Before I was a mom, I was a teacher for nine years. I became well versed in the ins and outs of caring for children with food allergies — I attended an annual EpiPen training and kept a stash of safe treats in my desk free of whichever allergies were present in our classroom that year.
However, it wasn’t until I developed food sensitivities of my own that I really came to understand the reality of food allergies.
I was diagnosed with celiac disease in my early 20s and suddenly had to eliminate gluten, dairy, and soy from my diet. There are times when it is really difficult to look around and see other people enjoying a treat while I sip on water. It gave me a whole new appreciation for my students who were living with food allergies. If it is difficult for me — as an adult — to feel left out sometimes, how must it feel when you’re only 8 years old?
I began taking a much more proactive role in making sure my students with allergies could feel included. Most elementary schools now have a “no food for birthdays” policy, but still, there were inevitably days when candy was involved (usually holidays or testing days, and of course the big ones — Valentine’s Day and Halloween).
Halloween will soon be upon us, and even if you’re not a teacher or a parent of a child with food allergies, chances are there is someone in your neighborhood who will appear at your door with an allergy. So what can you do to make sure all kids can enjoy the holiday AND stay safe?
Offer non-candy treats
This can be a controversial one because candy is so tied to the holiday. But I can tell you from experience that most adults underestimate the excitement of a second grader who receives a new Lego Ninjago pencil or Peppa Pig eraser. There are plenty of non-food items that will delight trick-or-treaters of all ages. Click here for a great list of ideas, and consider either being a non-candy house this year OR just grabbing some non-food items in addition to your candy stash so trick-or-treaters can have a choice. If you are planning to include non-food items at your home this year, check out the Teal Pumpkin Project for more resources and to let others know your house is a safe stop for kids with food allergies.
Give out candy that is free from major allergens
Most of the major candy brands do release allergen information so you can certainly choose candies like Starburst, Skittles, and Smarties that tend to contain fewer allergens — but that still doesn’t guarantee they are safe from cross-contamination for the most sensitive trick-or-treaters (and Skittles do contain Red #40 dye). However, there are several companies that now make Halloween candy that is free from the eight major allergens.
- Wholesome Sweet: This has been my go-to for Halloween candy the past few years because you can find it at most local Target stores! These gummies and lollipops are free from major allergens but are also free from artificial colors and high-fructose corn syrup. They are certified organic, non-GMO, and vegan. This year they even come in spooky Halloween shapes!
- Enjoy Life is a well-known brand in the food allergy world because their whole product line is free from 14 major allergens! Their products are also verified by the non-GMO Project and this year they have Halloween Chocolate Minis that are perfect for trick-or-treaters.
- No Whey Foods has also been a favorite of mine in recent years. All their products are free of the eight major allergens, have no artificial colors, and are both vegan and kosher! They also have a line of treats for every holiday, including adorable chocolate lollipops and a new Halloween assortment of bite-sized, spook-free treats!
Start a candy trade-in tradition
Now this one is more for your own household. If your child has a food allergy (or you just think there is too much candy for one child to consume), you can set up a tradition in your family where candy can be traded in for other safe snack options, allergen-free treats, or even one big item. This is a growing trend, so there are even books you can use to introduce this new tradition.