AS A CHILD, being “different” and standing out from your peers can be tough. As a food-allergic child on Halloween, it can be especially tough. Thankfully, the Teal Pumpkin Project now promotes inclusion for food-allergic kids through the shelling out of non-food items, making trick or treating easier and safer for them.
At our home in New Jersey, we happily added a teal pumpkin to our front door. We initially did so along with a special touch – a sign that read “Accio Teal Pumpkin” – in homage to the Harry Potter Series. The first year we did this, my food-allergic son Josh and I had just completed the series.
One of the greatest joys I have experienced as a mother was reading the Harry Potter series with my son. Harry Potter was different, yet Harry became the hero. Most importantly, Harry had friends who stuck up for him and protected him. It struck me that when you have a food allergy, you truly need your friends to help keep you keep safe, especially on Halloween. Josh and I both related to the book’s core themes of empathy, compassion and tolerance.
I wanted to bring some of that Potter magic into our food allergy world, and Halloween was the perfect opportunity. I decided to create the ultimate allergy-aware Halloween party, an event we ran for several years. We would transform our basement family room into a haunted house filled with Harry Potter lore, along with fright night staples like ghosts, vampires, werewolves, skeletons, ghouls and goblins. My goal was simple: every child would have a great time, and no one would feel left out.
At our party, all food was thoroughly labeled for ingredients – in a fun and spooky way. Non-food treats also made an appearance. I designed games to challenge young minds, and magic was in the air.
Harry Potter Party with Inclusion
It worked like a charm, casting a spell of friendship, excitement and surprise over the 50-plus kids who would attend. Every year, it took about six weeks for me to finish all the magic touches. But the multiple thank you notes made the effort worthwhile. I got one from a child with dairy, egg and peanut allergies who said ours was the first party she had fun at, without worrying about her safety. I also commonly heard, “Mrs. Mandelbaum, this is the greatest party ever.” And Josh, who once felt different from the other kids on Halloween, became the wizard host with the most.
One of my big joys with this party was seeing Josh add up the amounts of gift cards and get excited about giving to those less fortunate. A generous spirit certainly belongs amid the magic we can create.
Halloween Party Decorating Tips
Here are some of the tricks to creating a spooky, downstairs Hogwarts-like world.
- Signage: make a lot of signs. I used black coffee and a red paper stamp so they were aged and bloody-looking.
- Buy inexpensive real flowers and lay them near fake graves to add an authentic effect.
- Label bottles as “Poison.” I filled these with a concoction of spinach and water pureed in my blender. You can get creative and look up names of specific poisons from the Harry Potter series, such as Draught of Living Death, Mandrake, and Venomous Tentacula.
- Decorate over decorations – layer on netting and spider webs. This ups the spooky factor.
- For a Harry Potter theme, scour websites for free Potter downloads. I created maps and signs with fun sayings such as, “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”
- Put photos of Harry Potter characters like Voldemort in real frames of different colors. (I got mine at a dollar store; a lot of our decor was from this store).
- I used real plates and serving dishes for an authentic look. Old silver dishes that haven’t been polished in a while look old and decrepit.
- To make a mad laboratory, use old water, wine and olive oil bottles, plus medication and mayonnaise containers with labels. Add fake rubber worms and (dollar store) mice to complete your lab. Or, use these elements as decor in a Hogwarts “Room of Requirement.” Nothing got tossed out in our house without a pause to think: would it be useful at the party!
- Also for a mad laboratory, use old vases to feature “body parts” floating in water (strawberry pureed with water was the “blood” and cooked fusilli pasta created brain matter). Plus, employ your kids’ old clothes and add spooky heads to create an eerie cast of characters.
- Using sticker paper placed on top of index cards, I created fun and spooky warning labels informing my guests of the ingredients in our baked or homemade goodies.
- Sticker paper can also decorate (dollar store) trays – my serving trays sport labels such as “assorted eyeballs,” “scary skull surprise” or “cauldron cakes.”
- Old X-rays from your vet (we had one of our dog’s knees) taped up on a glass door pane will look frightening.
- Freaky tin foil on glass windows with mini-strobe lights makes a great effect.
- Take photos of the kids at the party. Then the next year, print out the photos and make “Wanted” signs (as if the kids are felons), pinning them to a bulletin board.
- Be the first person at stores the day after Halloween. I used to get 75% off and store my increasing collection for the next year.
- Strobe lights and replacing our bulbs with purple ones give us that spooky effect.
Allergy-Friendly Food Tips
When requesting an RSVP, I asked parents to let me know of any food allergies. This worked well, so we could have special goodies for all.
I created a “Poison Book,” with the labels of every candy that we served. On the day of the party, if anyone had an ingredients question, it was super easy to find the answer.
I augmented store-bought, allergy-friendly treats with some homemade Halloween creations. Examples include:
- Chocolate frogs, gravestones and teeth, made with Enjoy Life chocolate chips or a similar allergy-friendly brand.
- To get a crawly effect, place Surf Sweets gummy worms into homemade dairy-free, egg-free vanilla icing that’s spread over allergy-friendly brownies, cookies and cupcakes. Add crumbles of allergy-friendly, Oreo-style cookies for extra garnish.
- Create little edible pumpkins by sticking a cut celery stick in a tangerine. (Surprisingly, these were always a highly popular snack choice.)
- Add a very small amount of the blended strawberry and spinach water (from the poison bottles instruction above) to give plain icing a spooky tint – this way you don’t have to find safe food dyes.
- I baked giant pumpkin-shaped chocolate chip cookies using Cherrybrook Kitchen’s mix.
- Think out of the box and add your own. It’s Halloween, it’s Harry Potter, and the sky is the limit. Happy hauntings!
Sample Halloween Games
- Make “estimation jars,” with candies of differing sizes. Kids guess the number of candies in the jars. The winner gets a jar – or an iTunes gift card if he or she is allergic to a candy ingredient. Each jar has a name of a different Harry Potter potion, such as Gilly Weed or Veritaserum.
- I created my own custom Harry Potter-themed word search puzzle and crosswords, and had some gift card prizes.
Lianne Mandelbaum is the founder of NoNutTraveler.com and the airlines and allergies correspondent for Allergic Living. Article updated: September 2022.