How to Keep Halloween treats safe versus spooky
Even though Halloween chocolate and sweets are like an allergen bomb for sensitive kids and the holiday can be a real challenge for parents, it’s a great opportunity to rethink the holiday and shift the focus.— Whitney Elkins-Hutten, nutritionist with Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy
Every Halloween, Elaine Taylor-Klaus’ living room turns into a trick-or-treating powerhouse when the mother's children return from showing off their costumes and collecting treats from neighbours. “The kids all come back and dump their loot on the table with dividers in place and start to sort,” she said. “These are my kids, and several neighbouring kids, and the piles of sweets are obscene in a truly wonderfully decadent way.” Once the sorting is over, the trading begins based on each child's food and dietary restrictions. “Yes, the kids have a food allergy, but we know what they can eat and what they can’t,” says Taylor-Klaus, the founder of ImpactADHD.com. “And the stuff we can’t identify is probably not any good anyway.” As the mum of three children with strict gluten intolerance for more than nine years, Taylor-Klaus continues to make Halloween fun and tasty by taking precautions and educating her children about their allergies. “Do they end up with a bit less loot than the kids without allergies? Yes,” she said. “But they are grateful for what they do have and they have a blast in the process. Halloween is, bar none, our favourite holiday.”
What's what on food allergies
During one of the scariest holidays of the year, many parents fear that their children with food allergies will not be able to participate in community and school activities or trick-or-treating adventures.
Often, people don’t realise the seriousness of food allergic reactions, says Vandana Sheth, registered dietitian. Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish account for 90 percent of all food allergic reactions, she says. “It is important to recognise that just trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a life-threatening reaction,” said Sheth.
What should be an exciting season of ghosts and goblins often turns into a fearful event for children with food allergies. “Constantly being vigilant about food allergens can be quite stressful for both the child with food allergies and the entire family,” Sheth said. “It certainly can take the joy out of celebrations.”
But awareness can put the joy right back into the holiday.
Allergen-free sweet treats
Just because your child has food allergies, it doesn’t mean she can’t participate in school, church or community celebrations full of candy, cupcakes and mounds of chocolate.
“Even though Halloween chocolates and sweets are like an allergen bomb for sensitive kids and the holiday can be a real challenge for parents, it’s a great opportunity to rethink the holiday and shift the focus,” says Whitney Elkins-Hutten, nutritionist with Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy.
The key is in making treats that are just as attractive as what other kids are eating to take to school and community activities, says Elkins-Hutten. Make allergen-free muffins with cute Halloween frosting designs, get holiday cookie cutters and make safe-to-eat cookies. Dip apples in caramel or make little jelly worms and package them yourself.
“Making your own treats means you can feature healthy ingredients like squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots and vitamins,” says Elkins-Hutten. “Most importantly, you can be in control of the ingredients, making sure they are allergen free and up to your kids’ specifications.”
It will even seem like less of a concession if the other kids are attracted to your treats as well.
Festive food alternatives
Who says Halloween treats need to be sweets or candy? Treat your child, her school friends and dressed up princesses and pirates to nonfood options, such as stickers, pencils, small books, bubbles, crayons or temporary tattoos, suggests Carly Dunn, registered dietitian with KinderCare.
Instead of focusing on the edible treats of Halloween, concentrate on fun activities and games, such as Pin the Hat on the Witch, karaoke, card games and Halloween-themed movies.
If food will be part of the festivities, plan ahead. “For children with food allergies, it’s important to keep them both healthy and safe during Halloween,” said Dunn. “Make sure that if your family attends a Halloween party you offer to bring a few appropriate choices for your child to enjoy and communicate with your host about any special dietary needs prior to coming.”
Set up a plan well before the spooky holiday arrives. “Set an expectation ahead of time so they know the game plan – even if they can’t eat everything, they shouldn’t feel excluded,” said Elkins-Hutten “It’s a great opportunity to help them make good choices and be aware of their own bodies, too.”