October can be a scary time for many kids and families – and not for the obvious reasons like ghosts, goblins and ghastly things jumping out at you.
Because my son is allergic to all nuts, for our family, the frightening part of October is the nut-filled treats lurking everywhere. On counter-tops, tables and even checkout lines! The most fearsome night, of course, is trick-or-treat night, when those goodies are placed right into his plastic pumpkin carrier and hauled around the neighborhood.
Now that we’ve had a few years under our belts since his diagnosis, we have a better handle on how to get through the night safely while still allowing him to enjoy the holiday. Whether you’re new to this journey or a seasoned food allergy parent, read on for some ideas to manage the night. I’d also love to hear your family’s ideas – share them with me in the comments section!
How We Handle Trick-or-Treating With Food Allergies
Buying and giving away candy that’s safe for him
I buy and give away candy that I know is safe for my son, that way if he only receives nut-filled treats on beggars’ night, he’ll still have something safe to eat while he evaluates his sugar-laden loot. Plus, I like giving away candy that I know the other kids with nut allergies can have.
Buying and giving away non-food treats, too
I like to go the extra step and give away non-food treats, too, just in case there are kids in the neighborhood who have food allergies that are different from my son’s. Hey, we food allergy parents have to stick together! I’ve found that glow sticks are always a hit.
Painting a pumpkin teal
While we’re picking out pumpkins to carve each year, I grab an extra one to paint teal. We put it out during trick-or-treat, which tells other kids that we have non-food treats available. If you’re not familiar with the Teal Pumpkin Project, FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) started it to raise awareness for the inclusion of all trick-or-treaters during the holiday. I saw that FARE is selling teal pumpkin buckets at Target this year and I purchased one to save an extra step!
Reminding him of the ground rules
By now, my son is familiar with the ground rules, but we still remind him each year anyway. The rules of trick-or-treating in our family are simple: 1. Do not eat any candy from your pumpkin until we get home. 2. Do not eat any candy from your pumpkin until we have inspected it. I take “safe” candy around the neighborhood with me just in case he’s tempted or needs the energy boost for the trek back home.
Carrying epinephrine with us
This is an obvious one, but I think it’s an important reminder. Even though we may just be a couple of blocks from our house, we bring it with us, just in case.
Reading labels when we get home
This is when we do the great divide of “safe” versus “unsafe” candy. And it can be particularly tricky because sometimes one size of the same candy can be safe, while another size won’t be. We refer to SnackSafely.com’s downloadable list, which includes all snacks that are peanut and tree nut free, not just candy. Scroll to page 20 for the candy section! A warning, though, that manufacturers can change their ingredients and process at any time. So it’s important to check all products, even the ones you’re familiar with. And if the candy doesn’t have a label at all, we’ll check out the manufacturer’s website for allergy information. If we can’t find it or we’re uncomfortable with which size it is, we’ll put it in the unsafe pile.
Giving away the “unsafe” candy
I usually take the candy that is unsafe for my son into work for my coworkers to devour. However, many dentists have buyback programs, or you can donate it to our military troops. This previous blog post includes links for doing just that, as well as other ideas for the excess candy.
We found that trick-or-treating is a lot less frightful when we follow these steps. And honestly, for my son, it’s more about the competition of collecting more treats than his brother and cousins (while wielding a lightsaber) than it is about consuming it.