Preparing for trick-or-treaters who have food allergies doesn’t have to be scary! Read on for easy ways to have an allergy-friendly Halloween.
Has anyone else noticed how the number of kids with food allergies has skyrocketed over the past few decades? When I was in elementary school, I don’t remember a single child in my classes having a food allergy. Back then, our parents brought homemade cupcakes for school parties, and none of us had ever heard of the word “gluten.” But y’all, times have changed.
According to the CDC, the prevalence of food allergies in children increased 50% between 1997 and 2011. At least 1 in 13 children now has a food allergy.
Can you imagine how challenging Halloween must be for children with food allergies? They have to watch all of their friends and siblings eat pounds and pounds of candy that they will never be able to eat. A lot of the fun of trick-or-treating is lost when you can’t actually eat any of the treats you walk around asking for. And can you imagine how difficult it must be for their parents? Of course they want their children to get to dress up and participate in the holiday just like other kids, but then there is anxiety and worry about their child accidentally eating something that could potentially kill them. As someone who now has a food intolerance myself, I really sympathize with those who have food allergies come Halloween night.
The thing is, it’s not that hard to have an allergy-friendly Halloween. Those of us who hand out candy can #MakeHalloweenGreatAgain for kids with food allergies by making easy changes to the way we prepare for trick-or-treaters. Here’s how:
1. Offer allergy-friendly food treats.
Ninety percent of food allergies are caused by one of eight common allergens: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat/gluten, fish, and shellfish. Many of these, especially milk, nuts, and soy, are commonly found in popular Halloween candies. Rather than purchasing a large bag of Snickers or Milky Ways, which both contain 4 of the top 8 allergens, buy Halloween treats that contain none of the most common allergens. Some good examples are “natural” and organic fruit snack brands (including Annie’s and Black Forest), along with certain brands of lollipops (like YumEarth and Dr. John’s). This doesn’t guarantee that every child will be able to eat what you’re offering, but the vast majority of them will.
2. Offer non-food treats.
To ensure that children with food allergies have a safe treat option when they ring your doorbell, be ready with a selection of non-food treats in addition to the traditional candy. When I’m purchasing non-food treats, I always try to make sure I’m buying things that I think children will actually like and use. I have heard many people suggest going to a dollar store and buying a bunch of $1 trinkets to hand out. Going to the dollar store is fine as long as you’re getting fun, useable items, but consider your purchase carefully. I suspect that a lot of the trinkets people buy at the dollar store aren’t actually seen as “cool” by kids and promptly end up in a landfill somewhere. That’s a waste of your money and is bad for the environment.
My favorite non-food treat to hand out on Halloween is temporary tattoos (like these). They are cost-effective, relatively low waste, and kids LOVE them. Last year when I handed them out, even kids who did not have allergies were asking for temporary tattoos instead of candy!
3. Go exclusively non-food.
The safest way to avoid food allergy issues on Halloween is to steer clear of edible treats altogether. Rather than offering candy and non-food treats, ensure that everyone gets the same thing by simplifying and offering one choice of non-food treats, such as the temporary tattoos, colorful pens, glow sticks, and stickers mentioned above.
4. Put out a teal pumpkin.
Have you noticed in recent years that craft stores like Michael's and AC Moore are stocking a lot of teal colored pumpkins? That's because a teal pumpkin is the official symbol to signify that your house has non-food treats available. The teal pumpkin tells children/families with food allergies that your house has a safe option for them. You can paint a pumpkin teal, purchase a reusable teal pumpkin, or print out a teal pumpkin sign to post on your door.
5. Put yourself on the map.
Another way to signal to kids with allergies that your home is a safe place for trick-or-treating is to put yourself on the Teal Pumpkin Project's map of homes offering non-food treats.
I hope that many of you will use these tips to create an inclusive, magical Halloween experience for lots of children by offering allergy-friendly treats this year. This gesture of kindness goes a long way in making the day of a child who may feel constantly limited by their food allergy. And that's what trick-or-treating is about--fun and smiles!
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