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Don't Let Food Allergies Turn Halloween Into A Nightmare

A mom of two food-allergic children weighs in on the most candy-inundated holiday.

My kids have never been trick-or-treating.

Every year a wave of sentimentality comes over me and I ask myself: "What are the pros and cons of them going door-to-door?"

No, it's not a deeply held moral stance on consumerism for me. It's also not that I believe in depriving my sons of a nationally held tradition for the sake of being different. My sons have life-threatening food allergies.

When my oldest son was 3 and I was pregnant with my second, we found out the hard way that he was allergic to peanuts. His grandfather innocently handed him a cookie and immediately the little guy threw it up. We knew something was not right. So after a dose of antihistamine and a trip to the emergency room, we became an Epi-pen carrying, peanut-free family.

But it didn't end there. He later showed allergic responses to soy and peas (both legumes like peanuts). When my second son was born, the whole house was already peanut-free. We thought maybe we would catch a break with him, but, no. He tested positive for peanuts and soy in addition to eggs.

So, from a very early age, Halloween has had its ups and downs. The childhood memories of dressing up and trudging home to dump out a bag of candy seemed not worth it to us when we would most likely have to throw half of it away.

Try telling a 3-year-old that you need to take back 50 percent of his candy haul. No fun.

Instead, we have chosen to come up with some of our own traditions. 

Every Halloween, the boys attend their share of costume parties, but avoid the candy. When we go to these events, say with the Cub Scouts, we bring along a small bag of "safe" candy we can share with them along the way.

We also organize a scavenger hunt in our home where they look for treats, including safe candy, all over the house, similar to an Easter Egg hunt. The boys actually look forward to this year after year.

Some parents feel differently and attend both trick-or-treating and town-held events, but stick close by, evaluating their kids' loot as it comes in.

Halloween is actually a great opportunity for parents with food allergic kids to take some time to talk to them and start training them how to handle their allergies.  Asking questions like: "Do you know what are you allergic to?" and "Do you know what it looks like on a food label?" are very important in helping them take steps to be independent as they grow older.

I have also trained my boys on exactly what to say when and if they are ever offered food. "I can't have that. I have food allergies." Most parents quickly whisk it away.

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network also provides a plethora of information on food allergies and ways to handle Halloween specifically:

  • Make the focus of the holiday on fun and dressing up rather than candy.
  • Contact your children's teachers in advance to make sure you have time to bring in a safe alternative if they are having a celebration that involves food.
  • Make it a rule that your children understand they are not to consume any candy without you having had time to look at labels and approve them.
  • Allow your children to be open about their feelings about having to handle the holiday a little differently than some of their friends. There's no harm in them expressing their feelings about it. Just respond with a listening ear and understanding.
  • Consider making goody bags in advance and dropping them off at neighbors' homes so that when your kids arrive at their doorstep, they can just hand them the bag.

Halloween with food allergies is not impossible. It just takes some out-of-the box thinking. And remember, if you or your children have food allergies, always carry antihistamine and your epinephrine!

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