Halloween can be a magical night, filled with treats and fun. But for kids with food allergies, the celebration can be a disappointment.
Children have delighted in the holiday’s spooky superstitions for centuries, promising tricks unless they get treats, wary of the witches, goblins, and ghouls that inhabit the earth on All Hallows Eve.
Granted, the holiday’s not what it used to be. We live in a world where things that go bump in the night are not all we have to fear.
But guess what?
There’s a wonderful organization that is promoting safe and fun trick-or-treating for children with dietary restrictions.
The Teal Pumpkin Project
FARE, or Food Allergy Research & Education, is the founder of the Teal Pumpkin Project, which strives to make non-edible treats available to children who go trick-or-treating.
It’s simple to participate – just place a teal-colored pumpkin or jack o’lantern outside your house to indicate that you will offer non-edible treats to food-sensitive trick-or-treaters.
Displaying a flyer with FARE’s teal pumpkin logo is another way to alert the children in your neighborhood that you are aware of the seriousness of food allergies, and that you’ll be giving out a treat they will be allowed to have.
What a wonderful and long overdue idea!
If you plan to receive trick-or-treaters, pick up a teal pumpkin kit or paint a pumpkin teal to display in front of your house.
Then lay in a supply of non-edible treats for the children in your neighborhood with food intolerances.
Some great inexpensive ideas for non-edible treats are:
- Erasers in fun holiday shapes
- Glow sticks
- Koosh balls
- Spider rings
According to the FDA, there are eight major food allergens that must be disclosed on grocery package labels in the US. They are:
- Crustacean shellfish
- Tree nuts
In order to be labeled completely free of an allergen, a manufacturer’s facility and/or production line must be certified as such.
There are many additional allergy-inducing items – including corn, chocolate, and strawberries – that didn’t make the top eight in the US, so read labels carefully when shopping for children with allergies.
A unique challenge arises when a child has multiple intolerances, like gluten and lactose.
A cookie may be gluten free, but not lactose free. Or, it may be completely free of milk, but it contains gluten.
Fortunately, there are some good quality packaged treats that are free of the eight major allergens. However – no surprise here – they are expensive when compared with the economy size bags of candy that are commonly purchased for trick-or-treaters.
One you may like to try is Surf Sweets Spooky Spiders. This all-natural fruit juice sweetened snack is free of the eight major allergens, and is packaged in individual portions.
Another is YumEarth Organic Lollipops. Also free of the big eight, these pops are made with real fruit extracts and contain no high-fructose corn syrup.
Snacks labelled “sugar-free” often contain artificial ingredients and sugar substitutes of dubious value.
Did you know that some sugar substitutes can have a laxative effect?
For children who require low-glycemic snacks, I recommend homemade or non-edible treats.
Traditions to Love
Last year I had a trick-or-treater who carried a teal pumpkin from house to house, making her needs known and prompting the offer of non-edible treats.
And do you know what this made me think?
If we all gave out only non-edible items, we could take safety to new heights, and level the playing field for many kids at the same time.
Why not start a new tradition at your house? Offer to trick-or-treaters only what your own child can have. Maybe you already do!
My family has multiple dietary restrictions, and we enjoy many traditions that deflect attention away from holiday food to a more inclusive focus on holiday fun.
All Decked Out
Like me, many in my neighborhood enjoy autumn displays of pumpkins, scarecrows, cornstalks, and hay bales. Others make macabre churchyard settings complete with skeletons and tombstones.
A walk up and down the streets is like a museum tour, and it’s an outing we enjoy as a family.
When the late October nights come, you’ll find us on our front porch, huddled around a fire pit and lighting jack o’lanterns in anticipation of the big night.
Making costumes was a tradition in my house growing up. From gypsy fortune tellers to swashbuckling pirates, we made them all with fabric and cardboard scraps.
And since it was usually cold out, we had to make them fit over our winter coats!
If you come to my neighborhood for a spooky All Hallow’s Eve, don’t be surprised if you see a parade of costumed dogs strolling the streets.
Even if you don’t join in the parade, your kids may have fun dolling Fido up for some family pictures.
