As a child, I couldn’t wait for Halloween. Transforming into a princess or superhero was thrilling, and the best part was coming home and dumping my loot onto the kitchen table.
As a parent of a food-allergic son, however, I quickly realized that celebrating Halloween could pose a serious health risk. Still, I didn’t want him to miss out on the same thrills and giggles from the beloved autumn night. So over the years, I’ve come up with a few tricky tips to keep the fun in Halloween for children with food allergies.
Have a nice dinner before heading out treating.
On a full stomach, there will be less temptation to sneak a piece of candy.
Stash a few pieces of safe candy in your pocket.
When the other kids inevitably indulge along their route, your child will have something safe to enjoy and won’t feel left out.
Keep the essentials with you.
Don’t leave home without a cell phone, flashlight, wet wipes and, of course, the epinephrine auto-injector.
Consider supplying a few neighbors with pre-filled sealed treat bags.
When your child rings the doorbell, the neighbor can pass out the safe loot and you’ll be certain that he’ll get to keep some of what he has collected.
Choose costumes with gloves.
If your child is extremely contact-sensitive.
At home, pass out toys.
I usually hand out low-cost toys or trinkets. I was an early adopter, before the start of the Teal Pumpkin Project. If I do buy candy, I choose something like Smarties, which is safe for multiple allergens. (Keep in mind, though, that candy sized for Halloween treating sometimes contains different ingredients than its full-size counterpart, so read the labels even on familiar brands.)
And what about my favorite part of the evening: coming home and dumping the candy stash onto the kitchen table? Here’s how to handle it:
0-2 year-olds: Forget the candy. An adorable costume, a juice box and a few safe cookies will do the trick. At this age, it’s a treat just to answer the door and pass out trinkets – as long as the trick-or-treaters aren’t scary monsters.
2-4 year-olds: Most kids this young can be fooled by one of my favorite tactics: the “Bait and Switch.” Give your child a plastic pumpkin for trick-or-treating. When you return home and while your child is busy washing his hands, swap the plastic pumpkin with an identical pumpkin that you filled ahead of time with safe treats.
5-8 year-olds: At this age, kids are old enough to understand that certain candy could make them really sick. So try a tactic that I call “Trade Up”. Here’s how it worked with my son. I’d buy a variety of pricey novelty candy ($7 spinning lollipop, anyone?), as well as a few inexpensive toys. When my son returned home from trick-or-treating, we’d head to the kitchen table and begin bartering, with him trading his unsafe candy for my safe candy, toys and trinkets. Everyone wins!
8 and up: In this age range, cash is king. Most kids are more than happy to trade their unsafe candy for nickels, dimes, quarters or even dollars. I call this tactic “Cash for Pumpkins”. Watch their eyes widen with excitement as their coins add up to a nice chunk of change! Some kids might be more excited by a larger-ticket item, like a doll or game that can be traded for an entire bag of candy.
Siblings: If you are uncomfortable keeping allergens in your home, then offer to trade siblings’ candy, too. Or, consider saving a stash in a safe place and promise to take your non-allergic child on a “peanut date” (or other allergen) where she can indulge in the forbidden candy without endangering her allergic brother or sister.
Despite my best efforts, there were definitely some years when my son was angry that he wasn’t able to keep all of his candy. I’m sure my pity reinforced his attitude. But we’ve moved past this, and now, at 11 years old, he feels lucky that he gets a fun video game and some candy.
Halloween with food allergies requires a little work behind the scenes. However, when parents model resilience and a can-do attitude, our kids are inclined to follow in our footsteps. Halloween can be a treat for your whole family!
Allergic Living contributor Gina Clowes is a certified master life coach, who specializes in the needs of parents of children with food allergies. She is the founder of AllergyMoms.com, an online support group serving thousands of families and professional members worldwide.