If you have a child with food allergies, trick-or-treating and Halloween parties can feel especially risky. Common food allergens — like peanuts, tree nuts, milk, or eggs — are found in many treats and in candy you might not expect. Luckily, there are still safe ways to celebrate.
“You don’t want to take away any of the fun of Halloween, but you do want to be safe as possible,” says Dr. Joyce Yu, a pediatric allergy and immunology specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Yu shared eight Halloween celebration tips for parents with kids who have food allergies:
Enforce a “pick up the candy, don’t eat the candy” rule. Make sure you have a chance to review all labels — and avoid any candy that does not have one.
Keep the emergency medicines close. Accidents can happen. If your child requires an epinephrine auto-injector or another emergency medication, take it along while trick-or-treating just in case. Carry medications in a separate bag (instead of under a costume or in a treat bag, for example) so they are easy to access.
Watch out for the smaller sizes. Keep in mind that the mini-size, fun-size, or bite-size versions of candy may contain different ingredients or be packaged differently from their full-size counterparts.
Be careful with variety bags. Small-size candies are often combined in bags with other candies that may contain common food allergens. This can create a risk of cross-contamination.
Trick-or-treat in your community. Especially for little kids, limit the houses or apartments you visit. That way your child will have less candy, and you will be trick-or-treating with a network of friends and family who are more aware of your child’s food allergies.
Give out non-food treats. Set aside a bowl of small trinkets or toys. When trick-or-treaters come to your door, consider asking, “Who has a food allergy?” first. If anyone answers that they do, offer non-food treats before the candy. And if your child has a food allergy, teach them not to be afraid to say “I have a food allergy” before they ask for a treat.
Have the Switch Witch pay a visit. When your child comes back from trick-or-treating, let them sort the candy and keep a handful of safe pieces. Then put the rest of the candy outside for the Switch Witch or Candy Fairy. After your child goes to bed, switch the candy in favor of small toys, books, or other non-food treats.
Throw a spooky — and allergy-safe — Halloween party. Instead of trick-or-treating, offer to throw a costume party with friends. That way you can get into the Halloween spirit while ensuring that all food is free of allergens.
Joyce Yu, M.D. is the director of the food allergy clinic at the NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. She is also an associate professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Her clinical expertise and research interests are in pediatric food allergy and clinical primary immunodeficiencies, and she has published several journal articles, abstracts, and book chapters in these areas. She oversees a multidisciplinary food allergy program at Columbia and is involved in teaching medical students, residents, and fellows. She also serves as the principal investigator in multi-center clinical trials in food allergy, asthma, and atopic dermatitis, and other allergic conditions.