By Kelley Lindberg
|It's all about the adventure, not the candy!|
Trick-or-treating can be one of the scariest aspects of Halloween for parents of food-allergic children. But for the kids, it’s one of the most fun parts. So what should the parent of a food-allergic child do? For most of us, our first instinct is to keep them home, period. But our second instinct is often to find safe ways to help our child experience life the way “normal” kids do, rather than letting food allergies define or limit them.
So is it possible to make trick-or-treating a safer activity? You bet.
First, remember that for kids, while they get excited about all the candy, it’s really the adventure of dressing up and going door-to-door that’s important. So help them focus on the “adventure” part of the night, not the candy, and realize that you CAN make trick-or-treating safe.
Here are some tips for safe trick-or-treating:
Tip #1: No nibbling until you're home!
Before going out, remind everyone that no one eats anything until everyone gets home and the parent reads the label on every piece of candy. That way, no one is eating unidentified foods and having a reaction while you’re out in the dark a block away from home. Make sure the kids agree, understand, and agree again. No one sneaks anything (not even Dad).
Tip #2: Wear gloves.
If your child is super-sensitive to an ingredient, have them wear gloves with their costume, so that any allergenic candy that touches their hand on the way into the bag doesn’t cause a skin reaction. Toss the glove in the wash or in the trash when you get home.
Tip #3: Only eat candy with labels!
Unlabeled candy is assumed to be unsafe. Period. The only exceptions are brand-name candies that you are already very familiar with and know are safe. (For example, I know Starbursts and Skittles are okay for my son, so I’ll let him keep those.) If there is a type of candy that he’s particularly interested in, I might promise to look for it at the store the next day, and read the ingredients there. But it goes into a separate container until we’ve seen it at the store and verified its safety. See my post from Oct 20, “Allergy-Free Halloween Candy Round-Up 2014, Part 2 (Local Stores),” for a list of many Halloween candies and their ingredients – it might help you sort through what isn’t safe.
Tip #4: Plan a few “safe houses.”
A day or two before Halloween, try setting up a network of “safe houses”—families in your neighborhood who will agree to have some “safe” candy or non-food treats to give to your child. (You can even give them the safe treats to give to your child!) Most neighbors would be more than happy to accommodate your child if they know ahead of time. No one wants to think they’re ruining a child’s big night. You’d be surprised how willing most people are to help. And with this year’s Teal Pumpkin Project going strong, look for those teal pumpkins that indicate they have non-food treats available. See FARE’s website for more info about the Teal Pumpkin Project.
Tip #5: Take epinephrine autoinjectors with you.
Not only do you need to make sure you’ve got your EpiPens or Auvi-Qs immediately available for obvious reasons, but making sure your child realizes he has to have them with him while trick-or-treating may remind him of how important it is not to cheat and sneak a bite of candy before you get home and read the label.
Tip #6: Make a plan for unsafe candy ahead of time.
Before you head out on your adventure (preferably several days before, so that the kids aren’t overly excited and can actually hear you), talk about what you’re going to do with any unsafe candy when the night is over. Here are some ideas:
- Go trick-or-treating with a friend or sibling, and at the end of the night, sort through both kids’ candy together, making two piles—a “safe” pile for the allergic kid, and another pile for the non-allergic kid. If they both know about this plan beforehand, they are usually more than willing to do this. (My son used to trick-or-treat with a friend who had braces—there were plenty of candies the friend couldn’t eat because of the braces, and plenty that my son couldn’t eat because of allergies, and it’s amazing how generous they both were about handing over “safe for you” loot.)
- Buy a bag of safe candy ahead of time, and at the end of the night, let your child “trade” you for all the unsafe candy he brought home.
- A big trend this year is “Switch Witches.” While many people have purchased an “official” Switch Witch book and doll, you can use your own witch doll or rely on those invisible Switch Witches (who hang out with the Tooth Fairy when the Halloween season is over). On Halloween night while the kids are sleeping, kids set out their candy stash for the Switch Witch, who takes it away and leaves a fun gift in return.
- “Buy” the unsafe candy from your child, but establish a price ahead of time, such as a nickel a piece, a dollar a pound, or the whole kit and caboodle for a new DVD, a new toy, a trip to the movies, a night out with Dad, a visit to the dollar store, or other such treat.
- Look for a dentist or other business in your area that buys candy from kids on the day after Halloween. You can search the internet to find one in your area. The website Halloween Candy Buy Back lets you type in your zip code and find dentists who have registered for the buy-back program in your area. The kids get money, and dentists often donate the candy to places like children’s hospitals or soldiers serving overseas.
- Let the child “donate” the unsafe candy to Mom or Dad, so they can take it to work and share it with their coworkers.
- Let the child donate the unsafe candy to a local women’s shelter, food bank, homeless shelter, or family of a soldier. Or send your candy to Operation Gratitude, an organization that will send your candy to our soldiers for you (just send it to them before November 15). Soldiers always seem to appreciate candy that they can share with friends or give to children in war zones.
Got any more trick-or-treating tips? Post a comment and share! Whatever your family chooses to do for Halloween this year, I hope it’s spooktacular!