By Tami L. Pyles
As the calendar flips from September to October and signs of fall begin to appear, it is time for parents to start thinking about Halloween. My plans are already forming as we prepare for another Halloween with our daughter who has a peanut allergy. Here are three tricks to help you keep this treat-filled holiday safe for your child.
Trick #1: Making School Parties Safe
Most schools celebrate the holiday with a class party. This can be scary because of the unknown. The key to a safe party is partnership and advanced planning. Be sure to contact the teacher/room parent/ party host well in advance to discuss plans for the event.
Encourage a focus on non-food items such as crafts, Halloween stories, or a spooky scavenger hunt if the teacher is planning a party. If food will be involved, discuss safe options and/or offer to bring in the “big treat”. I find myself volunteering to bring in the party snack often to ensure my daughter can enjoy the special party treat. It is worth it to me to see her enjoy the same treat as her classmates and know she will be safe. Another option that could work is to send in an alternate safe treat for your child so he/she can still have food at the party, but you know for certain it will be safe. I have an individual cupcake carrier that gets its fair share of use as my daughter takes in her own cupcake for parties. I try to talk to the party planner ahead of time so I can decorate her cupcake in the same color or theme as the party cake. If you are sending in food for your child, make certain with the room monitor that this is the only food that your child will consume at the party.
If it works with your schedule, try to attend the party. This will not always be possible, but can give you a little extra peace of mind to be there to ensure that things go smoothly. If you volunteer to be there, you might also have an opportunity to have an active role in party planning and demonstrate broad advocacy for children with food allergies.
Trick #2: Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet, Give Me Something I Can Eat!
Trick or treating is, no doubt, complicated by food allergies. Making the decision to go out trick or treating can be difficult depending on the number and severity of your child’s allergies and health in general. So far, we have made the decision to go out, but we have a plan in place to keep our daughter safe. First, we talk with her beforehand about the night and what will happen— including not eating any candy until we are home. Setting expectations up front is always better— even with a preschooler!
Second, decide whether you want to allow your child to accept treats from homes or if you would like your child to do something else like collect donations for a charity instead. We do allow our daughter to collect candy while trick or treating, but we monitor her very closely to ensure that no candy containing nuts as an ingredient makes its way into her bag.
Third, once we are home we empty her bag and sort the treats. Even though we make sure there are not any treats with nuts in her bag, there are a number of other treats we know she cannot have because of risk of cross-contact. For example, we know that certain pretzels and chocolate candies are produced in facilities with nuts. While she may get those in her bag, we want to separate them out from the other safe treats.
If you do sort treats with your child, be sure to do some research ahead of time on what is safe for your child. This is a great way to model for your child how to preplan for food events and always read labels. Sometimes candy that is normally safe is produced in different plants for the “holiday” version which may render it unsafe. That is why we must read the labels every time. We then place the unsafe candy, into a special plastic pumpkin that we leave out on the front porch. The “Great Pumpkin” visits our house overnight and exchanges the unsafe candy for a non-food treat. It is a big deal at our house to get a visit from the “Great Pumpkin,” and we have yet to have tears about surrendering the unsafe candy.
Other tricks for keeping the night safe include sending safe treats to neighbors houses ahead of time so when you knock on the door you know there will be a safe treat waiting. You can hit just those houses and then plan another fun event that evening. Or, you can skip trick or treating all together and plan a fun night in with a Halloween movie, making a safe Halloween treat, or hosting your own Halloween party with safe treats.
Trick #3: Be Prepared and Bring Your Supplies
Whether you are attending a party or taking a stroll around the neighborhood to collect candy, it is imperative that you have your emergency supplies ready. Do not leave without your epinephrine autoinjector and any medications that your health care provider recommends - even if you are only walking a few houses down the street. Pack wipes for hands if contact issues may present a problem; or for friends’ hands and mouths if they consume candy containing allergens.
As we leave the house for Halloween or other events, we talk about the supplies we are taking to begin to educate our daughter about what we need to have with us. Some day, when she is old enough to be on her own, we want to make sure the epinephrine autoinjector is a part of her natural routine when leaving. We have a simple checklist that we verbally go over - keys, phone, epinephrine autoinjector, and any other items we may need for our outing (safe snacks, water, etc). It is amazing how quickly she has picked up on the list, at just three years old. She now sometimes asks me before we leave if we have everything before I even go through our list.
With some advanced planning and a few “tricks” up your sleeve your little pumpkin can have a safe and fun Halloween! Be sure to check out other KFA resources for navigating Halloween with food allergies. They include safe recipes, ideas for non-food events, and other helpful tips.
Tami L. Pyles is the mother of two food allergic children. She has worked in Higher Education for the last 15 years and is also a freelance writer who frequently writes articles to promote food allergy awareness. Tami has had food allergy awareness articles published in local magazines and national newsletters. She lives in Louisville, KY with her husband and two daughters, ages 3 and 1.