Last Halloween was one of my proudest days as a parent of a child with severe food allergies. Our four-year-old son, Graeme, who is allergic to soy, chicken, peanuts, eggs, wheat and a few other foods, trick-or-treated by asking each house what was in the candy they were giving out.
His queries drew quizzical looks from parents who I’m sure had not expected to be interrogated by a pint-sized, towheaded boy in a Super Mario costume. They also drew the attention of a local television news reporter, who featured Graeme on the 9 p.m. news.
We’ve come a long way since the day he was diagnosed with his allergies. When Graeme was around 18 months old, he had bad eczema and asthma, two conditions linked to food allergies. The allergist who diagnosed his allergies listed the foods we should avoid (which include pretty much all processed foods—and certainly Halloween candy) but gave little in the way clear guidance on what he should eat and how we should handle holidays like Halloween.
His first trick-or-treating adventure was closely supervised, and he was disappointed that he couldn’t eat anything he got. (Corn was on his allergies list at the time). We were prepared with hugs and several allergy-free treats created just for him.
Since then, we’ve remained vigilant about our son’s diet, especially at events where he is likely to come into contact with food he can’t eat. We send goodie bags for Graeme to birthday parties, we pack his lunch for school and church events and we talk to him regularly about what he’s allergic to and where those allergens are likely to hide.
And we stick to a plan around Halloween to make sure he has a normal, kid-friendly experience and minimize the chance that he’ll eat something he isn’t supposed to.
Here’s our go-to Halloween plan.
• We buy candy just for him that we can give him after he’s done trick-or-treating. Unless your town has an allergy-free candy shop, this takes a little planning. Last year we ordered a life-sized gummy brain (along with other candies) void of any offending ingredients—and it was spectacular fun.
• We go over what Graeme can and can’t have before he heads out to trick-or-treat. And we remind him to ask questions if he isn’t sure.
• We read the labels before he noshes. This is important. According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, mini-versions of candies may contain different ingredients than their larger counterparts and may come into contact with other candies (and their allergens) more often. It’s why you have to read the label, even if you think know what’s inside. In the case of minis, the ingredient label may be on the original bag, not the wrapper. We toss candy that isn’t labeled.
• We sort before we snack. Neither of our children is allowed to eat anything until they come back from trick-or-treating. When they get home, we sort and share. Usually, Graeme’s bag is half as full as his older sister’s (she’s got trick-or-treating down to a science). She gets the stuff he can’t eat—he gets the rest until we achieve balance.
• We trick-or-treat as a family—and we carry an epinephrine pen. This means we can enforce the no-eat rule—and respond to a crisis if necessary.
• We toss candy that isn’t recognizable (a surprising amount of candy from international origins makes it into our kids bags these days) or doesn’t include ingredients on the label.
Finally, when kids come to our house, they get something besides candy—usually small toys, games or trinkets. It may make us less popular than the house down the hill giving out peanut butter cups, but at least no parent has to worry about a dangerous reaction.
May the scariest part of your Halloween be the costumes and horror films.
If you have a child with a food allergy, what tricks do you use for handling Halloween? Let us know in the comment box below.
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