By Deborah Elbaum is a mother of three children, one with food allergies. She leads an educational support group for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America/New England Chapter.
Most children, mine included, eagerly anticipate Halloween, carefully choosing costumes and rushing through dinner so they can go trick-or-treating. Even though I love Halloween too, I have to prepare myself mentally for the peanut butter cups that will be in my food-allergic child?s bag at the evening's end. For parents and caregivers of children with food allergies, the overwhelming presence of food that may contain peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, and other allergens can be stressful. Planning and creativity will ensure that children with food allergies enjoy all the fun of Halloween while avoiding the food or foods to which they are allergic.
- Always read the ingredient label of every piece of candy before your child eats it, even if it's a brand your child often eats. Recently, we discovered that allergy statements on candy bars within the same brand may differ according to the size of the candy bar!
- If there is no label, then the candy is unsafe. Do not let your child eat it. Instead, donate unsafe candy to another family member who can safely eat it, or send it with a parent to be shared at work.
- Make sure your child's medicine (EpiPen® or Twinject®) accompanies your child wherever he or she goes. Check that the responsible adult knows how to administer the medication, can reach you with questions, and can access the local emergency system if necessary.
- Have your child carry some hand wipes he or she can use in case of accidental contact with unsafe food.
- Let your neighborhood friends know what kind of candy is safe for your child, and be sure to visit those houses. If you feel comfortable, you may choose to leave safe candy or goody bags at friends' houses for when your child rings their doorbells.
- Avoid the candy altogether! Go to the toy store and purchase a toy that your child can "buy" with their bag of collected candy. Or invent the "Halloween Fairy," who comes at night to take his or her bag of candy and leave a gift in its place.
- Forget trying to read ingredient labels in the dark and bring safe snacks for your child. Every year, my son loves making a snack bag of safe candy that he can eat while trick-or-treating around the neighborhood.
- Consider handing out non-food items like stickers or pencils at your house.
- Do not let young children carry food to which they are allergic; they may not understand the danger and accidentally open a wrapper and take a bite. Older children are better able to understand what is safe or unsafe for them to eat.
- Remind your child that they can say "No, thank you" if they only see unsafe candy offered.