As parents, we look forward to watching our children choose their Halloween costumes and map out the best neighborhood houses to visit for candy. However, for some parents Halloween can also bring anxiety if their children have food allergies or sensitivities. The Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) TEAL Pumpkin Project is working to reduce that anxiety for families with food-related allergies in the D.C. Metro Area and across the country.
The topic of food allergies might seem fraught. Parents with health as their priority might get push-back from those who think Halloween should be about throwing caution to the wind and just letting kids have fun. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for children with food allergies that can be life-threatening. Additionally, many other children have sensitivities that mean a few minutes of gleeful eating can lead to hours or days of health consequences and behavioral issues. Having compassion to protect children from unnecessary challenges is not the same as being a Debbie Downer!
Enter TEAL Pumpkin Project, a FARE initiative. Launched nationally in 2014, the project provides the national community with the resources to ensure all children have a safe and happy Halloween. The program offers a street map detailing houses with non-food treats and downloads for awareness posters to hang in your window. To become involved in your local neighborhood, check out our tips below and our recommendations for parents with a little trick-or-treater with non-food treat needs!
As a Household:
- Download the TEAL Pumpkin Project awareness materials to post outside your home before Halloween. Another great option is to paint a pumpkin teal with your children to let families in your neighborhood know that you will have candy alternatives. Use it as a teaching tool to let your children know that some of their friends may have food allergies and what that means. With 1 in 13 children affected by a food allergy, chances are they may be running into this issue on a daily basis at their playgroup, daycare or school. A cute book that addresses this topic is The Day I Met The Nuts by local mom and food allergy advocate Mary Rand Hess.
- Have non-food treats for trick-or-treaters. We consistently hear that the non-food treats disappear faster than the candy! Here are some great ideas from Teal Pumpkin for non-food treats. Green Halloween also has a long list of non-food treats following a list of healthy food items. Your local Target can be a great place to purchase non-food treats at the same time you buy candy! Do be aware, though, that cheap toys have other health concerns (like lead and other heavy metals and chemicals), so choose pencils or items from reputable companies when possible. Or purchase a kit from Teal Pumpkin by October 15 for selection of non-food treats along with a display poster, decal, bag and stencils.
- Have a separate container for non-food treats and don’t allow trick-or-treaters to reach in and grab the non-food treats. Often children are eating candy as they trick-or-treat and may have peanut or milk allergens on their hands. It may sound silly if you have not been exposed to individuals with allergens but this small action would protect a child from going home with an allergic rash or other serious reaction.
- Register your home on the TEAL Pumpkin Project map. This enables parents with children requiring non-food treats to find your home and ensure that you see all those cute little costumes!
- Remember to be patient! If a mom or dad comes trick-or-treating with their child and seems a little anxious, remember that taking care of a little child with a life-threatening allergy is hard. Show a little extra love, thoughtfulness and try not to be offended if they turn down a non-food treat due to an allergy contamination fear.
As a Parent:
- Download the TEAL Pumpkin Project Flyers and pass them out to your neighbors explaining your child’s allergen risks and letting them know how much your little one would like to trick-or-treat!
- Explain to your little trick-or-treater that some houses may not have treats for them but when the get home you have a special bag just for them.
- It is always a good idea to trick-or-treat with your child if they have a severe allergy when possible. This keeps you on the spot to help if there is an emergency, especially if your child is young.
- Visit the TEAL Pumpkin Project Map for houses in your area that are passing out non-food treats
- Read the book The Switch Witch by Charity O’Neill-O’Kane with your children (see giveaway below!) or get them the Switch Witch Gift Set, which comes with a storybook by Lara Spear Riley and witch doll and cauldron. Children might enjoy these coloring pages about the Switch Witch, who comes on Halloween night to take away candy and turn it into something healthier.
- Consider donating candy that your child won’t be able to eat. Operation Gratitude has an entire program dedicated to donating for the troops.
- Check out this great post by Mother NOVA on Halloween with Food Allergies and visit the Food Allergy Support Group of Northern Virginia to connect with other parents.