Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Halloween and Peanut Allergies: Trick or Treat???

Halloween is on everyone's mind these days and if your child has severe food allergies, the prospect of candy is definitely scarier than any other aspect of this holiday.

When my daughter was first diagnosed with life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergies, we considered not doing the whole trick-or-treating thing. It just seemed counterproductive and potentially harmful emotionally. Why be handed lots of candy that you can't eat? We thought about doing other Halloween activities, like attending Halloween-themed events at the zoo and Chicago museums, but seriously thought about just skipping the candy routine.

My daughter was 5 years old at the time and all she cared about was dressing up like a Disney Princess (that year, I think it was Sleeping Beauty.) She really wanted to go door to door in her fancy costume and I didn't want to have her miss out. Thinking back to my own childhood, Halloween was never only about the candy. It was mostly about dressing up and hanging out with my friends after dark. Candy was a nice side benefit--but definitely not the whole show.

Why should it be any different for my daughter then? We decided to take her out and just have her hand us the obvious unsafe candies--Snickers, Reeses, Butterfingers, M&Ms, and sort through the rest of it later.

It was amusing to see the reactions of neighbors who tried to hand my daughter a Snickers bar. She would politely refuse, ask if they had anything else and then say "OK, then. Thank you anyway" and skip back down the street. Most were like "huh?" A few thought she was being ungrateful or picky. So what? She was so empowered. Finally, I said "just take the candy and I'll put it in a separate bag." That's what she did and all was well.

When we got home, I traded her unsafe candy for a Halloween treats bag: Bonne Belle lip balm, stickers, safe candy and a Halloween book. She loved it!

By the next year, she was running back to me to hand me Snickers bars and the running to the next house without a second thought. Let me tell you, people love their Snickers. I had a bag full of them by the end of the night. No matter. Being with her buddies and dressing up was enough for my daughter--plus she knew she got her own special goody bag later.

A lot of you may wonder "what's the point" about trick-or-treating with nut allergies but if your child really wants to do it, I say go for it. It's a way to show them that they can participate with other kids, while still being careful about their allergy. Now that my daughter is older and her trick-or-treating days are numbered, I'm so glad she enjoyed this. I don't think she'll remember the bag full of Snickers as much as she'll remember the good times she had dressing up, seeing "spooky" decorations and running around in the dark with her friends.


caramama said...

Thank you for writing this. This is exactly what I hope to do with my girl, and you've shown me it's possible to enjoy all aspects of Halloween and still be safe! Now, I'm off to buy some safe candy for her to trade for the unsafe candy!

grace hester designs said...

Our trick-or-treating experience was also very positive and my now-5-yr-old knows that we do a trading session afterwards. But last year, while at a church harvest bash, my daughter ingested something (we still cannot figure it out today since we monitored all candy though we think maybe the innocent-looking smores did her in) and had to be sent to the hospital. This was my first experience with an anaphalactic reaction and I have learnt alot from it but Halloween/Fall bashes will always remind me of that fateful day.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this post! i struggled with this for so long and eventually came to the same conclusion!!! :)

can you share with us which (store bought) candies are safe for your daughter?

thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

Just what I needed to read. Thank you - our 3-year-old son was diagnosed with tree nut and peanut allergies this summer and I realized last week that I was beginning to dread Halloween. Thanks to your post, I also feel empowered!

Anonymous said...

Trick or Treating is fun and I let my daughter enjoy it. She has treenut and peanut allergies. The majority of the stuff she gets, she can't have. Who needs all that candy anyway? Our town has a big parade that day and it's just fun being out seeing all the costumes.


Anonymous said...

This was a great post. My 4-year old with the peanut/tree-nut allergy LOVES dressing up and trick or treating. Both of my kids know that NOTHING gets eaten before we get home. I allow each of them 1 nut-free piece of candy apiece (dum dums, starburst, skittles, etc.) and then they trade in the entire lot. I give each of them a $10 budget and we go pick out a toy from Target in exchange for their candy, which is removed the next day and taken to work to share. Now, not only do i not have to worry about dangerous candy being in the house, but the kids get something they want, and i don't have to feel bad about how much sugar and garbage they're eating. I thought my older child would rebel against this idea since she doesn't have any allergies, but both kids know the drill now that we've done it a few times and have started musing about what they'll pick out at the store in lieu of their candy. it's a win win for everybody.

Kate said...

I could not agree with you more! Sometimes I think we as parents put our own mental issues on our kids more than the kids ever had them in the first place, know what I mean? I think most food allergic kids are not so freaked out about having to trade in some of their candy - they're not having an existential crisis about it like some adults act like they might. I think most would instead, as you described, enjoy the overall experience. It's great practice for food allergic kids, they can get some safe candy out of it, and have a good time. We have to protect our kids, but there's no need to make every occasion out to be a tragedy when it doesn't need to be. All of that is just to say: I completely agree with the way you handled it all and intend to do the same for my daughter.

Anonymous said...

Jam thumbprint cookie recipe calls for 3/4 c (4oz) coarsely ground hazelnuts. Son's has severe tree allergies so hazelnuts aren't going to happen.

Have you any suggestions I can use as substitute for hazelnuts?

Found your site by googling. Your site was clear & concise. Besides that you're a "Mom" so info you may provide is gained through care. Thanks so very much.

Jenny said...

Hi, this is in response to the commenter who wanted to know what to do about the jam thumbprint cookies that call for hazelnuts.

I used to make a cookie with ground pecans --"snowballs" and of course I had to give that up.

When I added the same amount of regular flour instead of the ground pecans, the cookies turned out great. What I added was a very tiny bit of salt to my dough, to balance the flavors. Also, be sure to use vanilla extract.

I think you should try your recipe substituting flour for the ground nuts and see how it goes. There really is no substitute for ground nuts but with a little tweaking of ingredients, most cookie recipes will still be good.

Let us know how it turns out!

Best, Jenny

artkdz said...

SO - what do people do with all the leftover candy? Besides eat it yourself. :)

Nia-Ailey said...

This is a great article. When my 2 yr old wanted to go door to door, we had a plan and it has worked the last couple of year, We go and buy safe candy and I keep some on me incase he wants to have some. I tell him we have to inspect the candy first( which in my days we did anyway for safety) and then give him the sixlets in my pocket. When he goes to sleep we then go through his candy and bag up the unsafe stuff, which my husband then puts in his car and takes it to work. Thats how we keep it completely out of his reach and ours.

Jenny said...

What to do with the extra candy? This is a good question! My husband usually takes it to work but I know some people donate it to a children's hospital or in some cases my daughter will trade with friends. In any case, I get it out of the house! (I might sneak a couple of m&ms but that's it.) :)