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For many kids, Halloween is a fun celebration filled with creative costumes, an abundance of candy, and spooky decorations. But for kids with allergies or other medical conditions, the holiday can be downright disappointing—or even harmful.
Let’s make #Halloween inclusive of all kids, including those with food restrictions. On the #MedStarHealthBlog, Dr. Mariastella Serrano shares simple trick-or-treat swaps: https://bit.ly/3W56wH2.Click to Tweet
Fortunately, there are simple ways we can make Halloween more inclusive for all kids. Here are our top tips for ensuring every child can safely have fun and enjoy the holiday’s festivities, regardless of cognitive, physical, or medical challenges.
Be mindful of allergies when choosing which candy to pass out.
The incidence of food allergies has significantly increased over the past two or three decades. In fact, a recent MedStar Health survey revealed that 41 percent of respondents said they knew a child with a food allergy, food sensitivity, or food-related medical condition, such as diabetes or Crohn’s disease.
Peanut allergies may be the kind people are most familiar with, but there are several other food allergies common in kids, including:
- Milk: A milk allergy can cause more severe reactions than a lactose intolerance, including hives, difficulty breathing, or anaphylaxis. Children with a milk allergy cannot have chocolate, which contains milk.
- Tree nuts: Tree nuts are another major food allergen and include any nut that grows on a tree, like the name suggests. These include almonds, cashews, pistachios, and other nuts that may be found in popular candies.
- Coconut: Although rare, coconut allergies can cause severe reactions in those who have them. It’s found in several different popular candies, including Mounds and Almond Joy.
In addition to allergies, there are several other medical conditions that can cause uncomfortable symptoms. Lactose intolerance, which is different from a milk allergy, can result in bloating, cramping, or diarrhea after consuming foods with lactose. Similarly, someone with celiac disease, a serious autoimmune illness, cannot eat gluten (wheat) without experiencing gastrointestinal issues.
Consider handing out allergy-friendly candy.
In the same survey, 64 percent of parents who have children with food allergies responded that they wanted their kids to receive allergy-friendly candy treats, which means that it’s worthwhile to avoid some of the popular candy options, like Reese’s and Snickers, and instead opt to pass out candy that is free from the top eight allergens. This is welcome news to kids with allergies who love candy but need to avoid potentially-fatal ingredients.
You may be surprised to know that there are lots of different “treats” that are safe for most kids. The following candies are typically considered allergy friendly:
- Dum Dum lollipops
- Jolly Ranchers
- Swedish Fish
Many of these also include sour varieties which expands your choices even further. Of course, you should always read labels and ingredients to confirm that the brand or variety of candy you choose is in fact free of allergens and produced in an allergy-free facility.
Non-edible treats are the safest, most inclusive option.
Because of the high incidence of food allergies, 45 percent of survey respondents noted they planned to give out non-candy treats, like fruit, non-edible treats, or allergy-friendly candy. While the above candy treats are free from the most common allergies, there are rare conditions that can make candy of any kind unsafe from some kids. Additionally, children with motor challenges, such as swallowing, may not be able to consume any edible treat. As a result, non-food items may be the best way to ensure every trick-or-treater can receive something fun and safe for them.
There are lots of creative, inexpensive things you can pass out that kids would be excited to receive, including:
- Art supplies
- Bouncy balls
- Gag toys, like plastic spider rings or vampire teeth
Other tips for keeping all kids safe.
Whether or not your child has a food allergy or sensitivity, it’s important to follow general safety precautions while trick-or-treating. Kids should be accompanied by an adult, even if they’re in a group. And, don’t forget to dress appropriately for the weather in a costume that fits properly. Dark costumes may be harder to see at night, so consider adding a reflective accessory or flashlight to help ensure your child is visible to others.
Get creative with “candy swaps”.
In addition, it’s never a good idea for any child to load up on too much candy at once. Parents are on board with this too, as nearly three quarters of parents surveyed said they limit candy consumption on Halloween. One way to encourage moderation is to have your child sort the candy into small groups when you get home. While portion sizes vary based on individual and type of candy or food, in general, we recommend limiting candy consumption to what you can fit in a small four to six ounce cup. By grouping candy ahead of time, kids can choose what they’d like to eat and spread it over a long period of time. You can also take this opportunity to discard any open candy or pieces that look tampered with. I also recommend getting rid of anything homemade, especially if your child has allergies, since you can’t guarantee that it’s allergen-free.
There are other creative ways to make the October holiday a memorable one for your kids, especially if your child has food restrictions. One idea is to have kids trade their candy stash for something else, like a new toy or an experience, like staying up 30 minutes later or a game night.
Candy shouldn't be the scariest part of Halloween.
Kids with food allergies, diabetes, or other medical conditions shouldn’t have to forgo the creepy festivities out of fear that they’ll get sick or disappointment that they can’t participate. If you plan to have treats or trinkets for children with food allergies or restrictions, consider putting a teal-colored pumpkin on your doorstep. This is the hallmark of the Teal Pumpkin Project, sponsored by a non-profit called Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). It’s a simple way for parents and kids with allergies to know you offer allergy-friendly candy or non-edible toys that are safe for all kids. You can even go a step further and register your address on the Teal Pumpkin Project Map, making it easy for kids with food challenges to find you.
By being mindful of the differences that make us all unique and making small changes, we can make Halloween safe and fun for everyone, leaving the scaring to the ghosts and goblins.