Yes, Kids With Food Allergies Can Still Trick-or-Treat

By Rochelle Bilow

Helping a child with a food allergy navigate school lunches, birthday parties, and everyday life is hard enough—but when it comes to trick-or-treating, a nut, seed, chocolate, gluten, or dairy intolerance can be downright disheartening. Some of the most common allergies—minus shellfish!—are lurking right in those fun-sized candy bars. Happily, that doesn’t mean your little pumpkin has to sit home and hand out the goods to other kiddos. With some savvy and a solid game plan, it’s definitely possible to have a great (and delicious) Halloween.

Take Time to Let It Sink In
If the allergy is a relatively new development, a peanut-less (or chocolate-free, etc.) Halloween can be a big blow. Says 8-year-old and gluten-, peanut-, nut-, and sesame-intolerant Jeremy, son of Bon Appétit test contributor Jackie Ourman: “[I originally thought] I couldn’t go trick-or-treating because there would be so much candy I am allergic to.” After speaking with his mother and experiencing an allergy-free Halloween, he realized how much fun he could still have.

Talk to your kids about what the new rules look like and what they can expect, but emphasize that trick-or-treating can still be a fun part of their night—then give them the opportunity to ask their own questions. Fourteen-year-old Alyssa Cook, who has been allergic to peanuts since age 1, has a mature outlook on things after years of being peanut-free: “I have never had them before, so I don’t really know what I’m missing. I’m used to it now.” In fact, her favorite part about Halloween isn’t trick-or-treating—it’s dressing up and handing out the goods to other kids.

See more: 23 Halloween Accessories You Really Don’t Need (But Might Want Anyway)

Focus on What’s OK to Eat
Navigating a food allergy can feel like living in a world of “no’s” and don’ts,” and Halloween is no exception—especially because so much candy is processed on equipment that comes in contact with common allergens, making even more candy off-limits. But it’s best for morale (your kid’s and yours) to focus on what is acceptable to eat. No peanuts? Get excited about taffy and bubblegum. Keeping the focus on the treats that are safe to eat is way more fun for everyone involved. Says Alyssa: “When I first encountered chocolate, I was bummed that I couldn’t have different kinds. I could eat only sweet candy like Smarties, so I adapted and learned to like the candy I could have.

Knowledge Is Power
“Don’t assume you know whether a piece of candy is allergen-free or not,” says Dr. Scott Sicherer, Chief of Allergy and Immunology at the Kravis Children’s Hospital at Mount Sinai. Often, the complete nutritional facts of fun- and mini-sized candy bars aren’t printed on the individual portions your child receives—that information is found on the big package. “It may seem logical that there’d be no dairy in a sucker candy, but until you see it on the package, you don’t know for sure,” he says.

Reiterate the Rules
Halloween is an exciting time for youngsters (and, OK, for adults as well). In the midst of all that doorbell ringing and loot collecting, it’s easy to forget protocol. Hovering and grabbing candy from them before they’ve had time to look at it will put a damper on the fun, but that doesn’t mean you have to be totally hands-off. Instead, give gentle reminders if you see your child about to unwrap and devour a treat—Bon Appétit food editor Carla Lalli Music‘s son, Cosmo, who is in kindergarten, wolfs down candy while still on the trick-or-treat trail—so she occasionally prompts him to be mindful of his allergy to nuts and sesame seeds throughout the night. A simple, “Ooh, what’d you get from that house?” is much nicer to hear than a harsh, “Eek! Don’t eat that!”

Plant the Goods
For younger kids who are still trick-or-treating under your watchful eye, it’s easy to game the system, Sicherer says. You choose the houses to visit, so don’t be shy about doing the rounds before the big night. Provide safe and allergen-free candy to your friends and neighbors, and ask them to give that to your child once you arrive. This proves trickier for older children who would be mortified to trick-or-treat with Mom and Dad, but there’s a solution for that, too—have a bartering system ready to go back at home.

See more: Our official Gummies Taste Test

Get a Little, Give a Little
You made it home, candy bag full to the brim—now it’s time to sort it all out. Help your kid make two piles of loot: One pile is for things he or she can hang on to, and the second is for candy that needs to find a new home. If your food-allergy child has an allergy-free sibling, encourage swapping. (It helps to debrief both parties on the rules beforehand.) Lalli Music notes that Cosmo and his brother are great at sharing their haul. Cosmo, who loves all things sugary and fruity, happily trades Butterfingers for fruity and sour candy like Sour Patch Kids. Don’t have multiple kids to even it all out? Encourage your child to share with friends—and parents are also encouraged to liberate a Baby Ruth or two. Says gluten-, sesame-, peanut-, and nut-allergic Jeremy: “Not-safe [candy] goes to Mom and Dad.”

Indeed, Ourman and her family have a sophisticated bartering system set up, a practice that Sicherer encourages: Any candy can be traded in (exchanging unsafe treats is mandatory; “gross” or undesirable ones, voluntary) for five cents. Later, Ourman takes the boys to the store so they can pick out a treat or toy of their own. Other ideas to make the night fun? Allergen-free cupcakes waiting at home, a movie at the theater, or an iTunes or Amazon gift card.

It’s Not Really About the Candy
There’s no getting around it: Kids with food allergies can’t eat every candy they might like to. But treating it like no big deal will encourage your kids to think about it the same way. In fact, many children don’t care so much about the edibles as they do about a cool costume or other treats, Sicherer says. In Jeremy’s perfect Halloween, for example, “Everything would be gluten- and nut-free, there would only be, like, ten to 15 pieces of candy, and the rest would be toys.” Jeremy’s brother, 10-year-old Jake, who also has sesame, nut, and peanut allergies, says: “I wouldn’t want to change anything. It’s still fun to trick-or-treat even though I have food allergies. There is still a lot of stuff I can eat.”

Follow the Teal Pumpkins
If you notice a surplus of teal-colored pumpkins while you’re out and about this Halloween, it’s not an accident: An organization called FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) has kickstarted a movement that’s growing meteorically. The painted pumpkins serve as an indicator that the house is allergen-free and is handing out small trinkets and toys instead of food. If you want to get in on the movement, or seek out houses in your area that are waving the flag—err, pumpkin—search for the hashtag #tealpumpkinproject.

It isn’t all about the candy—but it is a little bit about the candy. Here are the results of our super-scientific gummy taste test.

photo: Bon Appétit

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