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Halloween's Tricky Food Allergies

How to keep your kids safe from their food allergies when they trick-or-treat.

Q: My 5-year-old daughter, Grace, is allergic to everything under the sun – including peanuts, strawberries and apples. I'm nervous about taking her trick-or-treating this Halloween, but she's really looking forward to it! How do I keep her safe when going door-to-door?

-Mercedes

Severn, MD

 

A: Dear Mercedes,

The only things that should scare you this Halloween are the haunts, not trick-or-treating with your child with food allergies. Rest assured, there are many ways parents can plan and be creative to guarantee that you are an anxiety-free mummy and that your pumpkin is safe and has a lot of fun this Halloween.

If you think your child is up for it, you may want to simply plan an alternative activity, such as having your own party where you can monitor the treats or have a scavenger hunt for safe treats or prizes. Be creative, and make the holiday focus more on costumes, decorations and/or appropriately themed foods such as baked goods that are allergen-free. You can even have him/her trick-or-treat indoors! Have various family members or friends set up behind every door (indoor and outdoor) of the house prepared with allergy-safe treats. You may be surprised at how fun this can get.

If you do decide to go trick-or-treating in the neighborhood, during the next few days, ask your neighbors if they can have alternative non-food items available as treats. Excellent ideas that all kids will love are pencils, stickers, small toys/carnival prizes, coins or glow sticks for older kids. Alternatively, you can provide your neighbors with “safe” candy that is specifically allergen-free for your child that they can hand out when your child comes knocking on their door to keep the spirit alive.

On the actual day of Halloween, make sure your child knows not to eat any treats at all before checking them with you when they get home. Make certain whoever is trick-or-treating with your child carries safe treats in case they want a treat while still out. Try to have your child eat a meal right before leaving for trick-or-treating or going to a Halloween party, so that they won’t be as tempted to eat a treat even accidentally before coming home to check with you.

The most important thing that parents can do is to ensure that their child's injectable epinephrine is readily available. For younger children such as yours who will be accompanied, this would be carried by yourself or another responsible adult. For older children, check that they are carrying it on them in an accessible area. Also remind yourself of how to administer the epinephrine if needed. Most injectable epinephrine comes with a trainer pen that you can use to practice the technique beforehand. You may also consider having your child wear a Medic-alert bracelet with their food allergies listed.

Once you return, you may consider swapping unsafe candy (or even the entire bag) with siblings, friends or your own pre-bought items for allergen-safe candy or non-food items. If you want to minimize alternatives, at the very least be extremely careful to check all ingredients in each treat. It can be trick-y due to hidden ingredients and allergen cross-contamination! Also keep in mind that smaller-sized candy may have different ingredients than the comparative full-sized versions, so check each label – every time. If in doubt at all, don’t let your child eat it.

For even more ideas, check out this excellent resource published by Kids with Food Allergies. Have a safe, spooktacular Halloween!

- Dr. Sharif

Dr. Naba Sharif is director of allergy and immunology at Allergy and Asthma Associates, A Division of Riverside Medical Group, located in Upper Marlboro. She'll be answering your allergy questions regularly on Patch. Email questions to Dr. Sharif at dr.allergeez@gmail.com.

S Sattar October 29, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Great advice! I've decided this year to offer pretzels to the little ghosts, which are better for their teeth, but also might be easier for kids and parents to recognize as safe for them to eat or not.
Naba Sharif, M.D. October 31, 2012 at 04:54 AM
That's a great step S! Just remember that pretzels still may contain gluten, and some use an egg-coating. If you are going to buy pretzels, the safest thing to do is buy the snack bags so that parents can read the specific ingredients. Thanks for thinking ahead :)

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