Halloween is intended to be a joyful occasion, but for families managing food allergies, it can be tricky to navigate and a source of stress.
Every family needs to decide if and how they are going to celebrate Halloween. There isn't one list of rules that families managing food allergies have to follow, as every situation is different, and what’s "right' can vary based on what allergens you need to avoid, and the age and maturity of your child.
The key to a successful Halloween though, is to have open discussions about fears and dangers, and establish rules that balance the fun and spontaneity of trick-or-treating with staying safe and avoiding allergens.
Here are my top 10 tips for trick-or-treating with food allergies:
1. Participate in the "Teal Pumpkin Project"
A growing number of families are raising food allergy awareness by placing a teal painted pumpkin outside their front door. The teal pumpkin lets trick-or-treaters know that non-food treats are available for them. Find out which households are participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project through this online map. You can help make Halloween more inclusive by spreading the word about the Teal Pumpkin Project in your neighbourhood!
2. Establish rules
Talk to your child before they leave for trick-or-treating and establish rules. Many families agree to follow a "no snacking" or "no tasting" rule, so that kids understand in advance that candies are not to be consumed until they are sorted at home. To avoid any temptation, a "no peeking" in the bag rule could be agreed to as well.
3. Eat, drink and be merry
Eat a big and nutritious meal before trick-or-treating. This provides your child with a good start to a long night, and also reduces any temptations for unsafe snacking. Bring a bottle of water and a stash of safe treats for your child to snack on while trick-or-treating, in case they get hungry or want to snack with other children who might choose to eat treats from their bags along the way.
4. Be prepared for emergencies
Anything can happen while trick-or-treating, so it's important to be prepared for an emergency. Even though your child is in costume, make sure they have their epinephrine and medical ID bracelets with them. Carry a fully charged cellphone, wet wipes for contact reactions, an emergency epinephrine auto-injector and other medications, such as asthma inhalers or anti-histamines.
5. Recruit your neighbours
It takes a village to raise a child, and your neighbours and friends are part of your village. If you reach out to them and explain your child's food allergies, many neighbours will be more than happy to help keep your child safe and included in Halloween festivities. Some parents drop off allergy-friendly goodies with neighbours in advance, so young kids can trick-or-treat safely, or you can provide suggestions on allergy-friendly treats.
6. Empower your child
Depending on the age, maturity and comfort of your child, you can encourage and empower them to take control of what kind of treats they collect. Take some time to practice different techniques on how to politely request treats without their allergens, and how to show gratitude while politely declining treats that contain their allergens.
7. Halloween scavenger hunt
Many children, understandably, focus on collecting candy during trick-or-treating, which can be stressful for families managing food allergies. The primary goal of trick-or-treating can easily be refocused with a simple competitive scavenger hunt game among the group of people you will be trick-or-treating with. Select various Halloween images to look for while trick-or-treating, such as witches, black cats, Frankenstein or ghosts, and the person who finds the most throughout the night "wins."
8. Get creative with candies containing allergens
After trick-or-treating, regardless of food allergies, most households inspect treat bags to determine which candies are safe to consume. In households that manage food allergies, where a large majority of the candies are considered unsafe, different age-appropriate strategies are used to provide children with safe alternatives.
Whether you call it the Great Pumpkin, Halloween Fairy or The Switch Witch, some families create a pile of unsafe candies on Halloween night at bedtime, and kids wake up to find the pile magically converted to safe treats, toys or money. In some cases, children drop off their trick-or-treat bags at the door and come home to an allergy-friendly treat bag. Families with older children may allow their child to sift through their own treats and exchange unsafe candy with money.
If trick-or-treating is done earlier in the night, the candy containing allergens can get redistributed to other trick-or-treaters. Alternatively, candies can be donated to shelters, food banks and charitable organizations for the less fortunate to enjoy.
9. Haunted house
An excellent way to have a child participate in trick-or-treating without going door-to-door to collect candies is with a haunted house. Decorate your front yard as a spooky graveyard or haunted house, and recruit your child to dress up and be a moving part of the haunted scene. They will have a blast interacting with all of the neighbourhood kids.
10. Start new traditions
If the risks and emotional considerations surrounding trick-or-treating are something that you continue to struggle with, then starting your own Halloween traditions might be what makes the most sense for your family. This might involve a special Halloween-themed dinner, a movie night or hosting a party with non-food related activities.
Pauline Osena is a food allergy advocate and founder of HypeFoodie.com, an online resource for allergy-friendly living. This former dairy junkie became an expert in allergy-friendly cuisine, while figuring out how to feed her child with multiple food allergies. Pauline aims to inspire culinary adventures and experimentation with her series, "An Allergy-Friendly Makeover," and shares the valuable knowledge she has gained with "The Allergy-Friendly Top 10."