Tricky Treating

jackolantern.jpgToday, Tracy shares Halloween tips for parents, friends, and neighbors of kids with allergies:

“One of the biggest bug-a-boos for families dealing with food allergies is Halloween. When a holiday is specifically targeted at kids, and the whole point is to collect as much candy as possible, what are parents and their food allergic kid to do? Here are some of the ideas we have found useful over the years, and how they are changing as our children get older.

1. Invent a Halloween fairy. We did this for a number of years when Gabriel was little enough to not know the difference and I wasn’t keen on him having any candy (never mind that to which he was allergic). The Halloween fairy comes and takes all of the candy piled in the middle of the kitchen table and replaces it with an inexpensive toy. Gabriel is now 7, and realizes that we are the only family he knows with one of these fairies, so the surprise premise will remain the same, but he knows it’s me replacing the loot. In addition, I have purchased allergen-free candy and chocolate instead of toys (Divvies and Enjoy Life are good sources for these). Alternatively, you could bake safe treats for your child.

2. Teach your child to say, “No, thank you. I have allergies.” This may sound mean, but it’s necessary. Up until now, we haven’t used this strategy because Gabriel didn’t eat or touch any of the candy he collected. This year, I’m sure he will want to rifle through his loot to see if there are some things he can have. But if he were to stash all of the chocolate bars and candies that contain his allergens and something broke open, we'd have to assume the whole haul got contaminated and toss it. Not worth the disappointment, I assure you. So, this year, he will learn to quickly identify obviously dangerous treats (e.g., peanut butter cups) and politely decline them. His younger brother who does not share his allergies will do the same.

3. Consider a free-for-all. If you have safe treat alternatives, consider allowing a free-for-all after trick or treating is over. Seriously. Food allergic kids are denied so much of the time that there should be one day where they are allowed to be free of restraint. Also, consider stashing some of the safe stuff to bring to school in lunches, so your kid can enjoy post-Halloween treats along with his or her friends.

4. Figure out sibling protocol. For siblings without allergies, decide how treats are handled in your family. Some families choose to keep a small selection of treats for the other children that they eat away from home. We have decided that, in fairness to Gabriel, Halloween is simply an allergen-free holiday. His brother and sister won’t know the difference for a long time, and when they do, I hope they react with empathy to their brother’s situation, and feel proud to share in his treats knowing that they are protecting his health. Kids understand this stuff remarkably early as long as it is a regular topic of conversation. Gabe’s 4-year-old brother can repeat a list of candies that would not be okay for Gabriel, and also why they aren’t okay for any of us to have (e.g., accidentally transferring the allergen via kissing, holding hands, etc.).

5. Review and enforce the treat rules. In our house these are: a) an Epi Pen is a must, along with the backup. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t go with your costume; b) No eating while treating; c) No label = no good; d) Read the ingredients every time…these change often, and different sized candy packages can have different ingredient lists.

6. Play up the costume part of Halloween. We get out a bit later than most other trick or treaters that are the ages of our kids, because we make a HUGE deal about their costumes. I scour secondhand shops and department stores for the items we need weeks in advance to make sure I have exactly what is wanted for each costume. While the kids are still home getting ready, I also make a big deal about how the other costumes look when trick or treaters come to our door. I hardly mention what we’re giving out at all (which is also always allergy-friendly, by the way). I’m sure to exclaim with delight over each and every princess and ghost who shows up at our door, to emphasize that it’s the dressing up that is fun. Candy is a side benefit.

7. Be prepared with allergy-friendly alternatives. If you’re the neighbor or friend of a child who is food allergic, ask his or her parents for safe alternatives to give when they come knocking. Remember to keep these separate from the loot you’re handing out to the other ghouls and goblins. If you encounter a trick or treater who says, “No, thank you,” if you have allergy-friendly treats, explain to the parent/guardian what you have and, if OK’d, offer it to the child. For peanut allergic kids, there are now more options, but it gets trickier as you get into allergies such as egg, milk, soy, and corn. There are probably very few candies that are completely safe for these kids, but at least you’ve shown interest, care, and consideration. Another option is to also have non-treat items on hand, such as sport trading cards, toys, bubbles, fairy wands, etc.

Overall, Halloween is still a much-anticipated holiday in our house. Food allergies are a challenge; however, with some savvy management by parents, food allergic kids can still have their treats, and eat them, too!”

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