Halloween is not one of those times. As far as they’re concerned, Halloween was a holiday invented for the sole purpose of “building character” because “Life Isn’t Fair.” I buy a box of treats specifically to swap for candy that isn’t safe. But when I have to do the Great Candy Sort, my son still eyeballs the pile of “Stuff He Can’t Have” with seething resentment.
Why You Should Care:
Even though us allergy parents are used to making special accommodations, young kids have a keener sense of fair play than they’re given credit for. And trust me, even when they’re resigned to the fact that they’ll be excluded on a regular basis, they feel it quite keenly when no attempts are made to include them.
Never, ever be one of those people who say, “Oh a kid with food allergies knows he can’t have this and won’t care.”
Of course they care. Don’t be dismissive of their struggles. If you believe they don’t care, clearly you’ve never dealt with a crying youngster who felt excluded and marginalized because he had to watch other people eating things when no safe alternative was made available. You remember the Seinfeld episode with the Soup Nazi and the way George stood there while Jerry was eating his soup?
Before anyone gets all indignant–finish reading. A lot of people get all stuffy about food allergies because they feel like accommodating special needs is a huge ordeal. It’s not. Just a few seconds of informed decision-making can make you the stranger who was thoughtful and awesome enough to care.
If you want to be considerate, here’s four simple ways to do it without adding any stress on you:
Opt for Candy and Treats That Have Ingredients Listed
Over the years, I’ve probably tossed my son’s weight in candy just cause I couldn’t assess whether or not it was safe for him to consume. The popular brands are mostly all compliant… it’s the dollar-store candy and weird, made-once-a-year stuff (ironically like every candy shown in the bucket in my photo) that usually fail to have a label on it. That stuff is nasty anyway. Don’t buy it.
When you make the choice to buy products with labels, you’re being mindful enough to enable the child and/or parent to make an informed judgement about the risk associated with consuming the food. A child who cannot determine the presence of allergens they need to avoid could make an assumption of safety that could end in disaster.
* A note about cross contamination and “May Contain” labels: Companies are currently not required by law to disclose whether a food substance is processed in a facility that processes other allergens. Labeling items that “may contain” allergens due to cross-contamination is voluntary. Most of the popular brands are fairly good about including such labeling, especially if there is any risk of peanut contamination, but it is ultimately up to the parent and child together to assess the risk on any packaged product, “may contain” label or no.
Buy (Some) Non-Food Items
You don’t have to give the gift of diabetes on Halloween. Consider practical or fun treats like boxes of crayons. Little rubber skeleton dudes. Glow sticks. Weird pens. Stickers. Every kid loves stickers. You can’t really go wrong with stickers; even kids without food allergies will opt for them on a regular basis. The shinier, the better…
Just watch out for those mini Play-Doh things. They seems like a great sugarless, inclusive and fun idea, right up until the Play-Doh-hating moms come by after the kids are in bed to T.P. your house.
Look for “Simple” Food Products
Label reading is a chore, even when you’re used to reading them. I feel kind of sorry for anybody who’s not a dedicated label reader, when they pick up something to try to determine whether it’s relatively safe and allergy-friendly. Fortunately, the old adage “KISS” (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is your best guiding principle.
If you can’t read it and know what you’re looking at, there’s a better than average chance you probably don’t want to eat it anyway.
There’s lots of “simple” products out there: individually-packaged freeze-dried fruits, whole ingredient cookies, but the best invention ever for kids with allergies on Halloween is, as far as I’m concerned? Those little mini bags of potato chips. You know why potato chips are awesome? 1) I’ve never seen any kid refuse a bag of chips, and 2) quality plain chips are (usually) made of three ingredients: potatoes, vegetable oil, and salt.
You might think vegetable oil would be a big question mark, but vegetable oil derived in part or whole from soybeans has been removed from the potentially-allergenic list by the FDA.
Offer The Child the Choice – From a Divided Bowl
A lot of kids with food allergies are able to identify what they likely can and can’t have at a pretty early age–but a lot of little ones may not volunteer the information to you at the door that they’ve got food allergies, especially if there’s bigger kids behind them waiting impatiently for their turn.
If you’ve got a variety of offerings to accommodate everyone, choose a divided bowl, or a rectangular platter that enables them to see what they’re taking, and offer to let the children make a selection for themselves. Those chip ‘n dip bowls finally have another purpose! It doesn’t matter if the bowl is kind of small. Just hide the treat boxes behind the door for easy refill action.
So there you have it! Halloween for all without giving up treasured candy or having to pull any hair out. Bonus points to you for choosing to consider making Halloween safer for kids with food allergies. You may make a little kid’s day… and what’s better than that?