Joshua Feblowitz is a a research assistant at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Thrive contributor who has lived with severe food allergies his whole life. In the following post he offers advice for parents on how to make Halloween safer and more inclusive for kids with food allergies.
Halloween is a night filled with excitement, creative costumes, spooky decorations and, of course, lots and lots of candy. But for food allergic children, Halloween can be one of the most difficult and dangerous holidays of the year. Not only are there scary allergens lurking in every candy-filled trick-or-treat bag, it’s also a time your child is at risk of feeling left out of all the food-centric festivities.
Because of my severe food allergies to milk and nuts, Halloween was always a tough time for me. However, each year, my parents worked hard so that I would be able to participate and stay safe, making allergen-free Rice Krispie treats for my class, organizing non-food-related activities like pumpkin carving and buying safe candy that I could exchange for all the trick-or-treating loot I collected, but couldn’t eat. It’s because of all their efforts that I remember Halloween as a night of fun and friends instead one of anxiety and frustration.
Ghosts and goblins aside, Halloween will always be a little bit nerve-wracking for parents of food allergic children, especially as they grow older and strike out on their own for the evening. Here are some things you can do to help your food-allergic child have a fun and safe Halloween at any age:
- Teach your food-allergic child what candy is safe. Nowadays, most houses give out pre-wrapped name brand candy. This is great because it lets kids with food allergies quickly recognize what’s safe and what isn’t. By preparing children with food allergies to recognize and avoid problem foods, he or she can pass on allergens without drawing too much attention to the issue. This is particularly important if they are going out on their own and may sneak a treat or two before coming home.
- Encourage your child to trade with friends, siblings or you for allergy-safe candy. As a kid, I used to set up a “Trading Post” as soon as I got home from trick-or-treating. My younger (non-allergic) brothers and I would dump all our candy out on the table and we’d make trades, so I could swap any allergy- triggering treats for safe candy (“I’ll give you three potentially anaphylaxis-causing Kit-Kats for that big bag of symptom-free Skittles.”) Encourage your child to trade with friends and siblings for candy they can eat. If supervised trading isn’t an option, you might want to buy a bag or two of your child’s favorite candy so he or she can exchange potentially dangerous food for safer options that you’ve stashed away.
For younger children and those with very severe allergies, distribute candy, other treats or small toys to neighbors before trick-or-treating begins. On my very first Halloween, my parents left small goodie bags at neighbors’ houses up and down the street. When I showed up at their door in my postman costume, they knew right away what to give me, and I got to experience Halloween trick-or-treating like any other kid. It’s another great way of letting your child participate and spend time with friends while keeping them safe from potential allergens. The extra preparation time is worth it to ensure that your food allergic child will feel included.
- Help plan school functions so your food allergic child can participate. One of the most upsetting things for a young child with food allergies is to be left out of a special occasion. By volunteering to help with a school Halloween party you can ensure that there are allergen-free treats available and that it’s a safe environment for your child. If you have the time, work with your child’s teacher in advance to ensure that they will be able to participate in the festivities.
- Shift some of the emphasis away from food. Candy is great, but there are lots of Halloween activities that are fun and have nothing to do with food. Carve a pumpkin. Decorate the house. Create a great costume. Watch scary movies together. If your child must stay in from trick-or-treating because of very severe allergies, consider throwing a Halloween party or letting them distribute candy to trick-or-treaters themselves. Just because they can’t eat like everyone else doesn’t mean they have to be isolated from the experience.
The key is balancing fun and safety. With the right planning, you can avert both allergic reactions and emotional trauma and create happy Halloween memories for your food allergic child.