(Photo: famveldman/Adobe Stock)
I have two small children and each of them has a food allergy—one is allergic to eggs and the other one has to avoid all tree nuts. We carry EpiPens and Benadryl with us wherever we go (even if it's just a trip to the supermarket). We've taught the kids to be self-advocates, to not share food or water bottles, and to never eat anything without asking, "Does this have eggs/nuts in it?" It's a lot to manage—and a huge responsibility to dump on a 4-year-old, to be honest—but for the most part, my kids lead pretty normal lives. The trickiest times are when food-related holidays like Halloween roll around. It's important to be vigilant to keep everyone safe, but I also just want my kids to feel normal and be able to enjoy their night. And let's face it, poring over ingredient lists at every doorstep in the dark takes the fun out of it for everybody—including me.
So I've developed a few tricks of my own to make Halloween as fun as possible for everyone, but especially for my kids with food allergies.
"Is this safe to eat?" / via GIPHY
1. Have a stash of allergy-free candy at home just in case.
If there's one thing I've learned from raising two kids with food allergies, it's to always be prepared. I can't necessarily control what will end up in my child's candy bag—and so I never really know what will end up in the safe pile and what needs to be removed. Sometimes what's left is a little ... sad. So I always stock up on some of my favorite spooky treats that I KNOW are safe—and that I can feel good about giving to my kids.
Here are some of our favorites:
Surf Sweets Halloween Gummies
Buy it: $6.49 for 10 oz. bag
Photo: Surf Sweets
Truly allergy-safe, these candies are produced and packaged in dedicated facilities free of the top 10 allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish, sesame and sulfites), making them our top choice at home. No fake food dyes here, and the real-fruit flavor shines through in these gummies and lollies. Bonus? Surf Sweets is a member of 1% for the Planet, which means that they donate 1 percent of their sales to environmental causes that help to clean the oceans.
YumEarth Organic Halloween Candy
Buy it: $7.99 for 12 oz. bag
YumEarth's Halloween candies have no artificial colors and short ingredient lists (something allergy parents will appreciate!). Their lollipops, gummies and some other candies are made with real fruit flavors and are NUT-FREE and GLUTEN-FREE.
YumEarth also makes organic Candy Corn that is nut-free and gluten-free (but it does contain EGGS).
Enjoy Life Foods Halloween Chocolate Minis
Buy it: $7.99 for 6.3 oz. bag
These mini chocolates are non-GMO and free from an impressive list of 14 allergens (including the top 8): wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, casein, soy, egg, sesame, sulfites, lupin, mustard, fish, shellfish & crustaceans. But you would never know it. My kids love the Ricemilk Crunch chocolates, with crispy bits of rice. As a parent, I love the short ingredient lists. The dark chocolate minis have just three: unsweetened chocolate, sugar and cocoa butter.
Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates Halloween Pops
Buy it: $1.60 per pop
We love the seasonal chocolate options from Vermont Nut-Free. Their entire selection is completely safe for kids with tree nut or peanut allergies. Their products are produced and packaged in a dedicated nut-free facility. They do produce chocolates and candies in their facility that contain gluten/wheat, soy, eggs, dairy, but their packaging always clearly states if the product is processed on shared equipment with the top eight allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish).
All this helps put me at ease, but the best part is that my kids just really like the chocolate. Look for seasonal options like chocolate ghosts and crispy chocolate pumpkins. My kids love the Halloween chocolate pops, available in different spooky shapes and white, milk and dark chocolate.
2. Set the ground rules BEFORE you leave the house.
Give your kids a pep talk ahead of time and let them know that they can't eat their candy till you get home and have a chance to go through everything. You'll have a better chance of getting their attention in the quiet of your home rather than the mayhem on the street surrounded by kids on a sugar high. If your kids really want to be able to have a treat while trick-or-treating, keep some safe candies in your pocket and have them eat those. (Make sure to pack your EpiPens just in case.)
3. Know your safe treats ahead of time.
If you see a bucket of options, you can direct your kids to choose ones you know are safe so they won't be disappointed later on. Find a yearly allergy-friendly Halloween candy guide online from FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). SnackSafely.com also provides a special Halloween edition of their Safe Snack Guide each year (download the free PDF and scroll to the very bottom to find the Halloween candy section). They update it regularly, so you'll want to always download the most recent version and stop using it after the expiration date printed on the guide.
4. Keep your eye out for teal pumpkins.
The Teal Pumpkin Project is a campaign launched by FARE to promote inclusion for all trick-or-treaters. If you see a home with a teal-painted pumpkin on display, that means that they are offering nonfood treats too. There's a house in my neighborhood that hands out LED disco rings every year—and all of the kids look forward to it. For more info, visit foodallergy.org.
(Photo: MargoeEdwards/Getty Images)
5. Always read labels.
Even if you know that a candy is safe for your child, some Halloween-specific candies are manufactured in different facilities and may have different ingredients or cross-contamination risks than their everyday counterparts.
6. Be on the lookout for lurking allergens.
I'm always surprised at the range of candies that contain eggs. Things with nougat like Snickers and Charleston Chew bars are a little more obvious. But even some hard candies like Nerds and some lollipops may contain eggs.
7. When in doubt, throw it out.
Some Halloween candies won't have a full ingredient list on the wrapper. If a candy has no label at all and you can't find the ingredient and allergy information online, remove it from your child's stash. The risk is not worth it.
8. Save the allergy review till after bedtime.
"What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over," as my mother used to say. At our house, we don't throw out unsafe candies, we just put them in the "parents' pile." Our kids are happy to share a little bit, but I've found that for younger ones the review process goes a lot more smoothly after the kids are in bed.
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