We’re approaching that hallowed time of year that spooks parents. Last-minute costume scrambles, sugar-induced meltdowns, tracking teens’ whereabouts, and attempting to monitor the candy calorie intake. But for parents of kids with food allergies, there is a different and extra reason to be frightful.
For millions of kids with food allergies, the risk of exposure to food allergens on Halloween is high, from accidental ingestion to cross-contamination. Six of the top eight allergens are in high circulation around Halloween. Wheat, milk, soy and egg are used in many chocolates, fruit chews and caramels and often, candies are made with the same equipment used with peanut or tree nuts.
The scare for children is very real. According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), one in every 13 children has a food allergy. Halloween, and its guaranteed grab-bag of surprises, requires parents of children with food allergies to have a few more tricks up their sleeves to ensure their kids can safely enjoy the holiday.
“Safe” and “fun” can co-exist at Halloween. There are easy ways to plan ahead and help avoid food-allergen related surprises by incorporating new traditions so parents and kids can enjoy the holiday without any scary surprises. Here are some tips to prepare for the best Halloween yet.
• Create a Halloween action plan with your child’s allergist. Food allergies are specific to each child and it’s important to consult the medical professionals who know your child’s situation best. Review the plan, in advance, with your family and friends who plan to trick-or-treat with your child so they can put on their capes and help save the day.
• Spot the safe places. The Food Allergy Research & Education’s (FARE) Teal Pumpkin Project is a recent initiative to help children and parents identify neighbors who offer non-food treats. Teal-colored pumpkins placed at the doorsteps of homes serve as a “safe” sign for trick-or-treaters. This indicates homeowners have giveaways that don’t include food — sending a message that treats and surprises come in more than candy packages.
• Get others involved to help foster a more inclusive holiday. It’s a great time to break out your DIY skills and show others how fun and easy it is to create a community that supports families with food allergies and sensitivities. Host a “Trunk or Treat” party in a community parking lot and invite friends, neighbors and family to deck out their cars and load up their trunks with non-food treats, like bubbles, glow sticks or Halloween temporary tattoos.
• Develop a candy plan. Trick-or-treat with your child and monitor what they receive as you go from house to house. Carrying around a bag full of goodies can be tempting for kids, so tuck a few “safe food” items in your pocket to help deter your child from reaching into their stash. When you arrive home, create a candy exchange game, so kids can trade in items that may trigger their allergies, for other candy or non-food treats.
• Watch for possible signs of an allergic reaction. Keep an eye out for any symptoms or any out-of-the-ordinary behaviors — these could be early signals. If you think your child may be at risk of suffering an attack, follow your allergy action plan.
If you’re unsure if your child has a food allergy, contact your doctor or a walk-in clinic. Other providers, like UnitedHealthcare’s “24-Hour Nurse,” can help you decide which symptoms may need a doctor’s eye.
Irene-Myers Thompson is the wellness director for UnitedHealthcare of Mid-Atlantic.