Halloween is the holiday meant to ignite fear and horror, and for parents of children with food allergies, it can be a justifiable fright. Trick or treating, while a timeless tradition, can cause health risks for those stricken with food allergies, especially since food allergies are becoming increasingly more common. Current studies show that food allergies affect one in 13 children under the age of 18. For a holiday that centers on distributing candy, this poses a challenge for a sizable portion of the population.
However, parents can ease their fears by taking preventative steps to educate their children. By establishing a few key guidelines and identifying potential triggers, parents can make Halloween a safe and enjoyable holiday for both themselves and their children.
There are a few easy, yet important steps parents can take to ensure a more successful and safer evening of trick or treating.
1. Be aware of potential triggers. Make sure your child is able to identify food that is off-limits. While it can be quite challenging to identify potentially threatening ingredients in packaged foods, it is important to recognize the most common foods that can induce allergic reactions. These foods include milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts. If you have an allergy to one of these ingredients, recognition and avoidance is key to an allergy-free Halloween celebration. Candies that most frequently contain these ingredients include: licorice, fruit chews, chocolates and caramels. Additionally, hidden food allergens, such as soy, can be found in lollipops and gummy candies. Even if a particular ingredient is not listed, it does not mean that the product has not been in contact with that ingredient.
Candies can be made in factories that manufacture a wide range of food products. Therefore, even if a specific candy does not contain an ingredient you are allergic to, cross contamination can still be an important concern (this is common with nuts). Packaging for some candy brands include factory information because of the wider recognition of food allergies. For this reason, be mindful to always read the ingredient label on each candy package. Ingredients in bite-sized candy, may differ from those used in the regular size of the same candy, therefore it's never safe to assume.
2. Consider taking preventative action to make trick or treating safe and allergy-free. Establish ground rules with both your child and any parental supervision before going trick or treating. Take the time to identify candies that should not be consumed and consider having everyone in your group stick to those rules. Also, consider having a supervisor take responsibility for handling any candy collected. For some children, simply touching a specific food can trigger an allergic response. Therefore, minimizing allergen contact can greatly decrease potential reactions. It's also important to carry emergency meds, including Benadryl and, if recommend by your physician, an EpiPen.
Preventative care can be incredibly impactful in creating a safe and fun holiday. Since many candies do contain allergenic ingredients, it may be helpful to prepare a container filled with safe treats in advance to swap out for the treats collected. If you feel comfortable, consider speaking with neighbors in advance and supply them with safe Halloween treats to hand out to your food-allergic child.
Trick or treating is a timeless tradition for millions of Americans. However, if your child has food allergies, Halloween can be a truly scary holiday. To overcome the fright, do your research and speak with your children about their food allergies. By preparing in advance, you can ensure a happier Halloween for you and your family.