Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Peanut Allergy News: Halloween Tips and Treats

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.


Minivan Mama said...

Great tips. First Halloween with food allergies so looking for new traditions to make it safe and fun for everyone in the family!

Anonymous said...

and be careful of where things are produced. my daughter wanted smarties today so i took her to cvs to buy some. she found a big bag and handed it to me. even though the smarties inside were identical to safe ones they were packaged in a large sized cvs bag with a peanut warning!
now what if a famil bus this and hands out the individual smarties? a safe candy that is now unsafe? i am so confused now!!!

Anonymous said...

We have a 6 year old with a peanut allergy and trick or treat only at houses we know (mostly because I am not ready for this anxiety laden holiday! And now this year we have to go to her school party- so if you have any tips for that I would be grateful.)

Jenny said...

Regarding the bag of Smarties that came with a nut allergy warning: sometimes bags of candy at Halloween are labeled this way because of transport and their proximity to wrapped candies. Smarties are safe for nut allergies based on the way they are produced. The company that packages the Smarties wants to cover all the bases and then issues the allergy warning, whether needed or not.

This is a great example of overly inclusive labeling and it is very frustrating. I have seen similar labeling on candies at Target stores.

You should call the makers of Smarties and complain--this is really ridiculous and confusing to the consumer.

I would never suggest to ignore an allergy warning--so look for regular bags of Smarties. Maybe the smaller non-"Halloween-sized" bags will offer you a better option.

I could write an entire blog on food labels alone. Let us know how you make out!

Jenny said...

Hi--For the commenter who wanted tips on Halloween parties: Did you search my blog? I wrote a post about Halloween parties:

Hope this helps!

Best, Jenny

Chris McNamara said...

Hi Jenny. I am writing about nut allergies and Halloween in Chicago Tribune article. Can you contact me as soon as able?

Chris McNamara


nancypub said...

At our house we sort the candy and leave a bag of unsafe candies out for the Great Pumpkin. He brings them to children who could not trick or treat and leaves a small gift in its place. (I assure my son that the Great Pumpkin knows not to give them to allergic kids).

Anonymous said...

When my son with peanut allergy trick or treat, I have a separate bag what I call bag of candies for dad! My husband travels a lot for a work and we give treats that contains peanuts to him to take to the work trips! My boys are excited that dad got some treats too!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for posting this. Such great tips. And I just love your entire blog in general.

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this post. Great tips and so helpful. And I just love your blog in general. So happy you are doing this. I have a 20 month old #nutallergy sweetheart of a girl. :)