Halloween can be a trickier time for families managing food allergies; many traditional Halloween treats aren’t safe for children with life-threatening food allergies to things like peanuts or tree nuts. The Teal Pumpkin Project promotes safety, inclusion and respect of individuals managing food allergies. This worldwide movement offers an alternative for kids with food allergies, as well as other children for whom candy is not an option. It keeps Halloween a fun, positive experience for all! I gotta admit, when we started sharing teal pumpkin “treats” at our home we realized they were far better than the candy we had offered previously!

Making all children feel safe and included is a goal we all have. If you see a house with a teal pumpkin in front of it when you’re out with your kids this Halloween, give that homeowner a high-five. They’re making it a point to include kids with food allergies in on the trick-or-treating fun during this candy-filled holiday. I’m a pediatrician and mom to two boys and our family loves participating in this project every year.

The seriousness of food allergies

Food allergies are a serious subject and have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. It’s estimated that more than 30 million Americans are affected by food allergies. In context, that’s two children in every US classroom. Allergies to food have doubled each of the last decades making this a serious and every-school, every-neighborhood issue. Dealing with food allergies can mean disruption to daily life and changing the way you celebrate holidays (so many are focused on food!). Case in point, several of the 8 most common foods & food groups that can cause serious reactions are found in Halloween candy. Think: milk, wheat, peanuts, eggs, soy and tree nuts (also fish and crustacean shellfish, but you probably don’t have to worry about the neighbors handing out fish-sticks on Halloween night).

What is the teal pumpkin project?

The Teal Pumpkin Project is a campaign started by FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) to promote safety, community and inclusion for children with food allergies. If you see a teal pumpkin outside someone’s home on Halloween, it means they’re offering non-food treats for kids with allergies in addition to candy (or sometimes no candy to avoid any confusion).

What exactly is a non-food treat? Here are a few ideas: glow sticks or bracelets (kids and parents love these for the added safety they bring while walking along dark roads), stickers, bubbles and pencils. Don’t break the bank with a full size toy; a little trinket will do the trick. I’m handing out spider rings in all sorts of colors (they were only 74 cents a pop!).

It’s important to mention that there are a handful of non-food items that can still cause allergic reactions, like Play-Doh (which is made with wheat) and anything made from latex (balloons), so avoid those if you can.

Hats off to FARE for going the extra mile to not only create awareness, but creating a new, long-lasting, novel solution. This is the beginning of us doing an even better job of taking care of children with special medical needs, even during celebrations, and allowing children with allergies to celebrate Halloween safely.

4 tips for food allergy families to have a safe Halloween

1. Make sure you’re checking and reading all labels

Some labels will state “may contain (allergen name),” but you may have to go look at the full package label for more details. If there is no label, or the treat is homemade, I recommend tossing it out.

2. Use the “Always ask first” rule

If you’re a food allergy parent, you likely already have this rule in place, but make sure to reinforce it during an exciting and frenetic time like Halloween. Make sure your kids know to wait until you get home from trick-or-treating to sneak any bites and that they ask you if each piece is OK before they eat it.

3. Talk to your child’s school

If your child’s class has any sort of party or celebration for Halloween that involves food, make sure you discuss it with the teachers and/or class volunteers. Ensure your allergy emergency plan is in place and your epinephrine pen is readily available and not outdated with the school nurse.

4. Trade or donate

If your child gets candy that they aren’t able to eat, have a few small toys/trinkets on hand for them to trade in with other kids. You can also donate candy after Halloween to a variety of causes after the holiday.

A version of this post was published October 5, 2021. It has been updated.