Halloween is definitely scarier when you are caring for a child with a severe nut allergy. During Halloween it seems like every candy either contains or "may contain" peanuts, peanut butter, almonds or "nougat" i.e. nuts.
After many years of dealing with peanut and tree nut allergies AND having my daughter safely participate in trick-or-treating, I can tell you that having a fun and nut-free Halloween can be done. It just takes a little creativity, a little planning and a lot of tolerance for hundreds of mini Snickers Bars and Reese's cups.
Here are a few tips for safe trick-or-treating with peanut and tree nut allergies or any food allergy, for that matter:
- Carry two Halloween bags. One is for "possibles" that is, candies you will review with your child when you get home and one is for "unsafe" candies. The unsafe candies will go to friends, neighbors or your workplace the next day--or in the trash, your choice. Separation of bags is important because trust me on this: one exploded Snicker's bar all over the "possibles" places them in the "unsafe" pile and that is really no fun at all.
- Make sure your child eats a meal or snack before trick-or-treating. Take a hungry child with a food allergy and dangle some Halloween candy before them--are they going to be tempted? Most likely. So don't let that happen. Filling little tummies before sending them out helps prevent your child from making bad choices purely out of hunger.
- Enlist the neighbors. If you have very young children, they can probably grasp being denied candy but not why it must be so. A few friendly neighbors can save the day here. If they are open to it, provide some of your neighbors with "safe" candy that they can offer to your little one when they ring the doorbell.
- Do a candy swap. This can be a two-pronged approach. First, we swap "unsafe" candies with our child's friends who don't have allergies. Most kids are willing to give up their lollipops, gum and other safe candies for my daughter's unwanted Reese's, Snickers and other nut-filled chocolate treats. (Chocolate is usually the most unsafe thing out there on Halloween if you have certain food allergies and especially if your child has nut allergies.)
Secondly, we tell our daughter that she can turn in any unsafe candy to us for a "safe" treat bag. I fill it with nut-free chocolate from Vermont Nut-Free or Divvies and some inedibles such as some lip balm, a book or maybe some inexpensive Halloween earrings, now that she's older. In past years we used Halloween books, Hello Kitty nail polish and coloring books. When she was younger we did a Halloween treasure hunt so that she could have fun finding the treat bag. I'll tell you a secret: she still enjoys the Halloween treasure hunt.
The candy swap adds a fun element to having to give up candy and will greatly lessen any feelings of being "deprived."
- Consider candy size and ALWAYS read the labels. Different sized candies may be produced on different production lines, so check each candy before giving it to your child, even if you think it's OK. Food labels like to surprise us, so be cautious and thorough.
If the item does NOT have allergy or nutrition information on it, don't use it.
- Emphasize other elements of Halloween, not just food. Years ago, Halloween had many facets besides getting candy treats; in fact, candy as the focal point is a relatively modern invention. I remember my grandparents telling me that Halloween used to be more about costumes, playing games, scaring their friends (all in good fun, nothing dangerous!) and having Halloween parties. Plan to do all of the above if you can. Plus, researching the origins of Halloween can open up discussion and take some of the focus off of candy and sweets.
- Enjoy Halloween and autumn traditions so that trick-or-treat isn't the whole show. Pumpkin picking and carving, vists to apple orchards, baking safe cookies and enjoying the beautiful autumn weather are all great ways to enjoy the Halloween season.
For more safe Halloween ideas including a list of candy suggestions, click here.