7 Ways to Make Halloween Safer for Kids with Food Allergies

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Halloween time can be a season of costumes, scary movies and candy. But for parents of kids with food allergies, there is a different reason to be frightful. Six of the top eight allergens are in high circulation around Halloween. Wheat, milk, soy and even egg are used in many chocolates, caramels and fruit chews. Even more candies are made with or processed on the same equipment as peanuts and tree nuts, such as walnuts, almonds and cashews. Even small amounts of these allergens can cause an anaphylactic reaction in kids who are allergic to them.

“Parents are responsible for ensuring that their kids are aware of the various strategies to manage their food allergies,” says Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, who is a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She recommends parents take the time to discuss with their children the allergens that may be hidden in specific foods, including Halloween treats. “Parents also should talk to kids about strategies for when they are attending parties and trick-or-treating, including what to do if they think they are having an allergic reaction,” she said. “Parents should be sure that a responsible adult at the party is aware of their child’s allergies.” Consider these tips for a safe, allergen-free Halloween.

Read All Labels

This is good advice for all candy, but especially true for miniatures or snack sizes, which sometimes are processed in a different facility than regular-sized candy. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires that all FDA-regulated foods list the top eight major allergens in the ingredients list with common names of the allergen included in parentheses — such as “lecithin (soy)” or “whey (milk).” Some packaging includes a note with “Contains …” or “May contain …” statements following the ingredient list. These statements are completely voluntary, so play it safe and read the ingredients list every time, even in products you typically consider “safe.” Since many individual bite-size candies don’t contain an ingredients list, look up the ingredients for specific products online to ensure they are safe for your child to eat. If a product is homemade or has no label, throw it out.

Talk to Your Neighbors

Neighbors and friends may want to buy allergen-free candy but don’t know what to buy, or may not even know that your child has a food allergy. Share with them what to look for when purchasing candy, or even offer to provide them with “safe” candy that they can hand to your trick-or-treater.

Look for the Teal Pumpkins

Created by Food Allergy Research & Education in 2014, the Teal Pumpkin Project is a campaign to raise awareness of food allergies and provide safe options for food allergic trick-or-treaters. Participants pledge to put a teal pumpkin outside their homes, indicating they have safe, non-food treats available.

Instill the “Always Ask First” Rule

Carry candy for young children and remind all children not to share food and to ask you before eating anything. “Kids should learn to always read the label before eating any packaged food or candy,” says Angelone. “I recommend the ‘ask before eating anything’ rule. Kids can sort all candy when they return home, and parents can provide ‘safe,’ alternative foods for parties at school or other events. If in doubt, throw it out, trade it or give it away. It’s helpful to make a list of packaged treats that are safe based on individual allergies.”

Safe at School

If your child’s class celebrates Halloween, take an active role in preventing the risk of a dangerous allergic reaction. Talk to the teachers in advance, volunteer to organize the party, offer to bring the treats or non-food goodies or plan to attend in person and double-check that your child’s emergency action plan and epinephrine pens are up-to-date.

Trade or Donate

Before setting out trick-or-treating, make a plan with your child to swap any unsafe candy for another prize such as a safe candy, book or small toy. Or, donate candy to the local food pantry or other charitable organization.

Start a New Tradition

Host a costume party at your house, so you are in charge of treats. Or, forgo candy altogether and offer trick-or-treaters a variety of non-candy items such as stickers, glow sticks, bouncy balls or fake mustaches.

Adapted from: Rima Kleiner, MS, RD, LDN

Nutrition Tip of the Day

Look For Shortcuts! Healthier versions of convenience foods can be time savers when it comes to getting healthy meals on the table in a flash. Next time you’re shopping, look for these nutritious options: Pre-cut butternut squash, ready-to-go stir-fry vegetables and pre-made salads.

Daily Inspiration 

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End Mealtime Battles with One Question

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If you have picky eaters in your family, you already know the signs of when they dislike a meal: a blank stare, a turned-up nose, the plate pushed away. Instead of getting upset with their pickiness and falling into familiar mealtime battles, try a new tactic. Ask: “How can I make that better for you?” This question seems simple, but it can work like magic to open lines of communication between you and your children, and can give kids a feeling of control to make the meal more enjoyable. It also may take the pressure off you, since you won’t have to guess what they want — which changes frequently, anyway.

Phrasing is key. Instead of a negative question — such as, “Why don’t you like it?” — a positive question allows for constructive problem-solving and innovative solutions that you create as a team.

Make It Better

The first time you ask “How can I make that better for you?” your child may not know how to answer. That’s OK. Here are some common complaints and suggested solutions (note that nuts and seeds are choking hazards for children under 4):

  • “The food is too hot.”
    Put the plate in the fridge for a few minutes or add ice to hot soup.
  • “The food is too cold.”
    A quick zap in the microwave or a few minutes under the broiler will help.
  • “The food is plain.”
    Use “sprinkles” to add pizzazz to plates: flax seeds, sesame seeds, slivered almonds, fresh mint, shredded coconut, nutritional yeast, cinnamon, or shredded Parmesan or cheddar cheese.
  • “The food is boring.”
    Add a dip such hummus, guacamole, mild salsa or a yogurt-based tzatziki. A dollop of dip adds flavor and fun.
  • “The food is too crunchy.”
    Lightly steam vegetables or add a sauce or spread to crackers or toast.
  • “The food is too creamy.”
    Add texture to soup or yogurt with nuts, seeds, panko breadcrumbs, croutons, granola, diced vegetables or fruit
  • “The plate has [fill in the blank] on it, and I don’t like it.”
    Something as simple as a speck of green herbs or a bit of diced red pepper can be enough to ruin an entire dish for a child. Give your child permission to put the offending food to the side of the plate.

Be warned: The solution that works today may not work tomorrow. The answer to “How can I make that better for you?” will often change but it will always lead to some answer. Whether it’s a sprinkle of cheese or removing the “green stuff,” a simple question can save you from troublesome mealtimes and ensure everyone enjoys what they are eating.

Adapted from: Cara Rosenbloom, RD

Tip of the Day

Jot it down! Before making a grocery list, write down meals you want to make for the week. Shopping for the week means you’ll make fewer trips to the store and buy only the items you need.

Daily Inspiration 

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