We found out our eldest daughter needed to be on a gluten-free diet when she was 7. In the beginning, it was rough. But in the 10 years since then, the world has become much more aware and accommodating of kids with food allergies and intolerances, which is heartening.
My daughter’s gluten issue is not immediately life-threatening in the way that peanut or other food allergies can be. But having to think about what she could and couldn’t eat has given me empathy with and appreciation for parents who have to be vigilant about what foods their kids have to avoid.
When you find out your kid has a dietary limitation, your world shifts a bit. Simple stops to grab some fast food on a road trip are no longer simple. Snacks provided at kid activities become hit-or-miss. Even the simplest activities require advance planning.
We were a bit blindsided the first time Halloween candy — particularly our daughter’s love for Kit-Kats — became problematic. We learned to research which candy bars contain gluten each year. And at the end of each trick-or-treating excursion, we’d weed through her candy and trade out pieces that she couldn’t have.
For us, the research and sorting were merely an inconvenience. For a kid with a peanut allergy, however, a PayDay bar that breaks open in a trick-or-treat bag can mean an emergency room visit — or worse. Trick-or-treating for candy is truly dangerous for some kids.
That’s why FARE (Food Allergy and Research Education) launched the Teal Pumpkin Project as a national campaign in 2014. The premise is simple: Provide a non-food alternative to Halloween candy to give to trick-or-treaters, and let parents know you have them by placing a teal-colored pumpkin on your front porch.
Non-food treats allow kids who are on special diets to feel included in the tradition of dressing up and going door to door on Halloween. And the teal pumpkin makes a statement that you are aware of the issues these kids face and are willing to make accommodations to help meet their needs.
There are more kids who fall into that category than many of us are aware of. According to FARE, nearly 6 million children, or 8% of kids in the U.S., are affected by food allergies. All of us know someone whose child is allergic to something, and though it’s easy to think that some of the people we know are blowing food intolerances out of proportion, there are a lot of kids dealing with very real adverse reactions to foods most of us enjoy without issue.
Kids also go on special diets for various medical reasons. If a child needs to cut out sugar or dairy or some other commonly problematic ingredient for a while, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to participate in the fun of trick-or-treating.
It may seem like kids would balk at the idea of non-candy treats for Halloween, but you’d be surprised by how much kids like them — especially those who can’t have the candy in the first place. Some ideas for non-food treats include:
– Glow bracelets
– Fun pencils or pens
– Bouncy balls
– Mini flashlights
– Slap bracelets
– Cookie cutters
– Noisemakers (sorry, parents)
You can still provide candy in addition to non-food treats if you choose, just make sure you keep them in separate bowls.
If you want to put out a teal pumpkin, you can paint one yourself or buy one already made. Many stores, including most Target locations and craft stores, sell fake teal pumpkins (which is worth considering so you can save it and use it year after year).
If you plan to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project, add yourself to the participation map at foodallergy.org so families in your neighborhood or town know that they can come to your house for allergy-friendly trick-or-treating. And if your kid is one who needs a non-food treat, use the map to find teal pumpkins in your area.
It takes a village to raise a child. Let’s be the village for all of the kids in our community and help those with life-altering food allergies feel included in our Halloween fun.