For most kids, trick-or-treating is a joyful, sugar-fueled trek of door-to-door candy collection. But if your child has food allergies, Halloween can be downright frightening.
Candy may seem harmless, but many popular Halloween candies contain nuts, milk, egg, soy, or wheat—the most common food allergens for children—or they are made in plants or on machinery where these items are processed. Even traces of these ingredients are enough to put the highly allergic in danger.
To add to the challenge, miniature candy items commonly given out at Halloween do not have ingredient labels, and some miniature or “fun-size” candies contain different ingredients than the full-size version, making it difficult for parents to determine whether or not the items are safe for their children to consume.
Even if your child isn’t allergic, chances are, you (or your child) know someone with food allergies. According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), one in every 13 children in the United States has a food allergy, which means there are roughly two in every classroom. Allergies are not the only condition that pose a risk, eosinophilic esophagitis, celiac disease, food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome, diabetes, feeding tubes or special diets also make candy an unsafe treat.
For years, the safest trick-or-treating option for allergic kids has been to just sit it out. In 2014, FARE launched the Teal Pumpkin Project to promote a safe, inclusive trick-or-treating option for kids with food allergies or children for whom candy is not an option.
The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages families to offer non-food treat items on Halloween, such as inexpensive toys, stickers, pencils, or glow sticks. As the name suggests, houses that offer an allergy-friendly alternative place a teal pumpkin—teal is the color of food-allergy awareness—outside their home on Halloween. The pumpkins let other families know that non-food treats are available. A crowd-sourced map on the FARE website also allows people to add their “Teal Pumpkin” home address, street or neighborhood so families can locate safe homes.
To offer both food treats and non-food treats, FARE says to separate them into different bowls.
The goal of the project is not to eliminate candy altogether, but rather to ensure that all kids—whether they have a food allergy or not—are able to safely enjoy Halloween traditions.
Make it Fun: Paint your own Teal Pumpkin with the kids and use it as a chance to discuss allergy awareness. A free printable sign is available from FARE, which explains the meaning of your teal pumpkin and encourages friends, family, and neighbors to get involved.