As a mom, I want my children to experience all the enjoyable events I did. As a food allergy mom, I want to ensure that, when my children participate in food-related events, they do so safely. Obviously, Halloween is a tricky holiday – bad pun intended. So what’s an allergy mom to do? Moms in general are creative problem solvers, but we allergy moms are even better at it than moms of kids who don’t have special needs.
My kids have loved to go trick-or-treating since they could walk. Not so much for the candy, but because it’s fun to dress up in costumes and visit all the neighbors at night. Of course the problems are: 1) How do we ensure they make it home without eating anything unsafe, and 2) What do we do with all that unsafe candy?
Traditional, but Food Allergy Safe, Trick or Treating
All parents want to ensure their kids have fun while also staying safe during trick or treating so they warn their children about the dangers of open flames and passing cars. Kids with food allergies also need to understand the importance of not eating ANYTHING while out trick or treating. Before going out, we sit the kids down and ensure they’re truly listening when we go over the safety rules, especially the #1 rule of not eating anything. Often this is easier the younger they are because young kids are closely supervised by Mom or Dad. But children old enough to self carry and trick or treat with little to no adult supervision need to be trustworthy enough to follow the no eating rule. If they can’t be trusted to refrain from indulging, Mom or Dad must go with them or they shouldn’t go at all.
For kids who are extremely sensitive to their allergens, consider incorporating gloves into their costume. Or if it’s chilly enough where you live on Halloween night, your child may be eager to wear gloves or mittens without a fight. For obvious reason, airborne allergic children probably should find a safer way to celebrate than trick or treating the traditional way (see other ideas below).
As soon as the kids return home, we have them wash their hands well. Due to food inadvertently becoming unwrapped and/or crumbs from unsafe candy, we treat all candy collected during trick or treating as contaminated with the kids’ allergens. After returning home, we sort the candy from the trinkets and allow them to keep any non-food items, but we take away all the candy they collect.
The Good Witch
When my son was old enough to begin to understand that trick or treating equates to receiving candy, we instituted the Good Witch tradition. The Good Witch, we tell our children, visits on Halloween night but comes to the houses of only the kids with food allergies. She comes while the kids sleep and takes away all the unsafe candy and leaves in its place, a small toy or a book and a few safe treats. For us this is a win-win tradition: the kids get toys and some safe treats and we get rid of candy that’s so prolific it could last into the new year.
Other Ideas for a Safe Halloween
Drop off Safe Candy or Trinkets at the Neighbors
If your neighbors are accommodating, you could plan ahead and drop off safe candy (or appropriate non-candy items) in a separate bag specifically for your child and then have your child visit only those houses.
Form your Own Traditions
Start your own traditions that either don’t involve food or incorporate only safe food. For example, instead of going out, you and the kids could stay home on Halloween. Buy safe candy, dress up, and have fun passing out candy. Or go to the movies. Or host a Halloween party with your food allergy friends.
This year we are attending a Trunk or Treat at a local park on the Saturday before Halloween. Another mom from our food allergy support group organized it and you can see her plans here and easily duplicate them: http://faftrunkortreat.wordpress.com/
What To Do with Unsafe Candy
If you find yourself with a bag of unsafe candy, here are some ideas for what to do with it.
Candy Buy Back
Many dentists “buy back” Halloween candy. That is, in exchange for all your unwanted candy, they’ll give your child cash, trinkets, etc. They then send all the collected candy to the troops deployed overseas. To find a participating dentist in your area or to get the address so you can send the candy directly to the troops, visit: http://www.halloweencandybuyback.com/
Give it Away at Work
My husband works for a very large company. He takes all our unsafe candy to work and puts it in the kitchen on his floor, and it’s always gone within the hour.
Throw it Away
We’ve thrown away lots of unsafe food in our house. When the kids were in preschool at a supposedly nut-free school, they brought home nut and peanut-laden candy every Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day from their friends. I would go through the bags with them and point out why each piece of candy was unsafe (peanuts or nuts in the ingredients, made in a facility, no ingredients, etc.) and we would unceremoniously toss it in the trash. This taught the kids that it’s OK to discard food that’s unsafe (and not nutritious enough to pass along to the Food Bank).
Whatever you decide to do to celebrate Halloween, I hope you and your children have a fun and safe time. Let me know if you have any other ideas or suggestions for safe celebrating!