This is a guest post written by Nana Mireku MD FACAAI, FAAAAI. She is a Pediatric Food Allergist and Food Allergy Mom. Dr. Mireku started her company, AllergenIQ, to provide online visits with a licensed allergist and has a passion for helping families manage food allergies.
Food allergies are one of the most common hindrances for a safe and fun Halloween. Unfortunately, not all treats come with adequate nutrition labels either (i.e., homemade goodies). Sadly, many parents do not discover their child has a food allergy until after the holiday is over, and they’ve spent a few hours at the emergency room. Luckily, there are a few things you can do this holiday season to ensure your children are safe, such as reading allergen labels and getting a pediatric allergen test before the holiday. Read on to learn how to have a safe and fun holiday without worrying about food allergies.
Trick or treating is one of the most popular aspects of Halloween. Who doesn’t love seeing little ghosts and goblins knocking on their door only to give them a delicious treat? However, many of those little ones also have food allergies. Because of this, more and more cities are looking to host food-free events for Halloween. This can include anything from scavenger hunts to dance parties. You may also be able to find one at a local church. If there’s nothing in your town, you may consider orchestrating a food-free event that allows all children to enjoy the festivities.
When you’re planning your Trick or Treat route, take the time to explain to your children certain behaviors they must exhibit. One of the biggest ones is going to be avoiding eating any treats they may receive. Far too often, we see diligent parents who missed their child sneaking a quick bite of a chocolate bar which can unknowingly contain the offending allergen. This can lead to disaster for everyone. Other rules may include not swapping candy or (politely) agreeing to refuse homemade goods. With these ideas in mind, your kids will be more likely to follow your allergen rules.
There’s nothing more frustrating than getting candy and not seeing any clear allergen information for a food allergy parent. This happens when people break up larger packs to hand out (although, more and more brands are getting better at this) or small pieces of candy that put all their allergen information online. Some candies may surprise you, such as Tootsie Rolls containing milk and Candy Corn made with sesame oil. When your kids get home, make sure you take their candy to go through it. You may have to look up nutritional information on your phone. If you can’t find anything, or if information is vague, the best thing to do is throw the offending candy out.
Food allergies can be challenging but planning will always help us to win by being able to keep our children safe while participating in fun activities. A candy swap is very simple; you look at all the candy and make trades for certain pieces of candy. This is an excellent way for your kids to learn some negotiation skills as well. At the end of the night, everyone leaves happy with safe and yummy treats that they can finish eating before November 1st comes around while you get peace of mind.
We already discussed how some candies may have negligible nutritional information; however, we would recommend that you also need to look for those that come in fun-size only packages. To make small candies and keep them preserved, many candy manufacturers need to adjust the ingredients. This can sometimes include adding an allergen into the formulation. That means candies normally considered safe by those with allergies can become dangerous when miniaturized. This means you will need to thoroughly research each candy your child receives to ensure they’re not unknowingly ingesting allergens. Again, if you are ever in doubt about whether your child can safely consume a candy, it’s better to throw it out.
Your child’s allergies are important to consider, and so are other kids. Sometimes we can fall into the pattern of passing out candy our kids can’t eat so others can enjoy them. However, they may be dealing with the same allergens as your child. Take the time to research nutritional information for the candy you want to pass out or look for allergy-safe candies before making a final decision to prevent another child from becoming sick. This will allow you to give everyone peace of mind and your family will have allergy-free candy to enjoy as well (assuming there’s any left).
If your child has a severe allergy, you may want to take the time to tell neighbors beforehand about their allergies and what they can eat. If they are able to, many will be more than happy to set aside treats you have designated as okay for your child to receive. If they are not able to, consider giving them a few candies to give to your child on Halloween. This allows your child to not feel left out, and they get a safe snack they can enjoy.
Who says that Halloween needs to be about getting treats? There’s nothing more fun than taking the time to host a Halloween-themed sleepover that allows your kids to connect and play with their friends. If you do this, you won’t need to worry about going through anyone’s treats because you can provide everything for your child and their friends. For activities, consider a scavenger hunt or a spooky hide and go seek game in the house. Your kids are much more likely to hold onto their memories of the party than they are a night trick or treating.
There is a lot of focus on food during this time of year, but you also need to take the time to look at face paint and other things that may touch the skin. Far too often, manufacturers use harmful chemicals and materials like dyes and latex to make items we put on our skin that can cause a severe allergic reaction. Check the ingredients or materials list of everything you purchase for the holiday. There is an assortment of allergen-free products on the market. If you can’t find anything, look to see about using regular makeup on the skin.
If your child is looking to go for the full Trick or Treat experience and you cannot negotiate with neighbors (e.g., they’re going to go in a different neighborhood), consider carrying allergen-safe treats for your child. You just need to swap them out for treats your child receives that will harm them. This is especially useful for younger children who may not understand the dangers their favorite treats possess for them or who may want to eat what their friends have.
No matter how diligent you may be as a parent, there’s always a possibility a snack will slip by you. Ideally, this isn’t a treat that will contain an allergen. However, if it does, you need to make sure you have your child’s allergen medication on hand such as your Epinephrine auto injector at all times. (Dual set depending on the severity of your child’s allergy, this can may be an antihistamine or an EpiPen.) Keep these items on hand with you at all times—including when you’re Trick or Treating—to ensure your child’s safety.
When you get home, you’ll need to examine all of your child’s candy. Sadly, this can severely reduce the amount they get which can be difficult for younger children to process. After all, you’re taking from their hard-earned bounty! Rather than taking their candy and offering an explanation, consider swapping out their allergen candy for something they can have. This allows your child to get the same amount of candy without feeling like they’re missing out. If your child is going Trick or Treating with someone else, tell them you’ll have a fun candy swamp once they get home.
When looking at candies, it’s important to realize that most have allergens within them. This can range from nuts and milk to wheat and soy. Common candies in the United States that contain allergens include:
Candies that tend to be allergen-free (again, check everything before giving it to your child) are:
Allergens are prevalent during the Halloween season as kids receive tons of candy. The above tips will help those with known allergies to stay safe this Halloween and have a great night. However, if you don’t know if your child has food or seasonal allergies, it is important to discuss with an allergist.
You can schedule a telehealth consultation with Dr. Mireku to discuss any allergy concerns you have about your child or family member. Use promo code ParentMD for a significant visit discount. Valid until 12/14/22. Check out the AllergenIQ website for loads of other content and tips on this topic.
Learn more about the Teal Pumpkin Project, an initiative by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) to provide a safe and inclusive Halloween experience for kids.
New to food allergies? We suggest watching this Specialty Video Toolkit by Dr. Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, FAAP to get acquainted.