My daughter has multiple food allergies. I’m not talking about food sensitivities. I’m talking about taking an EpiPen with us everywhere we go, knowing our bright, curious daughter could die were she to accidentally eat a rogue cashew.
At two she was old enough to enjoy trick-or-treating with her big sister but too young to understand that, with the exception of Skittles, Smarties, and Tootsie rolls, her Halloween candy would mysteriously disappear.
And that was fine with me.
Now she’s three and she “gets it.” I know she understands that she must ask me or her dad before she eats anything at a party. I know she’ll wait for me to give her a special, safe treat that I’ve packed just for her instead of accepting a slice of birthday cake. What I don’t know is how to handle Halloween.
If you’re also wondering how to enjoy trick-or-treating without being spooked by potential allergens, here are some tips.
1 | Create your own traditions
You don’t necessarily have to replicate the Halloween experience of your youth for your child to love the holiday as much as you did. As a parent, you have the freedom to invent your own family traditions.
Jennifer Roblin takes her seven-year-old non-allergic son trick-or-treating while her husband stays home with their daughter, who is four and has multiple food allergies. Her daughter loves dressing up and handing out plain potato chips (which are safe for her). Says Roblin, “I asked her if she wanted to go trick-or-treating this year and she cried, saying ‘No Mommy, I dress up and hand out tato chips.’”
Leigh Goodwin Furline, who has one child with food allergies and one who does not, gives her kids the option to trick or treat or not. Last year, they decided to skip trick-or-treating in favor staying home to watch a movie. They also received some safe candy and a toy of their choosing.
2 | Trade candy for a toy
Trading candy for a toy means not only can parents bypass label-reading, candy-sorting, and the risk of cross-contamination, but they also avoid the hassle of candy rationing, candy-hiding, kids begging for candy, and all other candy-related problems. Sarah Jean Shambo lets her son choose whatever toy he wants in advance, but she waits until Halloween to purchase it. This way, she explains, “he’s excited about the trade and it doesn’t have to be a fight.”
While the Shambo family takes a DIY approach to the switch concept, many parents call on the official Switch Witch, who needs candy to keep warm through the winter. Developed by a mom who struggled with the piles of candy her kids brought home from trick-or-treating, the toy is designed for parents who want to limit their kids’ sugar consumption and for those who need to keep their food-allergic kids safe.
3 | Trade unsafe candy for safe candy
If a Halloween without candy sounds as depressing to you as a birthday without presents, trading your child’s Halloween candy out for safe treats is a sweet solution. If you’re concerned about the possibility of cross-contamination, you could do what Sarah Hodges does. Instead of sifting through all of her son’s candy and reading all of the labels to determine what’s safe, she replaces everything with Enjoy Life Halloween candies. Megan McDavitt has two children, ages four and two, who between them are allergic to milk, peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame. She encourages them to take non-candy or safe items if any are available. Once they get home, she lets them keep any safe candy and replaces anything they can’t have with No Whey Halloween candies.
Kim Schmid, who has one child with allergies and one without, does it a bit differently. She combines the contents of her two kids’ candy bags and then sorts it. Her allergic daughter gets to keep whatever is safe for her. The rest of the candy goes into her non-allergic son’s bucket.
4 | Just say “no thank you”
As parents of kids with food allergies, we all hope our kids will outgrow them. In the meantime, we share the hope that our kids have the maturity and the confidence to speak up for themselves anytime they could be exposed to an allergen. For some families, Halloween is no exception. In fact, it can be an excellent opportunity to give a child the chance to practice having these conversations.
This Halloween, Adrianna Shook plans to help her almost four-year-old daughter say, “Trick or treat, we have allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Do you have something else?” Many parents I spoke to said that they were happy to politely ask neighbors if their treats were peanut-free when their kids were little but now that they’re older, the kids do it themselves. Not only that, but it turns out a little education goes a long way. Charlotte Eugenio said that after a couple years of polite no thank you’s in a row, she noticed some houses started offering a separate selection of nut-free options.
5 | BYOC
For parents of younger kids who want their kids to experience as much of the “normal” (read: allergy-free) Halloween experience as possible, a little benign trickery goes a long way. Jennifer Devine Pirozzoli usually takes her kids to the homes of other family members, which gives her the opportunity to run up to the door with an entire bag of safe candy from which her child can choose, without ever knowing that that mom hand-picked it in advance.
Other parents, like Victoria King, who plans to take her two-year-old son trick-or-treating for the first time this fall, will carry safe treats for their food allergic kids to munch on as they walk.
6 | Cash for candy
There’s no reason a kid shouldn’t have the chance to cash in on his treats. Parents like Toni Gaudisio are happy to buy back their kids’ candy. Says Gaudisio, “My kids (who are eight and 11) are allowed to swap out five pieces of candy for safe candy and the rest I buy back for 25 cents. We usually take them [shopping] a few days later to purchase toys with their Halloween money.”
Other parents, like Becki Rice and Cristina Salazar Rafferty, enjoy the benefits of getting rid of the candy without having to pony up – their family dentists are pay for Halloween candy.
Life with allergies can certainly be scary. But Halloween doesn’t have to make it even spookier. A little creativity goes a long way when it comes to making Halloween fun for everyone, no matter what they can or can’t eat.