You may even enter him in a contest for best-dressed pet. Check out fun events like this in your area!
Another annual event I cherish to this day is a yearly pilgrimage to Linvilla Orchards to choose the perfect pumpkins to carve, and to have a picnic beneath the sycamore trees. A new addition to the fun at this family-owned farm is a giant corn maze.
Have the kids wear their costumes and bring your camera. I haven’t met a child yet who wouldn’t be excited to wander through a giant display of pumpkins of every shape and size until he found the perfect one.
Party at the House
When you have kids with food challenges, the best way to ensure that your child has fun and stays safe may be to skip trick-or-treating and have a party at home.
Help him write invitations and invite several friends. Evites are the favored mode of communication of the day, and you can create an email exchange with the parents to share information about dietary restrictions.
Make healthy snacks or purchase food items accordingly, so there’s something for everyone.
Have the party early in October, as the children you invite may also want to go trick-or-treating. Invite the parents of very young guests to come along.
Another option is to locate a community party for children in your neighborhood.
Many locales host events that provide safe havens for supervised holiday fun. Be sure to inquire about dietary considerations, and offer to contribute items that your child is allowed to eat and drink.
Pumpkin Carving Events
An autumn event that I really like year after year is a giant pumpkin carving contest that’s held in a farmer’s field on a late October afternoon.
These huge babies (grown with plenty of tender love and care) are scooped out, and intricate designs are transferred to their skins. With an array of tools they are transformed into works of art that are lit up, glowing as the sun sets.
How about unplugging for a while?
Remember telling ghost stories around a campfire when you were a kid? Why not revive the tradition with your own children?
Maybe you could read some of Edgar Allen Poe’s classics for inspiration.
If you have autumn-themed books in the house for the kids, collect them and keep them handy to read each day. Know your children’s tolerance for spooky tales, and don’t raise goosebumps before bed!
Speaking of goosebumps, not all children go for Halloween and its creepy and sinister aspects. Your youngest child may be fine one year and terrified the next.
Ease into activities and see how your kids like them. Always heed their cues.
While Halloween comes every year, it never hurts to review some safety tips.
If your children will go trick-or-treating, please remember the following:
- Go out early, preferably while there is still daylight
- Supervise children at all times
- Carry a flashlight
- Avoid masks altogether, or allow masks that don’t impede vision
- Wear something white or reflective, especially on a dark outfit
- Go only to houses where you know the residents
- Inspect all treats immediately upon returning home
In our neighborhood, the kids come out early and we usually run out of treats by 8 o’clock. Don’t forget to shut off your outside lights when you’re finished for the night.
If you’re giving out treats to children, please remember to:
- Put on all outdoor lights as darkness falls
- Make sure walkways are clear, with steps and railings in good repair
- Light pumpkins with electric flame candles
- Be sure fire pits or patio heaters are away from traffic areas and well attended
- Restrain dogs or other pets
- Examine purchased food treats and discard any that are not securely sealed
- Offer food treats and non-food treats separately
Keep an eye on the kids darting from house to house, and ensure a safe and happy holiday for all.
Original and Fun
Food sensitivities at the holidays are a challenge that may cause feelings of irritability and low self-esteem.
Don’t let your food-sensitive kids get the holiday blues!
Try some new activities that are sure to become favorites. Seek out other allergy-friendly families, and plan special events that take the focus off food and put it on fun!
Want some more holiday-inspired ideas to boost your kids’ experience? If you’re awaiting Christmas, check out these tips for Christmas cooking with your children.
We love to hear from you. What special holiday events have you enjoyed with the food-sensitive members of your family? Let us know in the comments!
Photo credit: Shutterstock.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer from southeastern Pennsylvania. When she’s not in the garden, she’s in the kitchen preparing imaginative gluten- and dairy-free meals. With a background in business, writing, editing, and photography, Nan writes humorous and informative articles on gardening, food, parenting, and real estate topics. Having celiac disease has only served to inspire her to continue to explore creative ways to provide her family with nutritious locally-sourced food.