Ever notice how many kids who are in feeding therapy also have food allergies? With Halloween just around the corner, I’m encountering parents in my practice who are scared to let their food-allergic kids go Trick or Treating. As their child’s feeding therapist, I try to offer creative strategies to ease their minds and still allow their little munch bug an evening of safe but spooky fun!
Trick or Treat Nirvana (What’s a Parent to Do?)
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. My neighborhood is a child’s Trick or Treating nirvana; street after street of tightly packed houses, much like enormous Pez® candies crammed inside a spring-loaded Casper the Ghost container. It’s the perfect setting for little fists holding giant plastic pumpkins to collect as many pounds of sugar as humanly possible in the shortest amount of time. The neighbors are obsessed with decorating their homes to the hilt and consequently our sidewalks are packed with little Batmans, Disney Princesses and giant Rubik’s Cubes negotiating their way to each and every over-the-top decorated home and loading up on anything the neighbor’s offer when the kids shout “TRICK OR TREAT!”
So what’s a parent to do when their child with food allergies so desperately wants to join in on the door to door fun? Well, keep this in mind: For the kids, Halloween is about ringing a doorbell, shouting “TRICK OR TREAT”, remembering to say “thank you” as they scurry off to the next house and most of all – giggling non-stop with their friends. It’s truly about the social experience, and not so much about what gets thrown in the bag. But for many of my clients, what ends up in their bags is vitally important for safety reasons. Here a few strategies for parents to consider.
Enlist the Help of a Few Neighbors
1. Secret Passwords: Nobody wants a child to miss out on the big night. Most friends and neighbors will be thrilled to stash your candy alternatives by their front door. If your alternative treat needs to be kept separate from other food substances, be sure to let them know. If your child is old enough and/or you are not present, just tell them that Mrs. Smith needs to hear the secret password (e.g. “monster mash”) because she is saving something just for them. The last thing you want is Mrs. Smith accidently giving some random fairy princess your child’s special allergen free treat!
2. Create a “TREASURE HUNT” with clues that lead your little pirate to the buried treasure where X marks the spot. Give ten clues to ten neighbors; use brown grocery bag paper, black ink and even singe the edges for that authentic “treasure map” look. Each piece of paper provides the next clue on where to go: “Yo ho ho, ye pirate gents! Go to the next house with the white picket fence!” Little do they suspect that the 10th clue will send them back to their own house, where they will discover a giant X and a special treasure buried beneath, just for them!
Tangible Alternatives to Candy
Whether you are planting a few of these with your sweet neighbors or giving them away to the little creatures knocking on your door that night, here are a few tangible alternatives to traditional candy:
1. Eyeballs (and other spooky treats): Google that Michael’s coupon or head to your favorite craft store to stock up on creative options for candy. Whether you are trying to avoid sugar or the top 8 allergens, bringing home a pillow-sack of party favors such as blood-shot super ball eyes, miniature magnifying glasses, Halloween stickers or a tiny decks of cards is still a nice pile of loot for your little goblins to dump on the living room floor when they get home!
2. My favorite treats are glow-in-the-dark bracelets. We activate all of them just before the doorbell starts to ring and put them in a clear plastic bowl so they give off an eerie glow when we open the front door. Trick or Treaters pop them on their wrists and run off to the next house, literally glowing. Because my nick-name is “safety-mom,” I feel better knowing that everyone’s kids are a bit more visible running around in the dark.
3. Think outside the box. Most toy or craft stores have bins of whistles, harmonicas and bubbles to use in replace of candy. Don’t forget small packets of origami paper, craft buttons, jewelry kits and beads, etc. There are isles and isles of wonderful candy substitutes that will keep your child busy long after the other kids’ candy is eaten. Believe me, parents all over town will be eternally grateful to see something creative in their children’s sacks rather than yet another pack of sour gummy worms. Create a little karma for yourself!
Allergen Free Candy
A spectacular list of allergen-free candy (many, free of the top 8 allergens) is available on The Tender Foodie blog. Be the “good house” that the kids rave about with the really cool candy.
Got Too Much Candy? Here’s How to Get Rid of it FAST!
1. Hold a Candy Auction: Dig into that Monopoly game and grab those pastel paper bills! Here’s your child’s chance to hold a candy auction! When all the bidding is over, he gets to count out how many paper bills (dollar amount is now a moot point) he received and trade those in for real money, but half goes into his savings account.
2. Worth Their Weight in… Dollars: Finally, a chance to use your bathroom scale and rejoice as the numbers go UP! Kids get to weigh their loot and get paid $5 for every pound. The next day, extend the family fun by going to the toy store or a favorite “haunt” to buy something together.
In addition to the general safety considerations for all trick-or-treaters noted here, there are additional safety considerations for children with food allergies:
1. SEPARATE CANDY: Make it clear to other adults if alternative treats need to be separate from other food substances due to cross-contamination.
2. Bring an EPI-PEN and if you are not accompanying your child, make sure his friends know where the pen is stored.
3. Trick or Treating IN GROUPS only. As for any child, stay together.
4. Give your child a fully charged CELL PHONE with emergency numbers on top; make sure her friends know how to use it, too.
5. Make sure your child is wearing an ID bracelet that is visible despite her costume.
6. Ask the other children to WAIT to eat their candy until it can be inspected at home. This is a general safety rule for all kids, but also prevents accidental contact via another child during the excitement of trick or treating.
Expectations – Your’s and Your Child’s
Consider your own expectations and how those may define your child’s expectations for Halloween. Remember, “It is not necessary for children to have the full blown experience in order for them to have a good time” Lori Lite (Stress Free Kids)
Ask your child what they would like to do. Perhaps he just wants to be in charge of passing out the glow bracelets while the two of you wear matching glow-in–the-dark Vampire teeth! So often as parents, we try to do make a huge production out of a holiday because we feel we owe it to our kids. Funny thing is, most of the time, the kids are just thrilled to be a small part of it as long as they are sharing it with YOU.
So enjoy and be in the moment. Wear a funny hat. Tell a spooky story. Take LOTS of pictures and video, too. Stick a plastic spider on someone’s chair at dinner. Don’t be afraid to scream – it’s the one night you can do so with abandon! Happy Halloween!
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating. She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food! Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee. She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.