Most children look forward to Halloween with great anticipation. For the parents of children with food allergies and other conditions requiring dietary restriction (such as celiac disease or diabetes) Halloween can be a cause of some concern. But there’s no reason to be afraid on Halloween. Even with dietary restrictions, children can and should be able to enjoy Halloween fun.
Halloween shouldn’t be just about candy. It’s also about being someone else for an evening or a day; it’s a chance to be in disguise. Let your kids have fun with their costume. Beware, however, of make-up. Various food and chemical allergens can be present in make-up and could cause allergic reactions. Also, if your child has food allergies, consider whether your child is sensitive to skin contact with their allergen-to-avoid. If so, you may want to incorporate gloves into the costume to avoid any possible reactions to skin contact.
It can be overwhelming to sort through all the candy options. The American Diabetes Association offers a list with carbohydrate content for some of the most popular Halloween candies. With regard to food allergies and celiac disease, Sure Foods Living offers an excellent list of candies with ingredient and cross-contamination information. Some families actually offer “safe” treats or non-food treats, which is wonderful for children with dietary restrictions. We actually trick-or-treated at a house that had a “regular” candy bowl and a “nut-free” candy bowl. My son, who has peanut and nut allergies, was thrilled!
The candy part of Halloween is where you need to be very vigilant. With restricted diets, an error can have dire consequences.
Should your child eat the candy from trick-or-treating? There are several ways you can go about this:
- Parents of children with diabetes often allow their child to select a number of candies from their trick-or-treat bag and participate in managing their diabetes by counting the carbs in those candies, perhaps saving some to eat as an after-dinner treat over time.
- Many parents of children with food allergies or celiac disease opt to have a stash a “safe” candy at home to exchange with the candy gathered during trick-or-treating. Personally, I think this is the easiest option. When we get back to our house, I just take the trick-or-treat bag from my allergic child and provide him with safe candies I have purchased. That way, there is no worry of confusion or mistakes.
- Some families also choose to enjoy the candy acquired during trick-or-treating and just do careful label reading.
Every family has to set some ground rules before heading out for trick-or-treating. For example, one rule you may consider is: No eating any treats while trick-or-treating; treats are to be eaten after trick-or-treating and with supervision of the adult-in-charge. Of course, always follow your usual food allergy management, celiac management or diabetes management protocol. (carry Epi-pens, monitor blood glucose levels, etc.)
If your child has dietary restrictions and has been invited to a friend’s Halloween celebration, you will want to follow the same routine you do for other events. As with any celebration, it is helpful to speak with the host or hostess to let them know about your child’s dietary restrictions, any pertinent emergency information, and find out what is being served. If your child has diabetes, this information will help you manage your child’s sugar intake that day. Perhaps you can bring a sugar-free snack for your child to enjoy and share with friends, instead of more sugary treats. Likewise, if your child has celiac disease or food allergies, information on foods and candies being served will help you determine whether they are safe for your child.
It’s also important to talk to your child before a Halloween party to explain what to avoid and what is safe. Even if you are going to be present at the event, this is a good learning opportunity to teach them how to manage their dietary restrictions. I’ve found that while children do enjoy sweets, the emphasis at any children’s party naturally ends up being on the fun and playing, and children are happiest with clear rules and directions from the adult(s)-in-charge. Food isn’t really the focus–it’s being in the company of friends!
Halloween celebrations at school present similar challenges for children with dietary restrictions. If you have a 504 plan, in-school celebrations involving food hopefully have been considered and included in your child’s plan. Otherwise, be sure to check with your child’s teacher and/or the room parents at least a month in advance to find out what sort of celebration, if any, there is for Halloween. Ideally, eating Halloween treats may be saved for after-school and in-school celebrations would involve non-food fun and treats, such as crafts and other activities. School celebrations involving food take some coordination with your child’s teacher and perhaps other staff or parents. Volunteering to help at school events is always a great way to stay involved and at the same time, help ensure your child’s dietary restrictions aren’t inadvertently overlooked.
Halloween Non-food Treats
Treats don’t have to be edible! They can be pencils, crayons, markers, rubber stamps, stickers, plastic rings and toys, temporary tattoos, small inexpensive bubbles containers or games or tiny decks of cards. Dollar stores and party stores are good sources for such items. Also, keep an eye out for after-Halloween sales which offer fantastic deals on Halloween decorations and non-food treats.
Once you get through your child’s initial Halloween managing dietary restrictions and related health concerns, you’ll find that Halloween in the following years will be a breeze. With a small amount of planning and minimal extra cost, Halloween can be fun and safe for everyone!