Halloween is fun. Adults love the opportunity to be silly and have some childish fun. Kids love dressing up, being with friends, and getting ALL that candy — the chance to gorge themselves on sweets without having their parents stop them is the ultimate fun fest.
As fun as Halloween is, it can also be a scary time for parents who have children with food allergies. Policing the candy their kids collect for allergens and potential cross-contamination can be a stressful, time-consuming task. The most common food allergies (called the top 8 allergens) include peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, dairy, and soy. These ingredients are commonly used to make candies and pose a real threat to kids with allergies.
It’s also a tough time for kids with allergies — as are most events that center around food. They are constantly reminded what they can’t have. It can be isolating for them, and make something as simple as eating candy a real worry-inducing event.
Understanding the risks associated with the most common food allergies is important for anyone participating in Halloween activities. Food allergies are more common than you might think: Nearly 32 million people in the United States report having them. That's almost 10% of the population with allergies to milk, soy, wheat, and peanuts.
To make Halloween safer for both your own kids and those that come to your home for candy, here are some tips:
- Make small safe "goody bags" that include allergen-free candy (Skittles, Starbursts, Dots, Enjoy Life Chocolates, Mike & Ikes, Dum Dum Suckers, Life Saver Gummies are just a few examples). You can have these goody bags available for children that come trick or treating, and you can also give them to your neighbors to hand out to your child when he or she stops at their home.
- Consider skipping trick or treating and have a Halloween party instead, offering safe and delicious treats. You can also offer fun Halloween toys and games or party favors. This is most likely the best choice for kids with severe allergic reactions.
- If your kids go trick or treating without you, enforce a strict no-eating candy while trick-or-treating rule. Once the kids are home you can inspect the candy and read the ingredient labels before your children dig in.
- Look for homes with teal pumpkins outside. Created by Food Allergy Research & Education in 2014, the Teal Pumpkin Project is a campaign to raise awareness of food allergies and provide safe options for food-allergic trick or treaters. People who participate pledge to put a teal pumpkin outside their homes, letting trick or treaters know that they have safe non-food treats available.
- Donate. Give the candy your kids can’t eat to a local food pantry or charitable organization.
- Discuss. Talk with your child about the allergens that may be hidden in specific foods, including Halloween candy.
- Always have an EpiPen with you. Especially if your child is prone to anaphylactic episodes after being exposed to an allergen.