Skip the tricks this Halloween with safer, non-food treats

Halloween can be spooky with ghosts and goblins around every corner. Reaching into that candy bowl for a Snickers seems harmless, but for a kid with food allergies, it can get scary quick.  

One in 13 children will face food allergies. The most common are peanut, tree nuts, milk, egg, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Food allergy symptoms can range from mild (itchy skin) to severe (swelling, difficulty breathing) or the most dangerous—anaphylactic shock, which can be life-threatening.

“Even when an adult caregiver takes precautions, there is risk. A child who recently ate or touched peanut butter can hug another child with a severe allergy and have an unintended consequence,” allergist John Zech, MD, said.

A trend is emerging with the rise of the Teal Pumpkin Project, which raises awareness of food allergies and promotes non-food options for kids on Halloween.

Zech suggests alternatives and answers questions about common food allergies to keep your kids safe on Halloween.

What are the warning signs for food allergies?

  • Hives (reddish, swollen, itchy areas on the skin)
  • Rash
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Runny nose
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Turning blue
  • Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak or passing out)
  • Loss of consciousness

What should you do if you suspect your child has a food allergy?

  • Follow food allergy action plan given by a health care provider
  • Epinephrine auto injector is the first-line treatment
  • Seek medical help immediately

What non-food options can you provide?

  • Bubbles
  • Coins
  • Coloring books
  • Friendship bracelets
  • Glow sticks
  • Playing cards
  • Stickers

“Providing a food and non-food choice is empowering and equalizing to ensure kids have the same fun, healthy experience,” Zech said.

While it’s tempting to gobble up all the sweet treats you can fit in your pillowcase or pumpkin, pediatrician Jon Youakim MD, reminds parents monitoring what treats kids eat is important.

“Taking just one or two pieces of candy at night can save your child a stomach-ache or much worse,” Youakim said.

For superheroes and princesses alike, it’s best not to accept homemade unless you know the person and know all of the ingredients. Be mindful of the amount of sugar, too. Youakim recommends stocking up on alternatives to candy:

  • Fruit snacks
  • Graham crackers
  • Granola bars
  • Popcorn
  • Pretzels
  • Raisins

In addition to monitoring the food your ghoul or goblins ingests on Halloween, please follow these other safety tips:

  • Young children should stay with an adult to avoid running out into the street.
  • All families should walk in well-lit areas.
  • Children should wear reflective gear, such as adding reflective tape or striping to costumes.
  • Children and parents should carry a flashlight. Check the batteries before heading out.
  • Avoid masks and eye patches that can block their vision.
  • Check the label on costumes to make sure they are flame retardant.
  • Make sure any candy young children eat is not a choking hazard.
  • Older children should stay in groups along a planned route and agree on a time when they should return home.  
  • Carry a cell phone for easy communication.