Halloween & Food Allergies
Managing food allergies and Halloween isn’t always easy, but we have found ways to have fun. Since it’s a holiday immersed in food, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and want to not participate at all. Our son never allowed the thought of not trick-or-treating to enter his mind! Therefore, we learned how to handle the holiday and keep him safe too. Here are some of our ideas to enjoy Halloween and also to keep it safe!
First, have your child choose a great costume. The dressing up part was most of the fun for my son. The candy was an afterthought. We’ve made costumes and allowed him to be a part of this so that he can get really excited for this part of Halloween.
We have read The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) book, “Alexander Goes Trick-or-Treating” many times. This is a good book to begin discussing ways to deal with Halloween and food allergies. (This book may be purchased online by visiting the FAAN website here.)
My son usually had a Halloween/dress up party at preschool and elementary school for which he always brought his own snacks. Some of these parties were elaborate events with a huge amount of food brought into the classroom. This is where I found that being a Room Mother was vital! I was able to help plan the party and ensure that only safe foods were brought in. Also, I attended the party to ensure that nothing unsafe was brought in. You’d be surprised how many parents have forgotten about nut-free snacks being required in the classroom by the time Halloween comes around. We learned to ask the teacher to send out a reminder notice prior to the party day asking for only nut-free food to be brought in. Letters at the beginning of school regarding a nut-free classroom can be but a memory to parents who don’t deal with food allergies daily.
As my son aged, we found many teachers were no longer willing to have a bunch of sugary snacks brought into the classroom at 9 am for kids to gorge on before lunch. We had many teachers give guidelines for the snacks such as only one sugary treat, and everything else had to be fruits or vegetables! Boy did we love that kind of teacher! I never trusted even the most well-meaning parent to bring in safe food for Morgan. Cross contamination in their kitchen could occur, even if they were supposedly making a safe treat. We always provided Morgan’s food for these events, or I brought the foods for the party and showed him which ones he could eat.
The rest of the class had nut free snacks that another parent provided. I have brought special treats for my son to pass out to his friends from Vermont Nut Free Chocolates or from one of the other safe allergy food companies listed on our site here. It was very exciting for him to have candy that he could enjoy too. This especially helped in the preschool years.
For Trick or Treating, we purchase only food that he can eat to give out at our door or we give out mini-Play-Doh or plastic rings and spiders. When he was younger, and we would go out trick-or-treating through our neighborhood, he would occasionally ask for a nut free snack from a neighbor! Most of the time people thought that was cute, and didn’t really understand. We’ve asked him to just say thank you regardless of the food he receives. Our agreement has always been to not eat ANYTHING until we get home! I know of some food allergic families who will give out safe candies to their neighbors and tell them what costume their child will be wearing so that only safe foods will be brought home. This can work great especially if you know your neighbors well!
Once home, we pore over the candy he receives and begin to put it into piles. The candy that we know has nuts in it goes into the pile to give out to other trick-or-treaters coming to the door. In this way, this candy doesn’t stay in the house where an accidental mix up can occur. Added to this pile is candy that he doesn’t like, and candy that doesn’t have a label on it. If we don’t know the candy and it doesn’t have a label on it, we don’t allow our son to eat it. What is left over is the candy he can eat. This is candy or treats that we know are safe. Raisins and Dum Dum lollipops were some of his favorites as a little boy. There usually isn’t much candy in this “safe” pile, so I allow him to exchange some of his candy for safe treats or pennies/nickels/dimes that I have on hand or other safe candy. Be especially careful to read labels on all candies. Some ‘regular’ size candy bars are safe, but the Halloween size ones are manufactured in a different facility and therefore may not be safe.
My daughter doesn’t have peanut allergies; however most years she gave away her peanut candy also. She felt better doing this, and we allowed her to make her own decision. We kept her candy separate, with her name on it in a separate cabinet from my son’s candy. For any candy that she kept that could cross with peanuts in the manufacturing process (such as M&M’s), we ensured that she ate these outside of the house.
This year, with Morgan in 10th grade, there won’t be any Halloween parties at school and therefore no extra foods brought in. The kids are allowed to wear costumes, but the day isn’t centered on parties. I must say it’s a welcomed relief to have him in high school!
Remember that Halloween is just one day, but vigilance is required. Make sure to discuss with your child what your expectations are about foods brought into his/her classroom. Discuss a plan for the day and what you expect in terms of your child eating safe foods at school parties. We found that talking about scenarios prior to the day helped Morgan to deal with the unexpected like unsafe foods brought into the classroom.
I also had already cleared with the teacher that if an unsafe food was brought into the classroom that he/she would deal with the parent and ask that the food be taken back home. A parent’s hurt feelings are preferable to a child going into anaphylactic shock!
Overall, try to have a fun day!