When your child has food restrictions or allergies, holidays that are supposed to be fun can turn into nightmares for parents trying to keep their kids safe. In addition to the usual safety precautions, there are the concerns about what your child can eat, and how to handle the disappointment that can accompany the realization that most of what’s in their trick or treat bag isn’t safe for them to consume. Here are some tips for a safe and happy gluten free Halloween.
1- Choose Costumes and Make-up Carefully: Choose costumes that fit well and don’t constrict movement. In colder climates, consider purchasing costumes one size up so that a winter jacket or warm sweater can be worn underneath. Masks should have large eye openings and restrict vision. Ensure that children can see clearly in front and to the sides. For some children, contact with make-up or skin products that contain wheat or gluten can cause discomfort, so choose Halloween make-up carefully.
2- Visibility in the Dark: Hordes of children filling the streets and sidewalks can make it difficult for drivers to notice individual pedestrians. Ensure that children are visible by using glow in the dark accessories such as trick or treat bags, necklaces, or bracelets, or use reflector tape on the front and back of costumes. A small piece is all that’s needed to call the attention to drivers in the dark.
3- Personal Safety & Supervision: Young children should always be supervised by an adult. Streets can be confusing at night for young children who can easily get lost. With so many people in the streets, it would be easy for an individual child to go missing without notice. Practice safety measures in case a child does get lost, including reciting name, phone number, and address. Older children who are trick or treating without parent supervision should go out in groups, and have access to a cell phone in case of an emergency.
4- Approaching Homes: Children should be taught not to enter the home of anyone, even for a moment. If someone insists the candy is inside, the child should wait outside or simply walk away. Children should remain visible to parents at all times.
5- What to Consider when Purchasing Candy: When purchasing candy, it’s a good idea to purchase at least some candy that is safe for your own children to eat and put some aside to use to switch with unsafe items when the evening is over. Consider purchasing candy that is free from the most allergens, including nuts, wheat, and dairy for handing out as well.
6- Schools/Daycares: Contact the school or daycare a few days in advance to ask about their Halloween food policy. If there is a chance that children will be given candy during the course of the day, make a plan to provide items that are safe for your child and ensure that nothing that isn’t approved by you is ingested. This is a good time to review exactly which foods are off limits and the reaction your child will suffer if eaten.
7- Come up with a Plan before Heading out the Door: Decide on how the post-Halloween candy sorting and eating will happen, and discuss it with children BEFORE Halloween. In the excitement of the evening, watching a parent sort through and remove the majority of the candy because it contains gluten can be enough to upset even the most understanding child. Agree on a plan together, and then remind your child of the plan before setting out on Halloween. Read below for some candy-swapping ideas.
8- Sort through Candy: Just as every parent does, sort through the candy at the end of the evening and discard anything that is open, looks tampered with, or is homemade (unless it comes from someone you trust). These items should be thrown away immediately. Remaining items need to be sorted according to whether they contain gluten or any other food that is off limits. For up-to-date food lists, see my post on 2013Gluten Free Candy Lists
9- When there are Children in the House who Aren’t Gluten Free: This can be tricky to navigate. If there are children in the house who don’t have to conform to a gluten free diet, there are a few things which need to be considered. If the house is a gluten-free home, then all the children will have the gluten filled items taken away and replaced in the manner you have chosen. Otherwise, it’s important that the candy stays separate, and is clearly labelled when dealing with older children, or kept out of reach and administered only by an adult for younger ones, to avoid the possibility of accidents.
10- Post- Halloween: Earlier in the article I discussed coming up with a plan for after Halloween was over. This is where you put that plan into action. Below are a few ways that families have handled the post-Halloween candy supply.
a) Candy Swap: For each unsafe candy taken out, the child gets to choose a safe candy from a stash purchased before Halloween. 1 out, 1 in. By the time all the unsafe candy is taken out of the average trick or treat bag, there’s not much left. This technique keeps the quantity, but allows the parent to control the quality and safety.
b) 1 Week Rule: Candy consumption is allowed pretty much unchecked for the week after Halloween, at which point the candy is gotten rid of, or given away, or otherwise “disappears.”
c) Halloween Fairy: A friend of mine told me about this and I thought it was a great idea for young children. Kids are encouraged to keep a portion of their candy, and then give the rest to the Halloween Fairy, who takes the candy and leaves something in return. My friend says she purchases her child a special toy or something that he has wanted for a while.
d) Candy Swap and Candy Drive: Similar to the Halloween Fairy, this option involves trading candy in for something else. This can be better suited to older children who won’t believe in the Halloween Fairy. My friend Lisa from Pocketfuls first told me that this is how she handles Halloween at her house, and she wrote about it in this post. Children choose a few candy items to keep, but hand over the bulk of their bags in exchange for a bag full of fun surprises. Nothing expensive or crazy, but small items that make it worth the trade. Her children’s school runs a candy drive that sends candy off to organizations that use the candy with malnourished children to help increase their appetites. There are many candy drive programs in operation, and it’s a great way to teach children about giving back.