Handling Halloween When Your Child Has a Food Allergy

I love Halloween. What other holiday can you get dressed up as your favorite superhero and eat candy all night? I have so many awesome childhood memories of running through our neighborhood with friends trying to find the houses giving out full candy bars while avoiding those giving out raisins or toothbrushes.  My Dad’s best friend was a dentist with a sense of humor or perhaps he was fully committed to dental health. My Mom was always amazed he didn’t get toilet papered the week after Halloween.

While it was fun experiencing it myself as a child, I was really looking forward to all the Halloween festivities with my daughter and seeing her enjoy it as much as I did. As the reality of her food allergy sunk in, I realized how different all these experiences would be for her. As I took her trick-or-treating and someone would drop a piece of candy in her bag, she would look up at me and ask, “Is that ok for me?” Sometimes it was, more times it wasn’t, and other times it was unknown because there wasn’t enough ingredient info on the piece of candy so it was rendered unsafe as well. I quickly learned to keep a small stash of safe candies in my coat pocket if I needed to contribute to her stash of candy so that her bag seemed more substantial. Hmm… how do other food allergy families handle this?

So I asked around and reviewed the Facebook support pages. I found out that there is a “Candy Witch” that comes after bedtime on Halloween night for children with food allergies. If you put your unsafe candy out on the porch right before you go to bed, the Candy Witch comes and takes your unsafe candy and provides a safe alternative. It could be safe candy or a non-food treat (stickers, books, matchbook cars, etc). She takes the unsafe candy off somewhere and donates it to a good cause or a parent’s work place. I am also a fan of Peanuts (meaning Snoopy and Charlie Brown).

No Halloween is complete without watching the Great Pumpkin, so I had to find a way to incorporate that as well. While we are out trick-or-treating, the Great Pumpkin also visits our house and leaves a non-food item and/or a small stash of safe candies. We are big book lovers so for us this is generally a nice stack of new books for us to read. These traditions are what my daughter is getting to know as her normal and they are a lot of fun. In fact, since the Candy Witch and the Great Pumpkin do not visit non-food allergy children, she actually told me that she was really lucky to have a food allergy. It’s a bit more work for me, but worth every second for her not to be disappointed so much.

Then last year something amazing happened: The Teal Pumpkin Project™.  Launched as a national campaign by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), the Teal Pumpkin Project raises awareness of food allergies and promotes inclusion of all trick-or-treaters throughout the Halloween season by providing non-food treats as an alternative to candy.

Here’s how it works: You paint a pumpkin teal and download a free sign to alert trick-or-treaters that you are participating in the event. You can still pass out traditional candy, just keep it separated from the non-food treats.   Novelty stores like Oriental Trading or even your local dollar store have lots of items. The nice thing about these items is that they don’t expire. If you have some leftover, pack them up with the Halloween decorations and you are set for next year.

Here are some ideas:

  • Glow sticks, bracelets or necklaces
  • Pencils, pens, crayons or markers
  • Bubbles
  • Halloween erasers or pencil toppers
  • Mini Slinkies
  • Whistles, kazoos or noisemakers
  • Bouncy balls
  • Finger puppets or novelty toys
  • Coins
  • Spider rings
  • Vampire fangs
  • Mini notepads
  • Playing cards
  • Bookmarks
  • Stickers
  • Stencils

Learn more about the project by visiting FARE’s page about the Teal Pumpkin Project here. You may not have a lot of kiddos with allergies come through this year. Or you may find that other kids may be interested in the non-food items like those with diabetes or other food-related issues. You may also find that children without allergies would like some of the trinkets as well.

We painted an artificial pumpkin teal & stored it away so it’s always ready. And I have some rubber duckies and pencils left from last year as well. You may not have the volume of these treats going out, but for that child that you do have a treat for, you’ve just told them that they matter, that someone in the community cares about them other than their parents.

I’ll end this post with a quote from scientist Margaret Mead: “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


Katie VanBuren is a clinical dietitian with ProMedica Bixby and Herrick Hospitals. She has 19 years of experience, with 17 of those being with ProMedica.