will most certainly be a child or two who does have allergies within your neighborhood. Children want nothing more than to be included and for little ones who need to be aware of every single ingredient they put into their mouth, the thought of being left out on one of the most fun nights of the year can be heartbreaking. Including all children on Halloween can be as simple as a quick trip to the nearest bargain shop. Here are some alternatives that can take the genuine fear out of Halloween!

teal pumpkins

Food Allergy Research and Education Teal Pumpkin project

The Teal Pumpkin Project

The Teal Pumpkin Project was created by FARE in 2014. It has been building momentum to help promote non-food treats for Halloween for children with allergies. Whe you paint a pumpkin teal, you signify that your home has alternative, safe options for those children with allergies. You can still hand out candy for those but have a separate bowl tucked away for those who need another option. This is also a wonderful opportunity to teach your child about inclusion and empathy towards others.

There are all sorts of things you can use as a substitute for food items on Halloween! They certainly do not need to be big or expensive items: a little goes along way. Things like temporary tattoos, crayons, erasers, stickers, bouncy balls, whistles, note pads, or modeling clay are all great ideas that children will love. Some cities such as Ottawa, Ontario have a booklet that comes out around Halloween with passes for free swimming and skating. These are a really great price and an fun option to offer as an alternative to food treats.

Want to introduce a teal pumpkin in your neighbourhood? It’s simple. Check out The Teal Pumpkin Project at foodallergy.org. It’s a great program full of all sorts of great ideas for non-food treats, as well as resources to get started. Plus they have some cute downloadable signs to put on your front door or to hand out in your area.

Have a candy swap

Going door to door and collecting treats is so much fun but coming home and knowing that they are limited in what they can eat or can’t eat can be quite hard for them as well. Some children with dairy or wheat allergies or intolerances may be able to swap with a sibling, a neighbour, or with mom and dad. Make it an event or a even a game! Or try offering something great in return for every pound of candy kids turn in: a movie pass, a gift card, or another reward they'll love. 

The Great Pumpkin or Witch Switch

There are some who cannot eat anything in their treat bag and for those, this method may be a good choice.This involves leaving the candy outside or on the table to be replaced with a special toy or book by the "Pumpkin" or "Witch". This can either be done before they arrive home from trick or treating or left overnight to wake up to a surprise in the morning. This way, they still get to participate in the Halloween night festivities with their siblings and friends but do not need to worry about getting sick or having an allergic reaction. This is also a great idea for those who are too young to indulge in all of their candy or for the families that limit sugar. We are all for having a fun night and indulging on Halloween but having a pillow case or two of candy at their disposal may not be something all families are comfortable with.

Halloween parties!

Whether it’s through the fire department, at the mall, or at a friends house, there are events around various cities that provide Halloween fun without treats. Attending or planning a Halloween party with costumes, games, crafts, and activities that don't involve food or candy can help a child with allergies join in the fun and feel less left out. If you are planning your own party and know that a child attending has food allergies, here are some tips to help you plan a successful and inclusive party.

  • Non-food fun—Plan a few activities that do not involve food such as pumpkin painting, pin the broom on the witch, Halloween-themed Bingo, or the mummy wrap game.
  • A quick call to the family can help give you an idea of the types of allergies or even which safe foods the child can have.
  • Be mindful of cross-contamination. When we think of food allergies we think of only ingesting that particular ingredient and the side effects it can have but for many with food allergies, cross contamination is a real concern. If you are providing a food or meal, be sure to wipe down all surfaces before preparing the food. Wash your hands frequently but also after touching high-allergen foods. Preparing the non-allergy food first is also a great idea.
  • Let the parents of the child with allergies know what foods you are planning to prepare so that they can prepare something similar to bring as an alternative for their child to ensure that they feel included.

Remember that Halloween is supposed to be fun and can include all children. Looking for treats that contain less risky ingredients is one way. Taking extra steps to help them have a fun and safe night not only benefits the child with allergies but our own children as well. Teaching all children about inclusion, empathy, and doing a good deed without a reward all have a place in every celebration—even the spookiest ones!

*Originally published October 11, 2016

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