Halloween can be a tough time for kiddos with food allergies. It can feel isolating and seem totally unfair when everyone around you is happily swimming in piles of colorful Halloween candy, and you can’t eat a single bite of it! While there’s not much you can do about that, there are ways to help your child feel less excluded during the trick-or-treat season. Even if it doesn’t affect your immediate family, you should be aware of the growing epidemic of potentially deadly food allergies, which are becoming increasing common in both children and adults.
Food Allergies on the Rise
Whether or not you realize it, you probably know someone with a food allergy. In recent years, awareness of food allergies has increased dramatically, mainly due to the seemingly exponential growth of this issue, particularly in children. It’s speculated that around 15 million Americans currently suffer from food allergies, and this number would be much larger if you included “food sensitivities” and “food intolerance” into the calculation. Food allergies affect children more frequently than adults, and it’s estimated that 1 out of every 13 kids are affected (that’s about 2 per classroom!). In the past 15 years alone, the rate of food allergies in children has increased more than 50% and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “allergic conditions are among the most common medical conditions affecting children in the United States”.
Why Are All These Kids Allergic?!
There’s several theories attempting to explain the food allergy epidemic, but of course research and reality don’t yet agree on any one cause. A likely culprit, however, is the widespread prevalence and over-consumption of certain allergy-triggering foods. Too much of anything can become problematic, meaning, we really shouldn’t eat the same things over and over again. Many of the processed (and even unprocessed) foods that we frequently feed to our kids contain known food allergens, and/or we feed them in abundance (without any breaks). Variety is oh so important, yet most of us are seriously lacking food rotation in our diets!
We become “allergic” to something when our immune system perceives it as a threat, which can happen if we eat too much of a food, or when the lining of the small intestine becomes compromised for various reasons. A leaky gut precedes many food allergies, because food particles sneak through holes in the gut wall and trigger the underlying immune system, which resides mainly in the gut. The inflammatory chemicals created by the gut’s immune system are responsible for the systemic symptoms of allergic reactions. These symptoms can manifest in various parts of the body including: the digestive system (nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, itchy mouth or throat), the skin (hives, swelling, welts, redness, rashes, itching), and the respiratory system (difficulty breathing, itchy, runny or stuffy nose, etc.). The CDC has a helpful list of Symptoms of Food Allergy in Children to help identify when an allergic reaction is taking place.
Eight foods/food groups make up 90% of all serious allergic reactions in the U.S.: milk, wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, and shellfish. Unfortunately, most Halloween candy contains at least one of these ingredients. This is a big bummer for a growing number of trick-or-treaters, BUT it doesn’t have to be! Go ahead and turn that frown upside down and check out these 4 tips for normalizing Halloween for food allergy kids.
Create New Traditions
Let’s face it…trick-or-treating just isn’t the same safe experience that it was when we were kids. So why not start a new tradition instead?
- Host an allergy-friendly party at your house on Halloween in lieu of trick-or-treating. With recipes like Halloweiners, Paleo Spider Eggs, and Green Slime Pumpkin Pudding, you really don’t even need to tell people it’s an allergy-free shindig. They won’t be missing a thing! Incorporate pumpkin carving into your party followed by the roasting of pumpkin seeds (if there’s not a seed allergy) for fun times all around!
- Visit a haunted house or take a “spooky hike” every Halloween, searching for as many different types of bugs that you can find or even…(gasp) touch!? Award prizes for finding the most species of spooky bugs and to the finder of the creepiest critter uncovered!
- Start an allergy-friendly “trunk-or-treat.” Rally together your neighbors, friends, and other parents into the local school or church parking lot and decorate your car trunks with fun themes like these.
- Involve community service by making Halloween an opportunity to do some good for the community. Make a tradition of bringing your own home-made treats to shut-ins like those in retirement and nursing homes. It’s a wonderful way to do some meaningful community service and also a great chance to show off your costumes where they will be much appreciated!
The key here is simply having a tradition to uphold, but by no means does that need to include candy or other allergens. Pick something and stick with it each year, the most important part of tradition is consistency!
Treats, Not Sweets!
Halloween doesn’t need to be about candy and yes, it’s possible to celebrate the season sans sugar! In addition to food allergies, there’s another epidemic emerging in our children…a real life horror story known as diabesity. With the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and food allergies on the rise (and the health of our children at stake), why don’t we all just skip playing into the sickly sweet marketing madness and take back Halloween!?
I’ve previously shared a huge list of non-food and sugar-free treats to hand out to your trick-or-treaters. Here’s a few of my favorites from the list that have performed well on my doorstep over the past years:
Of course there’s healthier options available if you’re wanting to hand out food treats. Check out these 5 pre-packaged Paleo-friendly Halloween treats for trick-or-treaters.
Trick-or-Treat with a Twist
Make an agreement with your kiddos before Halloween that they can go trick-or-treating if they give you their candy afterwards. In exchange, here’s what they’ll get!
- Switch Witch (works well with younger kids): Have your child hand over their trick-or-treat candy at the end of the night and in the morning, they will discover that the Switch Witch has replaced the candy with an awesome gift instead! Be sure to let them know that the Switch Witch (much like Santa Claus) ‘knows’ when you’ve snuck a piece of candy from the stash…so don’t even think about it!
- Buy Back (better option for older kids): Host a contest with your trick-or-treaters and weigh their candy at the night’s end. This will discourage snacking on candy throughout the night (as will sending them out with a full stomach). Then employ the classic “buy back” scenario and pay them per piece of candy, or per pound of candy, with bonuses going to the winner.
Teal Pumpkins to the Rescue
Keep your eyes peeled for teal pumpkins on people’s doorsteps this year because it likely means that household is participating in The Teal Pumpkin Project™, a national campaign launched in 2012 by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). This project is aimed at raising awareness of food allergies and promoting the “inclusion of all trick-or-treaters throughout the Halloween season.” Participating houses pledge to have non-food treats available for trick-or-treaters, so food allergy kids can still participate in the trick-or-treat tradition. Last year we painted a pumpkin teal and passed out glow sticks and mini Halloween bubbles to the little monsters and princesses—they were a hit all around!
You can join the movement by putting a teal pumpkin outside of your front door and pledging to provide non-food treats for trick-or-treaters. You can also raise awareness by giving a paper teal pumpkin to every house that you trick-or-treat at, advocating for your child and all others who don’t have someone advocating for food allergies.
Whatever your plans end up being this year, make it a super safe and spooktacular Halloween!
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